November 27th, 2019.
Many clients start a renovation with big plans. However, in the case of a property in Port Melbourne, the brief was ‘shrunk’. “Our clients gave us a ‘wish list’ before they set off for a couple of years to live in Copenhagen, so the plans were in ‘limbo’,” says architect Madeline Sewall, an associate of Breathe Architecture. While Sewall was expecting more to be added to the initial brief, the opposite was the case. “In Copenhagen, the family (two adults and two children) lived in a one-bedroom apartment and could see that what they really needed for this renovation, was less,” she adds.
Ideally located between a park and a reserve, including the Port Melbourne light rail, this two-storey Victorian terrace formerly included some unsympathetic 1980s additions. These were fortunately removed, along with the initial idea to create a large informal living room on the first floor. “The family enjoys each others company (the Copenhagen experience was testimony to this), so the idea of creating two separate living areas, one for the adults and the other for children, didn’t really stack up,” says Sewall, who, with the team at Breathe, rationally planned the original terrace to accommodate the family, making modifications when required. So rather than formal sitting rooms at the front of the terrace, these ground-floor rooms now function as a separate bedroom for either child.
To juxtapose the period home, there’s a striking contemporary open plan kitchen, dining and living area to the rear, along with a self-contained detached studio and guest room accessed from the street behind. In contrast to the Victorian era of the home, the contemporary wing, including the detached studio, is made entirely from Grade A ‘reds’, including the floors. “These bricks are more uniform in size and are ideal for the ‘stack bonding’ technique we’ve used, being far more even and regular,” says Sewall, who was keen to use a limited palette of materials, both for economical, sustainable and aesthetic reasons. “It also facilitates the construction process when you have few trades involved. And unlike with, say, plaster walls, there’s the reduced maintenance, such as painting,” she says.
While some of the original ideas were maintained from the initial brief, including a courtyard garden separating the studio, replicating unnecessary amenities was not on the agenda. Although there’s a guest powder room at ground level adjacent to the children’s bedrooms, their bathroom can be found at the top of the stairs. Likewise, rather than having a separate formal dining room, here there’s a large table in the open plan kitchen that accommodates both the family and also larger groups for entertaining. “We’ve responded to the scale of the original rooms, but obviously people want greater connection to a garden,” says Sewall, pointing out the deep window seat in the living area that cantilevers into the courtyard.
Materials used, apart from brick, are also judiciously used. The island bench in the kitchen, for example, is fully tiled and black MDF joinery, such as the shelves framing the back entrance, creats a ‘veil’ to the living room. Breathe Architecture was also mindful of providing a comfortable and secluded space for the owner who works from home. Instead of providing a garage across the rear of the property, as many architects would suggest, here there’s a generous home office at ground level, with unimpeded views of the garden. “There’s the light rail just across the road and the local shops are a few minutes’ walk,” says Sewall. Given the rear elevation is also prominent, Breathe Architecture was also mindful of creating a ‘dialogue’ with the neighbouring garages and other outbuildings. “We took some of our design cues from neighbouring windows, as well as roof forms,” says Sewall, referring to the new steel pitched roof of the detached two-storey brick building.
For Sewall and her colleagues, it was a pleasure to reduce the initial footprint of this home and renovation. “The family’s time in Copenhagen allowed us to assess what they really needed, rather than simply adding things to a list, when really this wouldn’t improve the way they live,” adds Sewall.
Breathe Architecture can be contacted on 03 9381 2007.
Images by Tom Ross.
Words by Stephen Crafti.