West Hawthorn, bordering the Yarra River, is one of those quiet and cherished enclaves. With Barkers Road at one end and Bridge Road at the other, this neighbourhood offers both the convenience of the city and generous parklands. It was this combination that attracted the owners, a retired couple, to this locale. It was also an opportunity to build a new house, offering city views (previously a rudimentary 1950s timber house was on the 750-square-metre site).
“Our clients wanted a new house, where both the house and garden felt enmeshed. The initial discussions did include gardens they’d seen on their travels to Japan,” says architect Robert Simeoni. “They also spoke about a sense of ‘otherness’ to the house, something that wasn’t prosaic,” he adds.
The three-level house, appearing as two storeys from the street, includes basement car parking (there’s a fall of approximately four metres across the site). Constructed with Bowral blue bricks, which take on a purple hue in the afternoon light, the house sits quietly in the streetscape. The few windows to the street are modest in scale, allowing for both privacy and intimacy. Entrance to the home is via a secluded forecourt, framed by chunky brick pillars, completely open to the sky. “The idea was to create a sense of a journey, rather than a path straight to the front door,” says Simeoni, who used a series of voids and discretely placed skylights within the home to create a sense of the ethereal, or as Simeoni says, ‘otherness’.
To take advantage of the light, as well as Melbourne’s skyline, Simeoni located the two bedrooms, including the main bedroom and ensuite at ground level. There’s also a study that can also be used as a third bedroom for guest accommodation, along with a separate bathroom. And on the top level are the kitchen and dining areas, together with a living area that leads to a generous terrace. External automatic blinds cut out the western light during the summer months, while filtered light can still permeate through the various voids and skylights. The hit-and-miss brickwork framing the bathrooms, complete with internal glass-louvred windows, allow for the house to be thermally controlled. “Cross-ventilation was something we felt had to be integrated, rather than added later,” says Simeoni.
Simeoni and his team were also mindful of not creating too many distractions within the design. The kitchen, for example, is deliberately understated. White two-pack painted joinery complements the Caesar stone benches and timber floors. And to connect back to the views and garden, there’s a long elongated window that doubles as a splashback. “It’s about creating the right type of light, even and subtle,” says Simeoni, whose skylight above the kitchen creates a halo effect.
Sheer curtains can also be found in many of Simeoni’s projects to control light, as well as delineate spaces. “Curtains create a softness to a space, as well as controlling glare. This is a home, not an art gallery,” says Simeoni, who was as mindful of reducing the scale of the house, even though the street includes
buildings that are two levels and higher. For this design, the top level is primarily glass for the rear elevation, allowing the lower two levels to ‘anchor’ the home. He was also mindful of making the house feel part of the street as apposed to being concealed behind a high brick fence. A low steel fence borders the pavement that will eventually be covered in creepers. And in time, the trees, a combination of natives and European species, will further blur the division between house and garden, giving the home the sense of otherness that was requested.