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  • Hydro Hiatus

Hydro Hiatus

 WORDS Sharon Stephenson IMAGERY S Group


Hello wow factor

In 2013, locals Mark and Karen Bartkevicius bought the redbrick Victorian building which was built in 1922 by the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission. To say it was derelict would be to take a very large leap into the understatement pool. “Although it's a local landmark, rich with historical significance, the substation had been abandoned for years,” says Phil Beeston, Operations Manager for S. Group, the Launceston-based architects tasked with breathing life into the 120sqm structure (it's now 180sqm). Not only that, having been decommissioned as a power station in the 60s, the property had become something of a rubbish dump, collecting everything from disused washing machines and car tyres to trailers.

But what the property lacked in charm, it made up for in location: perched on one of the highest points in Northern Tasmania, the building commands sweeping views over the Ben Lomond and Mt Barrow mountain ranges, Launceston city and the Tamar River.

Although not heritage listed, the structure holds significant cultural equity. “Re-purposing an industrial building into a contemporary residence, while respecting and maintaining the original features, required a sensitive approach,” says Phil. This included retaining the 8.5m high brick facade and restoring the original bricks with their lime-washed patina to create a distinguished frontage.

“It was critical to bring light into the space, so 6.8m high windows were installed where previously large timber doors had stood.” Downstairs, Blackwood flooring was installed, while black epoxy balustrades connect the two floors. The ground floor incorporates the entrance and lobby area and a private office, along with the home’s two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

A single slab of polished concrete was added in the mezzanine, designed to sit 100mm off the existing brickwork. “This underlines the overall philosophy of ensuring the new build touched the existing fabric lightly or not at all,” says Phil. Concrete was the key material used in the build, which Phil admits was necessary to ensure the sustainability of the building. “Longevity was one of the keys to this project.”

The mezzanine level houses the open–plan living area which incorporates the kitchen, dining and lounge areas, each with their own spectacular views. Bathrooms were tiled in glass mosaic and as much as possible of the original brickwork was exposed. A key to the 18-month renovation was re-using as much of the former structure as possible. “Wherever possible, materials on site were recycled, to ensure the integrity of the property was maintained.” 

Today, a few years after the Bartkevicius' first set eyes on the down-at-heel substation, it has become a modestly scaled yet beautiful and functional home. Because one of the owners has serious health issues, creating a silent, hydronically-heated house was an important part of the design brief. Since completion, the Bartkevicius’ have called their house “the ultimate luxury”.

“Being in just a t-shirt inside on a cold frosty morning and being able to enjoy both the first rays of the rising sun, and the last rays of its setting, from the living area is a favourite,” they say. The cost of the renovation project was around A$600,000. Ironically, it cost A$20,000 to have the power connected to the former substation!

“It was an enjoyable collaborative project between the client and the architect and the stunning results speak for themselves.”

All information is believed to be true at the time of publication | For more have a read in the latest issue of Renovate Magazine no. 22 
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    Renovate Magazine