29th April, 2020.
Victorian terraces are difficult to renovate, given they’re often joined at ‘each hip’ with neighbours literally ‘breathing’ over one’s shoulder. This was certainly the case when architect Nick Harding, director of Ha Architecture, was commissioned to transform a double-story Victorian terrace in Brunswick. “Our clients could appreciate the pitfalls, as well as the limited space to move,” says Harding.
When the owners, a professional couple about to start a family, purchased the home, its ‘bones’ and many period details were still fortunately intact: including the impressive timber staircase with its turned balustrades. However, the width of the property (5.5 metres at the front extending to 6 metres at the rear) was one constraint and the other, more importantly was its orientation, with a south facing pocket-sized back garden (approximately 40 square metres in area with car access via a rear lane). Having two double-storey Victorian homes on either side also restricted the light and aspect. “Fortunately there wasn’t a lot to undo, except for taking away a rudimentary extension from the 1970s which included a kitchen and bathroom,” says Harding.
While the two front rooms of the Brunswick house were lightly touched, one now a guest bedroom and the second a study, there was a need to bring light into the core. A lightwell/pocket-sized courtyard garden was inserted into the core of the home, located via a pathway that once led to the back garden. Framed by steel and glass windows and a door, this side elevation features a ‘chamfered’ roof to meet planning setbacks. Ha Architecture also included generous skylights at this junction, separating the existing building from its addition, to increase the western light. Internal blinds operate automatically to shield this area from harsher light during the summer months. “I saw this lightwell as being the transition point between the original and the new work,” says Harding, who also created an incision in the wall of the study to allow light to permeate the Victorian part of the home.
However, from the lightwell, everything is virtually new, with the addition consisting of an open plan kitchen, dining and living area. A new guest powder room is discretely located behind the kitchen that also benefits from the lightwell. As space was limited, particularly in terms of width, Harding located a substantial joinery unit made from Tasmanian oak veneer along the eastern wall, aligned to the home’s main thoroughfare. Concealing a European-style laundry, pantry and fridge, this monolithic unit was extended to form joinery in the dining and living areas. “The idea was to free up as much space as possible. Our clients were quite particular in the way they wanted the kitchen planned,” says Harding. “They didn’t want the kitchen to be treated that differently to the living areas,” he adds. As space is limited, both indoors and out, Harding was also mindful of making the back garden as functional as possible, treating this like an outdoor room. Hence, there’s a barbeque built-in at the same height as the credenza in the living areas, together with concrete benches. And when the large steel and glass doors to the back garden are left open, there’s a blurring of indoor and outdoor space.
The rooms on the first floor were also modified, with impending children in mind. Upstairs is the main bedroom, together with a large ensuite, and a third bedroom. Although there wasn’t sufficient room to include a second living area, Harding was able to ‘carve out’ just enough space at the top of the stairs to include a breakout space for children, or a parent’s retreat.
For Harding, renovating Victorian terraces has become a staple of his portfolio. He understands both the importance of light, as well as creating pathways and sightlines through this typology that allows for contemporary living. “Previously you had to cross a room to get to the back garden. And the garden was really only discovered when you reached the back door. That arrangement isn’t an option today.”
Architect: Ha Architecture
Builder: Block Construction
Photographer: Dave Kulesza
Styling: Bea + Co
Words: Stephen Crafti.