by Neometro

A Sensitive Georgian Renovation.

Architecture, Design - by Stephen Crafti

3rd February, 2021

There aren’t too many houses in Melbourne that can be dated at 1855. However, this Georgian-inspired townhouse in South Yarra, one of two, could easily be at home in Mayfair, London.

Built by John King, who obviously had a fine eye, it formed one of the first subdivisions in the neighbourhood. One occupant from the past, the legendary Percy Grainger, obviously had great taste when it came to architecture. 

Rory GardinerAlthough the front rooms on both floors of this home were relatively untouched, the additions over the decades weren’t as considered. However, when the owners, a couple with three teenage children, first spotted the home, it was the location as well as its period charm that drew them to it. “They could see that it was extremely well built and also still retained many of its period features,” says architect Thomas McKenzie, director of Winwood McKenzie, pointing out the bluestone footings and arched windows, the latter forming a design cue for the new work. 

Unlike many period renovations, with a sharp juxtaposition of styles between the past and present, here there’s a subtle shift, with the original rooms appearing ‘seamless’ in the process. “Going forward, it’s the type of work on which the practice wants to focus,” says McKenzie, who calls this project the ‘Limestone House’ due to the limestone-clad walls in the central courtyard. Unlike the original floorplan, where there was only one entrance through a front door/vestibule, now there are two. The secondary entrance is on the southern side of the property, forming an entry to the new kitchen and partially concealed behind what appears as a garden wall. 


While the family generally use this kitchen door, visitors can enjoy the process of arriving at the vestibule, walking down the corridor with its exposed original bluestone foundations and see just a glimpse of the kitchen. At a slightly lower level, the kitchen’s marble Welsh-style dresser is virtually the only element on show, with a butler’s pantry disappearing through an arched doorway that leads to the front garden (landscape designer Amanda Oliver also designed the home’s rooftop garden). And to further ‘blur’ the lines between periods, Winwood McKenzie included a scalloped ceiling bridging the two. Two sets of curvaceous stairs framing the limestone courtyard and bordering a new pond, also set up a Georgian feel but with a contemporary twist. 

Locating the new kitchen and living area to the south of the site, and inserting new large arched steel and glass windows, also makes use of the northern sunlight. “Eventually jasmine will be growing on the wall to create a more verdant outlook,” says McKenzie, who added a new two-storey wing to the rear of the site, with children’s bedrooms on both levels. Although not apparent from the back lane, what was a simple garage is now an additional basement level with a rumpus/multi-functional space, a store room and laundry, together with a car stacker (accessed by a new steel staircase). “It’s not a large house, particularly for three children, but the feedback is the family tend to find their own nooks and spaces, often gravitating to the television room (one of the original rooms at ground level) as a family,” he adds.

Arches have become quite a faddish element in contemporary homes. However, when an arch is derived from original elements and reworked in a contemporary manner, the outcome is both refreshing and unique. You could say there’s a sense of ‘theatre’, but each ‘character’ doesn’t overplay his or her role. Gold laminate joinery in the basement rumpus room, for example, also reflects light from overhead skylights. “The original house needed to be respected, but it also had to function for a family, allowing the new detail to be as thoughtful as John King’s design. We certainly avoided any pastiche.” 

Images | Rory Gardiner

Words | Stephen Crafti 


Search Open Journal

Subscribe to Open Journal:

Subscribe here

Connect with Open Journal: