We first visited this 1950's cream brick bungalow on a huge 800sqm block back in 2013 for a sustainable design consultation. At the time the house was run down, dim, cold and had numerous issues to be resolved. Most confoundingly, in the 1970's, a self-contained granny-flat had been built only 4 metres from the back of the house. This addition not only blocked the home's connection to the generous garden but made both buildings feel hemmed in and dark. Both buildings were in disrepair, dated, inefficient and, with a south facing backyard, lacking in northern sunlight. To the owners dismay, all of the professionals they had met with so far had lumped it in the 'too hard' basket advising them to demolish both buildings and subdivide the block into townhouses. Such is the fate of many period homes on large parcels of land close to the CBD!
However, they loved the deco style charm of the cream brick and if you were willing to look beyond the unfortunate configuration they had two solid brick buildings with charming period features that in my mind were just begging to realise their potential.
Our design concept was to turn the problem on its head and make it the solution. We proposed that rather than demolishing the granny-flat, and building an extension, we keep the entire footprint of both buildings and consolidate them to create one large, unified, ecologically sustainable home. This design was resourceful both materially and financially by drastically minimising the amount of new build required to create their dream home - instead capitalising on the scope of the existing structures, maintaining the charming original features of the principal building and upgrading the rear building interiors and windows extensively so that they read like new spaces. This project required a lot of imagination and a willingness of the owners to do something unconventional. To our delight they embraced the idea wholeheartedly.
The buildings needed a total reconfiguration, refurbishment and thermally efficient retrofit. In doing this many diverse problems were solved at once. We provided access to all day winter sun to daytime living areas, by placing them in the rear building, set back from the rest of the house. A functional layout and abundant visual and physical connection were able to be created. We collaborated with building designer Logan Shield to design structural changes involving a simply conceived passage that would function as a sitting room and joining the main house and minor dwelling, and a new cathedral roof to the rear building allowing for north facing clerestory windows to be added.
Solid Vic ash timber kitchen cabinets from the 1970's were removed at demolition and seriously pimped- the timber sanded back and re-oiled to be up-cycled into the new kitchen. Durable matt benchtops were built out of Kobi board- a recycled composite concrete and timber product.
Creating visual and practical connection from the residence to the rear garden was prioritised, sliding doors were added to the east courtyard and west decking- making the most of the generous productive gardens. To avoid extensive patching of exterior brickwork, existing window openings were used and the windows replaced with timber double glazed windows. West and south facing windows were reduced and north facing glazing increased. The spaces resulting footprint was large so spaces were designed for flexible use with potential work from home spaces. Maximising the thermal efficiency of the buildings and upgrading to sustainable technologies involved rainwater tanks, photovoltaic systems and solar hot water. Heating was upgraded to two zoned efficient space heater systems and ceiling fans were added.
The new sitting room was conceived of an exceedingly simple timber clad structure that would slide in under the eaves and create minimal alterations to existing rooflines. This room opens onto outdoor living spaces to the east and west allowing the owners to follow the sun all day long, and providing cooling ventilation in the summer. Early on we envisioned a space for reading and morning coffee and bobby coffee table and pampa rug from Pop and Scott made this space come together.
The new living areas are separated from the rest of the home by a beautiful barn-style blackbutt timber door that was built onsite. This allows the space heating to be zoned to this living area during winter but also slides cleanly away when not in use, tucked neatly against the shelving like a feature wall panel.
The old granny flat has been totally transformed into a warm, light, open plan, living/dining and kitchen plus a new laundry/ mud/ drying room and second bathroom. Classically appealing details were chosen that do not reproduce the mid-century period style but that provide a contemporary interpretation of it, building a cohesive relationship between old and new. The existing Australian hardwood detailing (Blackbutt) was continued throughout the new spaces to minimise any jarring transition from old to new. Door hardware and window hardware in aged brass is also consistent throughout.
Salvaged timber railway lockers were repurposed and vintage fluted glass doors sourced. A combination of vintage and locally made custom furnishings was used to create a timeless mix of style and form - unified by quality and materiality.
The colour palette draws on earthy deep textures and colours reminiscent of the period 1950-1970 when both buildings were initially built. Varying shades of warm timber are combined with terracotta and treacle-coloured tiles. Accents in deep green and brass are used on a neutral base of white, charcoal, warm blacks and concrete. Surface materials provide textural interest, with the existing exterior brick creating a new internal wall, slim plantation timber lining boards to the cathedral ceiling, mosaic tiling, raw terracotta and recycled composite surfaces. Durability and practical function have been considered in each space with a place for everything and robust surfaces that will age well with use.
All photographs by Emma Byrnes