26th February, 2020.
The owners of this house in South Yarra wanted a city abode, somewhere that could be easily locked up (given they have a country property). Rather than having to move in the future, the brief to Cera Stribley Architecture and Interior Design was for a ‘hybrid’, a self-contained home that could easily expand when the children and grandchildren stay.
“The former 1930s house was well beyond a renovation. You could literally put your hands through the cracks,” says architect Dom Cerantonio, who worked closely with co-director Chris Stribley.
On a relatively small site of approximately 235 square metres (a generous allotment for South Yarra), the architects’ brief included two separate wings, one for the owners, the other for family and guests staying over. And mindful of the owners’ ages, the predominant living space is at ground level with gentle broad treads leading to the front door. A lift linking all the three levels, including basement car parking for four cars, also formed part of the initial conversations. “The irony is that now they’ve settled in, they enjoy the spaces across the two levels,” says Stribley.
From the street, this townhouse appears quite severe. Elongated grey bricks combined with ‘shields’ of folded aluminium blades create an almost foreboding presence in a street dotted with Victorian workers’ cottages. “The screens were as much about creating privacy from neighbours as they were about diffusing the afternoon western light,” says Cerantonio. The architects were also mindful of pushing the building envelope as close as possible to neighbouring sites, given the dimensions of the area. So to the south for example, there’s a delightful garden terrace located above the entrance to the basement. “We’re limited with space so it was important to green up the exterior areas as much as possible,” says Cerantonio, who engaged landscape designer Jack Merlo for this project.
Past the front door one is greeted by sinuous curved white walls, combined with a double-height void in the lobby. “We were conscious of bringing in as much natural light into the home as possible,” says Stribley, pointing out the highlight glass window allowing an even southern light to permeate. The curves extend to the main living area at ground level and are expressed in the curvaceous white balustrade, the form of which punches into the lounge to animate the interior. “We’ve tried to keep the palette of materials as simple as possible, given our clients enjoy collecting art,” he adds.
The kitchen and dining area is also pared back, with a chunky marble island bench framed by stained oak veneer kitchen joinery. As seamless are the large glass sliding doors that can be pulled back entirely during the warmer months. The strategically placed steel crucifix columns (an invention by Mies Van Der Rohe), set within centimetres of these doors, create a lightweight ‘floating’ effect. “It’s a low maintenance house, with everything they really need on the ground floor,” says Stribley, who located the main bedroom suite, including an ensuite and a dressing area, at the front of the house. And mindful of strollers passing by, the architects elevated the ground floor by a metre, to create privacy, while still feeling part of the streetscape.
Although the initial plan was to mainly restrict themselves to the ground floor, the office on the top level, forming part of the rumpus room, is actively used through the week (the owners are still involved in a business). “But on the weekends, when the grandchildren come over, the work is tucked away and the toys and games come out.”
This house by Cera Stribley looks relatively simple from the street, with a solid brick base anchoring the more lightweight first floor. It’s only on closer inspection that the detail is fully revealed, including the aluminium blades that form the screens, each one folded by hand. “We wanted to make sure the finish was exact. Not folding each blade just wouldn’t have given the first floor its lightness,” adds Cerantonio.
Cera Stribley Architecture + Interior Design can be contacted on 03 9533 2582.
Words by Stephen Crafti.
Images by Emily Bartlett Photography.