by Neometro

Another Option

Architecture - by Stephen Crafti

Empty nesters can struggle to find low-maintenance abodes after living in their family home for decades. An apartment is one option, so is a townhouse. For husband and wife Kaye and Glynn, both of these options were considered. However, they were fortunate to have a third choice; subdividing the back garden of their large warehouse in North Fitzroy. Having their back yard orientated to the north, with separate street access, made this proposition that much more attractive. “We must have been one of the first to live in a warehouse,” says Glynn, recalling the time when they first moved into the neighbourhood 25 years ago. “We’ve always lived fairly closely to the street,” adds Kaye, recalling their first Victorian terrace, also in Fitzroy.

Photo: Trevor Mein

The small parcel of land that was carved off from their warehouse (sold to another owner) was just large enough to accommodate a modest two-storey house and compact courtyard garden. Approximately 180 square metres in area, the house, designed by Harmer Architecture, follows the rhythm of neighbouring Victorian terraces. “The local council gave us a little grief,” says Kaye, who recalls one of the offices showing her a photo of a timber picket fence to steer their design in the ‘right’ direction. “We wanted a contemporary house that was full of light. Given our previous homes, we were also comfortable with being close to the pavement,” she adds.

Harmer designed the couple an interesting two-storey house that’s set back one metre from the pavement. Constructed in brick, brown and chocolate ceramic tiles (normally used for a roof) and timber that will eventually turn a silvery grey, the North Fitzroy house includes a high timber-battened front fence. Stained glass windows at ground level, visible to the street, designed by glass artist Andrew Ferguson, are loosely evocative of the leadlight by artist Leonard French (think of the leadlight ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria).

Photo: Trevor Mein

“Kaye and Glynn were extremely specific in the program presented to the practice, pointing out they wanted a bedroom and fully serviced bathroom downstairs looking towards the future,” says Harmer. “I also mentioned to Philip that a well-equipped shed or store room was needed,” says Glynn, pointing out the compact timber-battened shed in the courtyard at the rear.

However, design-wise, the couple were open to explore ideas, some of which, such as the study nook at the bottom of the stairs, came from Glynn. “The entrance has become a multi-functional space, with the office joinery being integral to the lobby, staircase and passage,” says Harmer, who delineated the balustrade to the stair in a vibrant fuschia pink. “I wanted the stair to be separate from the living space. Often you see the stair as part of the open plan spaces which cuts up the circulation,” says Kaye.

Photo: Trevor Mein

At ground level are the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas, with sliding glass doors leading to a compact terrace-style garden, complete with vegetable boxes. Filtered light from the north comes through the front timber-battened fence, while the living areas also benefit from an easterly aspect. To make the kitchen joinery appear recessive to the dining and lounge, Harmer used a dark charcoal brown laminate for the joinery and olive tiles for the splashback. “I wouldn’t normally have thought of these colours together, but they seem to work,” says Kaye, who was as open to the other colours used by Harmer, including pink tiles for the bathrooms and a purple front door that greets visitors upon arrival.

Photo: Trevor Mein

Other plan differences included a separate bathroom rather than adjacent ensuite for the main bedroom to allow visitors or guests staying over to have access to the upstairs bathroom. “Our (adult) children often stay over and we felt it was important to go against the usual trend for ensuites,” says Kaye. Apart from the clever planning, the couple delight in the way light enters their home, via dormer-style windows on the first floor and through highly manipulated apertures from the north that seem to almost pull the northern light into the stairwell and onto the landing of the first floor. “The light is quite special. We’ve got this wonderful light throughout the day, accentuated by Andrew’s (Ferguson) leadlight panels. The place is continually animated,” she adds.

Photo: Trevor Mein

Harmer Architecture can be contacted on 03 9416 4466


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