A surprisingly spacious family home on a tight bayside block, Stephen Crafti visits a home that works hard to ensure every inch counts.
The owners of this house in the Melbourne beachside suburb of Elwood had been looking at a number of inner-city sites. As the owner is a builder, they were after a small block of land to build a new dwelling on. After looking at a number of properties, they settled on a 150-square-metre site that had been claimed from the back garden of a neighbouring home.
In spite of the modest size of the block, the clients’ brief to Schulberg Demkiw Architects was for a reasonably spacious family home (220 square metres) for the couple and their young daughter, with two living areas and some outdoor space. Although architects Schulberg Demkiw had a portfolio of large homes under their belt, architect Ray Demkiw also had experience working in Japan during the 1980s, a place known for its imaginative use of small sites. “I worked on the Consul General’s residence in Kobe. By Australian standards, it was fairly modest,” says Demkiw, who was also involved in a number of housing subdivisions during his stay.
Demkiw initiated the design process for the Elwood site by looking at the building envelope, battleaxe in shape. “I was conscious of creating spacious living areas. But I was also mindful of making them pleasurable spaces to be in. Excavating to a basement level was a given from the outset,” says Demkiw. So a lightwell in the form of two courtyard-style gardens on ground and basement levels featured early in Demkiw’s schematics. A slither of space along the southern boundary was also conceived as a garden to ensure sufficient natural light and ventilation.
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The selection of materials for the house was also discussed with the owners from the onset. Off-form concrete, recycled tallow wood, hoop pine and glass felt appropriate given the direction towards a more Japanese-style aesthetic and, in particular the dimensions of the site. “It was also made clear from the start that the design should be flexible, particularly as the family moves through its lifecycle,” says Demkiw.
Although the house is clearly capable of being used in a number of ways, the present arrangement includes a second living area and study at basement level. There’s also a guest powder room and laundry. And nestled below the staircase, which extends across the home’s three levels, is storage. Even this area is treated as though a habitable space, with glass and a ‘forest’ of timber battens forming a wall.
All images by Derek Swalwell.
At ground level are the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas. And as with the basement, it also includes a courtyard via large sliding glass doors. When these doors are pulled back, both courtyards become integral to the interior spaces. “We could have used traditional bi-fold doors, but this would have segmented the indoors from out,” says Demkiw. And on the first floor are two bedrooms, including the main with walk-in dressing area.
Although the first level bedrooms received the greatest amount of light, Demkiw was keen to increase the light and ventilation by including another lightwell/garden at roof level. “We were conscious of privacy (between the two bedrooms), but we also wanted to create a verdant outlook,” says Demkiw.
While the house offers all the privacy and outlook found in traditional homes, there’s considerable skill in the Elwood house in the way spaces have been treated. The living area at ground level, for example, looks through the perspex floor on the terrace to increase a sense of spaciousness. Likewise, the hallway leading to these living areas, bordered by a minimal garden, creates a sense of arrival and anticipation beyond. “It’s a fairly simple house,” says Demkiw modestly. “But there’s a considerable amount of detail in the execution.”
Working with the owner/builder also made it possible to explore concrete, including the use of concrete for the kitchen’s central island bench. Cantilevered, the bench appears relatively weightless. And while Demkiw doesn’t immediately see a connection to Japanese homes, he can envisage someone raking pebbles in a small plot in Tokyo, or in Kobe, where he worked during the 1980s.
Schulberg & Demkiw Architects
by Stephen Crafti
Photography by Derek Swalwell