25th March, 2020.
There are few, if any, clues as to what’s behind this double-fronted Victorian home in Northcote (on the fringe of Westgath). A manicured front garden, coupled with a tessellated-tiled front porch, gives way to a traditional period home with rooms either side of a central passage. In the 1970s, an architect added on a family room and included a spiral staircase that leads to a mezzanine bedroom. In spite of the age of the renovation, the home still looks fresh and contemporary, largely due to the neutral colour scheme and the owner’s impressive art. “There’s certainly not a shortage of angles,” says artist George Alamidis, who lives in this house with his wife Helene and their daughter Marki.
However, while the home and extension have a timeless quality, it’s the freestanding artist’s studio in the backyard that draws one’s attention. Designed by architect Matthew Scully, director at Evolva Architects, the studio replaces the old Cobb & Co. stables built in the late 19th century. Only the skeletal form remains, encompassing a couple of brick party walls. “George was understandably anxious every time he stepped into the studio for fear the whole thing would come crashing down,” says Scully. “Half of it had been destroyed by fire well before 1984, when we first moved into this house,” says Helene, who compared the remaining structure to a Grecian ruin.
Evolva Architects’ brief was not only to create a studio for George, but also provide a separate, but connected, wing that would function as a place for guests to stay. The result is a two-storey steel and glass structure with ‘cruciform’ detailing for the picture window. And connected via a large sliding door is the studio itself with a soar-tooth ceiling that includes highlight celestial windows and louvred glass for ventilation. Each portion has its own access via large sliding doors to the central cobblestoned courtyard, complete with a mature tree.
“I was mindful of the afternoon western sunlight connecting with all this glass,” says Scully, who compares being in the first-floor bedroom to like being in a tree house.
The studio’s exposed steel lintels create a lovely counterpoint to the roughly concreted feature walls, the few remnants from the days of Cobb & Co. The rich and worn patina of these walls creates a wonderful backdrop for George’s art and artifacts, including several nest-like arrangements on old filing cabinets. “The walls are like old frescos. And I’ve gotten quite used to the cracks and imperfections,” says George. The studio can be completely closed by means of the large sliding door or left open to allow the kitchen, dining and living area in the guest’s wing to feel more spacious. “We deliberately kept the kitchen joinery quite simple to make the spaces feel more generous,” says Scully, pointing out the black laminated galley-style kitchen.
Upstairs is as simple, but as considered, with the one and only bedroom not only within the rich tree canopy, but also featuring a generous northern deck that offers glimpses into the studio below. Perforated steel mesh balustrades allow the natural light to filter through.
The artist’s studio is a relatively modest project, comprising approximately 80 square metres in area (including the self-contained unit that has its own ensuite bathroom). But it’s a format that could easily be transformed into an inner-city apartment where space is often restricted.
One of the only problems with the new studio is that George is concerned about splattering paint on the polished concrete floors. “I really don’t want to get this place dirty and covered in paint,” he says. Helene is more pragmatic, keen for him to use the studio for what it was designed for. “Having this studio could threaten his career if he doesn’t pick up a paint brush!”
Evolva Architects can be contacted on 0449 501 389.
Words by Stephen Crafti.
Images by Josh Wayn.