8th July, 2020.
There are no signs from the heritage-listed streetscape that this Japanese-inspired home appears behind the Victorian façade. One of six single-storey and single-fronted terraces, what was once a modest two-bedroom cottage has been transformed into a family home.
Designed by Schulberg Demkiw Architects for a couple with a young child, the starting point was a Japanese-inspired house designed by the same architects and exhibited at Federation Square in Melbourne as part of an Australian Institute of Architects awards program a few years ago. “Our clients (for this home) were attracted to that house, not only for the design but also the context: a relatively modest parcel of land near the beach that was transformed into a new family home,” says architect Ray Demkiw, a co-director of the practice. “One of the owners also has a Japanese background,” he adds.
This site, a short walk from St Kilda beach, is relatively modest (barely five metres in width and 40 metres in length). The Victorian cottage also set up a number of constraints, with any new work not permitted to be visible from the street. Fortunately, there was a relatively high-pitched roof in the original cottage that allowed for something considerably more behind it. “We treated the new (steel) roof in a not dissimilar way to origami, twisting the form so that nothing was apparent from the street,” says Demkiw.
The two original front rooms were retained in the renovation of the St Kilda house, with one used as a study and the second room as a guest bedroom. Between the past and present is a modest lightwell of just over one metre that allows northern light to permeate the core. Other devices used by Schulberg Demkiw Architects included creating a void above the main passage to further animate the original part of the home. But at the end of the passage, there’s a distinctively Japanese turn. The steel and translucent glass balustrade of the staircase that extends to the ceiling of the first level references shoji screens. Likewise, the rough sawn timber used for the kitchen joinery was deliberately selected for its texture, a consideration that steers the Japanese aesthetic. Rather than simply adding a glass box at the back of the cottage, the two living areas were separated by a courtyard garden, with access to the informal living room/television area via a long timber-clad corridor. Both of these spaces feature two-metre-wide circular windows, again drawn from Japanese architecture. “That level of separation was driven by our client. Originally, there was a garage at the back of the property, with that space becoming a completely separate room for watching television without disturbing the rest of the family. And then it finally ‘morphed’ into a space that feels slightly indoors and out,” says Demkiw, who included large sliding doors from the passage to the courtyard.
The upstairs also shares a loosely Japanese-inspired aesthetic. The main bedroom, for example, features steel-framed glass windows bordered by bamboo. The ensuite to this bedroom is also lined with timber, with a ‘floating’ timber floor to allow water to pass through and drain away. A timber Japanese-style bath was also included. “There are a number of Japanese features. I have, like most architects, always admired Japanese architecture, whether it’s the use of raw concrete or the burnt timber we’ve used to encase the guest powder room,” says Demkiw.
Unlike the Victorian cottage that, as with many houses of this vintage has a level of expectation (a passage with rooms leading from it), this new and extended home is far from predictable. Natural light creates subtle patterns on walls, and intimate and thoughtfully curated spaces have been provided. It has a three-dimensional quality that appears to fold, concealing what lies beyond the front door. “There should be a certain level of surprise when you enter a home. But it is also about responding to the way people live,” says Demkiw.
Design: Schulberg & Demkiw Architects
Images: Tom Blachford
Words: Stephen Crafti