Malvern is fortunate to be blessed with many heritage-listed homes, many of which retain original Victorian features. This was certainly not the case with Ritz & Ghougassian’s most recent house, bordered on a commercial zone, including a car park diametrically opposite. “You could say it’s a fairly urban, rather than genteel environment, particularly on this corner,” says architect Gil Ritz, who worked closely with co-director interior designer Jean-Paul Ghougassian on this renovation to a double-fronted Victorian timber home.
Retaining the original Victorian home was never an issue, given it lies in a heritage streetscape. The challenge for Ritz and Ghougassian wasn’t to maintain the façade of the cottage, but rework and refit the original rooms for contemporary living. “We inherited a fairly unremarkable house, with most of the period detailing previously stripped out by former owners,” says Ritz, who also recalls the fairly rudimentary 1950s ad hoc addition, with linoleum floors.
The original Victorian house, with two rooms off a central corridor, still remains. But these have been virtually refitted, with new built-in wardrobes either side of fireplaces. “Even the fireplaces had been removed, so we designed what we refer to as ‘steel shrouds’ (contemporary surrounds),” says Ghougassian, who created two guest bedrooms, a child’s bedroom and a family bathroom under the original steel roofline.
In most cases, a contemporary wing would immediately follow the central corridor, with large picture windows to bring in natural light and garden views. But in this case, the architects shifted the new two-storey addition to align with the edge of the pavement. “We wanted to shift the focus away from the commercial functions of the opposing corner and allow for a more protected enclave of the eastern garden,” says Ritz. And in contrast to the timber of the Victorian home, the new wing is constructed from elongated concrete blocks, combined with timber battens to create privacy. As a result the approach to the new wing shifts a metre or so, with the interstitial space between past and present taking the form of a blank concrete block wall at the end of the ‘original’ journey. “This way, you take in the garden views either side, rather than creating one long and linear path,” says Ritz.
The slope of the site, just over one metre, also allowed for the ground floor to be expressed over two levels, with a few steps leading down to the lounge. “Jean-Paul and I generally prefer to create looser spaces rather than having strictly defined rooms with doors,” says Ritz, who managed to create a number of concrete block walls that appear to glide past each other, revealing a space or spaces beyond. This approach, along with the restricted use of materials (concrete blocks, blackbutt and limestone for the kitchen and wet areas) creates a homage to McGlashan & Everist’s Heidi II designed for arts patrons John and Sunday Reed in 1967. “It’s one of our favourite buildings (as it is for this writer). We love the way those spaces are loosely defined, blurring the interior with the courtyard gardens,” says Ghougassian, who as with the Heidi II house, includes concrete floors and an unexpected void in this design.
The void in the Malvern house contains a solid timber staircase, with external timber battens dissolving the commercial aspect directly opposite. Likewise, the main and only bedroom and ensuite, located on the first floor, feels like an oasis,” says Ritz, who was also mindful of creating cross ventilation with the use of timber battens, as well as privacy from an adjoining neighbour.
Ritz & Ghougassian’s design appears relatively simple from first inspection. A few level changes, a limited palette of materials and responding to this relatively tricky site. However, the outcome is far from simple, coming from a duo with a talent for executing highly difficult manoeuvres that appear effortless. “Every concrete block. Measuring 400 by 100 millimetres had to be accounted for to the nth degree,” adds Ritz.
Ritz & Ghougassian can be contacted on 0412 897 689
Words by Stephen Crafti
Images by Tom Blachford