July 10th, 2019.
Designed in 1972 by architect William Collinson Kerr, this unassuming building operated as his own office for several years. Located on the edge of town in West Melbourne and benefiting from two street frontages, it’s now home to architect Drew Carling, director of Maddison Architects, and his partner, graphic designer Jenni Draper.
“We were living nearby and looking for more space, somewhere that would allow for a separate office for Jenni,” says Carling, who could see the advantage of having two separate entrances. Carling, along with Draper also saw something that many others failed to appreciate: the building’s strong bones, a sense of robustness and it also being in virtually original condition.
Although being in original condition allowed Carling to include as much of the original fabric as possible, there were a few elements that worked for an office but would restrict contemporary living: an enclosed staircase linking three levels at the front and two levels at the rear of the building, no connection to the eastern rear elevation, and relatively poor ventilation. Increased natural light was also required. “The place needed to be opened up and slightly reconfigured. But I wanted to make sure the changes were relatively subtle,” says Carling, who inserted a number of plywood sliding doors hinged on exposed steel frames to delineate spaces. Some of the new insertions also took the form of stained black timber, including the new balcony and its large glass and timber doors leading from the living area.
To address the light issues, Carling removed the walls enclosing the stairwell and inserted skylights. The front elevation was also slightly ‘massaged’ with a new porthole-style window punctuated into what was previously an entirely blank wall. “The window is well above head height (for privacy from those walking past) but allows for western light,” says Carling, who also added a large pop-out steel and glass window (located in the dining room). Those using the main entrance arrive at Draper’s office, framed by plywood doors, one of which leads to a spare bedroom. However, the couple generally use the western entrance, with its off street car parking, leading them to the kitchen and living areas on the top level.
It’s on the main living area where most of the changes have been made, including a new, slightly industrial-style kitchen (not surprising since Maddison Architects has been strong on the hospitality front for decades). As the floor plan is slightly kinked, there’s already a slight separation between the kitchen and lounge. However, Carling included concrete blocks as part of the kitchen’s island bench to discretely conceal some of the workings in the kitchen, along with perforated steel walls to veil items such as the fridge. One of the features in the new kitchen are the handmade Spanish tiles appearing on the island bench and the main kitchen wall. Slightly evocative of the 1970s, these tiles also create a more domestic feel to the building. Joinery such as the nook in the dining area, given over to musical equipment, also has a ‘70s vibe, as do the built-in shelves and built-in study nook around the corner from the dining room. “I wasn’t trying to reinvent the period, but simply pay respect to it and be thoughtful with the changes,” says Carling, who met with Kerr, the original architect, who presented the couple with a series of black and white photos taken at the time of completion.
The West Melbourne home is now a fine contemporary residence filled with art and objects (the stairwell, now opened up, also functions as a gallery space). However, when Carling and Draper purchased the building six years ago, few had the foresight to see the potential. “We certainly didn’t want to turn this place into something that it wasn’t. But it also had to function as a home,” says Carling, who was also mindful of its shortcomings, including the absence of a laundry and additional bathrooms. “People are still a little unsure which entrance to use. But once they are inside, they certainly ‘get it’,” he adds.
Words by Stephen Crafti.
Images by William Watt.