This Victorian building, on an unusual triangular site in Carlton, Melbourne, has had a number of uses. Operating as a pub when it first opened its doors in 1840, it was used as accommodation in the early 20th century. It then reverted to an office before becoming a shared house when the current owners purchased the building 10 years ago. “You could say that it’s a good example of a building’s adaptive reuse,” says architect Karen Alcock, co-director of MA Architects, who could see the potential of transforming the place into a family home for a couple with two children. “It’s close to the city but its in a quiet precinct surrounded by parks,” she adds.
The owners were leaving behind a ‘landlocked’ house in Prahran and, although keen to have some out door space, we’re more attracted to quality spaces, both indoors and out. The Victorian pile occupies most of the triangular site with the exception of a modest deck on the first floor and a slither of land adjacent to the new kitchen. However, given the close proximity to nearby parks, the owners were keen to make a move.
As a share house, its previous function, the triangular-shaped building features four separate doors and numerous internal doors and passages. Alcock recalls there being seven bedrooms within the 250-square-metre house and numerous bathrooms. “Many of the spaces are irregular in shape, but even the smallest ones can easily accommodate a group of six people,” says Alcock, who did however rework many of the spaces, removing doors and walls where necessary and even inserting a new wall dividing the formal lounge from the dining area. “Before, you walked straight into this space; there is now a sense of discovery,” she adds.
Two of the external doors were also removed to ensure guests arrived at the right door. A second door was retained that leads to a guest bedroom and ensuite. “The idea for this room was that it could be used as a home office without people having to walk through the entire house,” says Alcock. One of the rooms that required major work was the kitchen. Although it’s relatively compact, the kitchen includes a generous island bench clad in marble and ample storage areas. The island bench is reminiscent of a ‘butcher’s block’ with large shelves and storage below. “Our client loves to cook so while it’s modest in scale, it’s highly functional,” says Alcock, who borrowed 600mm from the adjacent courtyard to extend the kitchen.
While the staircase to the first floor appears seamless to the fit-out, it was carefully crafted to blend the old with the new. The balustrades, for example, have been simplified in comparison to the turned Victorian detailing, but the handrails are evocative of the period. And to ensure sound was minimised, MA Architects inserted a glass door at the top of the stairs. “This keeps the house relatively soundproof and thermally controlled,” says Alcock, pointing out the home’s high ceilings.
Although the children are now teenagers, Alcock was keen to create a level of privacy between adults and children. So the main bedroom, which enjoys the triangular tip of the property, includes an ensuite, dressing area and a separate office. A separate hall to this area further delineates the area. So when doors are shut, the main bedroom wing has the sense of being an apartment.
Unlike many contemporary renovations which ‘scream for attention’, there’s a sense of calm as soon as one enters the Carlton home. Finishes, such as white walls and polished timber floors, complement white tiles in bathrooms and the kitchen. “We wanted to respect the feel of the Victorian period (although the interior had been stripped of many of its cornices and rosettes). But we also wanted to provide a functional and efficient home for a family of four,” says Alcock. “We were fortunate with this place that the light was on our side,” says Alcock, pointing out the northern and southern aspects, together with the views over the street’s plane trees. “And unlike many Victorian homes, there are windows in every room,” she adds.
MA Architects can be contacted on 03 9421 6671
Words by Stephen Crafti