June 12th, 2019.
Fitzroy started to become gentrified from the early 1970s when young professionals realised the value of its Victorian terraces and proximity to the city. Over the decades, brothels, occupying a few of these terraces, were transformed into family homes with new picket fences and potted cumquat trees next to shiny front doors. However, one terrace remained as a brothel until quite recently, when new owners briefed Fieldwork to create them a new home. What was previously a terrace with seven bedrooms and corner spas in every room, is now a contemporary home with delightful finishes and detailing at every turn.
Unlike many renovations, this one responded to the history of this narrow two-storey building, less than six metres in width. “When the previous owners vacated the premises, everything was left as it was, including the vermilion-pink walls and gold columns and architraves. You could say there was morbid curiosity,” says architect Quino Holland, director of Fieldwork. “It wasn’t my taste, but you could see someone had made the effort, even if the black vinyl armchairs in the waiting room took up more than half the space,” he adds.
So rather than go ‘against the grain’, and create a pure white ‘canvas’ for contemporary living (as is normally the case) Fieldwork borrowed from the brothel’s history and moved it on. The front rooms on both levels were retained with a new kitchen, dining and living wing added. “One of the problems with the original house wasn’t so much the colour scheme, but the amount of light entering the home, with the few original windows, boarded up,” says Holland. As well as cutting a garden bed into the rear-glazed wing, skylights were added to bring natural light into the core. Fieldwork also took a different path in ‘threading’ the ground floor spaces together. Each space, whether it’s the front cinematic-style living room with green velvet curtains or the kitchen, with pink granite floor and splashback, is expressed to capture its own unique character. Brass strips set into the floor clearly delineate each area. “The traditional approach with smaller footprints is to create a singular gesture to unify spaces. Here, we wanted to celebrate the quirkiness found in the original brothel,” says Holland, pointing out the candy pink structural columns and matching bookshelves in the kitchen.
The dining area that forms part of the rear living area also builds on the language of the brothel. The built-in banquette seating designed by the practice in green tones of velvet and leather, perched on a pink MDF base, is considerably more efficient in terms of space, but is as comfortable as the black vinyl armchairs clients once sat in. Again, the timber parquetry flooring is lighter than the original dark timber stained floor in the formal living area at the front of the house. And to add further colour, some of the highlight windows include films of perspex.
Some of the boldest colour in this renovation was applied to what was formerly a separate building at the rear of the site. Previously four bedrooms, this self-contained building, with its own access from a rear lane, has been completely reshaped and now emits a vibrant pink glow. New floor-to ceiling windows bring in the garden view, designed by MUD landscape architects to evoke a lush gully-style garden. The two ground floor bedrooms are now an open plan living area with a galley-style kitchen “When we started to excavate, we discovered an ink black swimming pool (now water storage),” says Holland, who retained one of the original fluorescent wall signs ‘Exquisite Ladies’ for the courtyard.
Gold curtains, garish blue joinery in bathrooms and shades of pink are expressed throughout this unique home. In one room, two shades of pink carpet are laid side by side, one in a delicious shade of ‘Iced Vovo’ (think of the biscuit). The idea of creating a ‘polite’ almost bland environment was set aside to create something that’s considerably more dramatic. “You can still create warm and engaging spaces that respond to contemporary living, while still respecting the past. There was nothing to be ashamed of, given it’s a legal profession,” say Holland. “As with our client, we felt there was a need to respond to Fitzroy’s past, given it was one of the few brothels remaining in the neighbourhood,” he adds.
For Holland and his team, putting himself outside of the usual clinical white box was novel and a learning experience. “I think it was the first time I can recall ordering green velvet for curtains!”
Fieldwork can be contacted on 03 9081 2401
Photography by Tom Ross.
Words by Stephen Crafti.