While some designers may have looked at the architecture of this 1970s home and suggested building an entirely new dwelling, a reworking by Nexus Designs has given a 1970s home a new lifespan that will take it well into the 21st century. Stephen Crafti speaks to Nexus’ Creative Director Sonia Simpfendorfer to delve deeper.
Built in the late 1970s and renovated a decade later, this house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs was more than large enough for a family of five. But irrespective of the number of rooms, many of the spaces felt stiff and awkward. Corridors, with numerous doors and heavy swag-style curtains on the windows, only made the interior more foreboding. “Many of the rooms weren’t used. The ones that were used felt uncomfortable,” says interior designer Sonia Simpfendorfer, Creative Director of Nexus Designs. “The house also suffered from having insufficient bathrooms and amenities for three teenage daughters,” she adds.
While moving walls and changing rooms is doable in a timber house or one built in a lightweight structure, this home was relatively ‘stubborn’, due to its chunky walls and even concrete ceilings. So rather than try and design a complete make-over, Nexus Designs created a number of strategic and subtle changes, predominantly to the home’s interior. Those rooms that didn’t change in use were altered to create a lighter more contemporary touch.
The formal dining room, located at the front of the house, was altered with mood lighting (concrete ceilings prevented down lights). And the heavy swag-style curtains were removed. One of the challenges faced was integrating the owner’s extensive collection of Biedermeir furniture. To balance this period furniture, including an armoire, in the dining room. Simpfendorfer designed a ‘floating’ built-in credenza, together with reupholstering the dining chairs. The same approach was applied to what is now the adjacent music room, complete with grand piano. New floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves and widening a doorway, gave this room, formerly used as a formal living room, a new purpose. “Previously, the room wasn’t used. Very few homes now have formal living rooms, particularly if you have three children,” says Simpfendorfer.
One of the most dramatic changes made to the house was a reworking of the kitchen, which was previously accessed from three directions. “The kitchen just wasn’t large enough. There was very little bench space, unusual in a house this size,” says Simpfendorfer, who closed off one of the entrances to the kitchen to allow for additional benchtops, together with appliances. Stone benches and two-pack paint-finished joinery also transformed what was previously a fairly basic room into a hub of the house. “When you’re working with homes like this one, the essence is in the planning and making spaces functional.”
The rear living area, connected to the kitchen, and orientated to the north-facing garden, experienced one of the greatest transformations. Extremely spacious, and benefiting from a northern garden aspect, the open plan informal dining and living area was loosely delineated by a plinth to display sculpture. Linde Ivimey’s sculpture of a horse not only enlivens these living spaces but also creates a point of interest once past the front door. “Sight lines are paramount, particularly if you are faced with a long corridor that ends with a blank wall,” says Simpfendorfer. Painting the walls a crisp white also provided a backdrop for the owners’ art collection. “We kept all the original cornices and skirting boards. With a project like this, you need to have certain parameters, ones that don’t conflict with the original detailing,” she adds.
The upstairs rooms were also reworked. A sauna and spa, fixtures of 1980s renovations, now seemed at odds with contemporary living. There were also too many bedrooms and not the type of spaces now considered useful: a second living area for the children and a parent’s retreat (adjacent to a main bedroom). Small but relatively significant changes, including new larger doors (previously 2 metres and now 2.4 metres) create a greater sense of space and connectivity.
Like the ground floor, the original timber parquetry floors were repaired and polished. And where needed, new joinery was designed. “When you’re reworking a house like this, you need to establish how the house is intended to be used, allowing for shared, as well as private, spaces,” says Simpfendorfer. And while some designers may have looked at the architecture and suggested building a completely new house, for Nexus, reworking the design and updating furniture has given the house a new lifespan that will take it well into the 21st century.
by Stephen Crafti