20th May, 2020.
This contemporary infill home in Albert Park is only 5.5 metres wide. In the early 20th century, the modest parcel of land was occupied by a local store and, in the 1990s, the current owners added a small extension to the corner Victorian home they still own. An internal door separates the two, with the owners’ children and grandchildren using the Victorian home as guest accommodation, at least for the present.
“Our clients (a semi-retired architect and her partner) wanted to live in a contemporary home, something that would allow them to age in place,” says architect Clare McAllister, a former director of MAArchitects.
Both properties benefit from rear access via a laneway and abut a wide nature reserve at the front. Hence, MAArchitects was able to create an entirely new home, with the owners being able to separate the two if desired. “Our clients wanted something that was more manageable, with virtually zero maintenance,” says McAllister, who was conscious of planning a home for the long term.
Designing a new infill house in a strictly controlled heritage area such as Albert Park must cause trepidation with most architects wanting to create a design with contemporary expression. McAllister’s initial design cue for the new home of two levels with a roof garden, started by examining the original wrought iron lacework of the Victorian home with its distinctly circular motifs. However, rather than try and reproduce these, the new façade comprises two layers. The front layer is a circular pattern made from laser-cut aluminuim with an inner layer of perforate, sitting shy of the glazed first-floor windows. “I wanted to create greater depth to the façade, not dissimilar to the richness of the original Victorian home,” says McAllister, who included automated shutters on the first level (front façade and rear) for cross ventilation. The living area/library, located at ground level and at the front of the home (orientated to the west), benefits from generous glazed windows and the ‘lip’ of the screening forms a contemporary take on the Victorian lacework on a front porch. “You get those ever-changing silhouettes across the walls,” says McAllister, who also understands the importance of making connections to the street and the local community when people head towards their retirement years. “You don’t want to be sitting behind a high brick front fence.”
The Albert Park house has been tailor-made for the owners, rather than for ‘resale’ as is often the case. A central pod, clade in plywood, includes the stairs and a lift that operates between the three levels. And rather than unused bedrooms, the first floor includes the main bedroom on one side of the central pod and a studio/office with a built-in desk on the other. A sumptuous bathroom with curvaceous mosaic green glass walls is one of the many features. “The owner is a huge admirer of early modernist 20th century architecture,” says McAllister, pointing out the fluid and unencumbered lines. “The green colour used for the walls in the living areas, referred to as ‘caterpillar green’, was also her suggestion”.
Although the Albert Park house is narrow, the spaces feel considerably larger due to the use of the central pod containing many of the services, together with the built-in joinery. The built-in limed plywood bookshelves in the sitting room/library, for example, morph into storage and banquette-style seating in the kitchen and meals area to the rear. Uncluttered, with a careful selection of furniture and objects, it’s diametrically opposed to how Victorians often over- stuffed their homes.
McAllister was also mindful of creating cross ventilation while maximising natural light at every turn. As well as using the stairwell to bring light into the core of the home, it also purges warm air through highlight windows during the warmer months of the year. The use of reflective surfaces, such white aluminium to enclose the kitchen bench and white gloss laminate joinery, also allows light to be reflected.
For McAllister, as well as her clients, this house exemplifies the notion that people can stay in their homes for the long term if the planning and design is considered. “It’s relatively compact but still offers them all the amenity they are looking for, without the maintenance that comes in a larger period home,” adds McAllister.
MAArchitects can be contacted on 9421 6671
Words by Stephen Crafti
Images by Derek Swalwell.