This striking house in Kew is surrounded by faux-style chateaus, built from the 1990s to the present. Rather than go down this path, the owners, a couple with three active young children, wanted a contemporary house that spoke of the present. Designed by Austin Maynard Architects, this new two-storey house replaces a rather odd 1950s home that had been insensitively added to in the 1980s. “That house didn’t take advantage of the site’s northern aspect and there was only a marginal attempt to connect the living areas to the garden,” says architect Mark Austin, co-director of the practice. “Our clients wanted their children to kick around a soccer ball in the garden without feeling they could damage the brickwork,” he adds.
The brief given to Austin Maynard Architects was not only for a robust house, but, as importantly, one that offered flexibility; a place in which they could reside in their old age, together with having their parents stay when they require more assistance. “Andrew (Maynard, co-director) and I didn’t receive a series of tear sheets from magazines about how this house should look. It was more about the way they lived. The phrase ‘flexible spaces’ was regularly used: spaces that would allow the children to enjoy the place from childhood through to their young adult years,” says Austin.
As the Kew site is orientated east west (with east to the street), Austin Maynard located the house close to the southern boundary, allowing all rooms to receive northern light. Bordering a sports oval to the west, the views from the house also benefit from not being impeded to the rear. And rather than focusing on the front and back doors as the main access points, the architects used the side and northern aspects as the predominant pathways. “We wanted to create a sense of informality rather than walking through a series of formal rooms before you reach the casual living areas,” says Austin.
Austin Maynard Architects has established a number of innovative programs with their homes, many of which have received awards. The award-winning Tower House, located in Fairfield, features a series of pitched-roofed pavilions, all joined by a series of links or bridges. Another house in Albert Park that has received accolades saw a simple Victorian timber cottage renovated with a perforated steel floor allowing for transparency between the home’s two levels. In the case of the Kew house, both ideas are cleverly intermeshed.
However, unlike the Fairfield home, which is fully clad in timber shingles, the Kew house features slate in a variety of patterns. Some of the Spanish slate tiles are rectilinear, while others are chamfered. And in the some areas, notably with the garage and a wall lining the staircase, these tiles are combined with spotted gum, acting like a ‘second skin’. “We couldn’t entirely clad the garage door with slate. It would have been too heavy. And lining the staircase with these tiles could have caused some shoulder grazing,” says Austin. To breakup the slate, as well as create protection from the northern sunlight, a bright yellow steel awning frames each of the different sized windows. “We wanted to carefully articulate each aspect, whether it was towards the sports oval or the neighbourhood,” he says.
The interior of the Kew house is also fairly unconventional. Two ponds cut into the floor plan, one separating the living room from the flexible space at the rear (frequently used by the owners parents as a guest bedroom as well as a music room by the children when available). Bi-fold glass doors at the edge of the living area also blur the division between inside and out when left open. A second pond is also aligned to the front door (on the northern elevation), creating a ‘welcome mat’ to the home.
The first floor is as unpredictable, with the three children’s bedrooms separated from the main bedroom suite by a bridge or link. The architects also included large sliding doors with each of the children’s bedrooms that connect to a northern passage/vestibule. “The children currently use this space to build Lego, but it could function as a study nook when they hit their teens,” says Austin.
However, for the adults, there’s a separate study. Located at ground level and wedged between the living area and guest bedroom/music room, it features a glazed roof with automated exterior blinds for weather protection. “You always feel connected to the garden. And best of all, the children can kick their soccer ball against the timber (at the rear) without damaging the slate tiles,” says Austin.
Austin Maynard Architects can be contacted on 0497 020 635