Upside of downsizing
ARTICLE Patricia Moore PHOTOGRAPHY Peter Bennetts
The brief was simple; more room to accommodate a growing family, and more backyard space for them to enjoy. The outcome is the stunning makeover of a double-fronted Victorian in inner-city Melbourne that's seen the internal footprint of the house actually reduce in size, as smarter use is made of the available space.
Creating a smaller house was never their intention, says architect Melissa Bright of award-winning Melbourne architects MAKE.
"But in working through the family's brief, we found we were able to fit things in more efficiently. Then, having considered the brief down to the smallest detail of their daily lives, we showed them how we thought we could fit the things they needed into a smaller amount of space. Those spaces are made to work harder to allow functions to overlap and respond to shifts (in needs) over time."
Situated in a sought-after area next to the Yarra River, where the original brick warehouses and workers' cottages have been undergoing gentrification for many years, the site is an unusual one that involves frontages on two different streets.
For the MAKE team, that was a definite plus. It allowed them to retain the heritage front, while creating a contemporary addition that addressed the rear street.
"Typically residential alterations and additions are hidden away in backyards, but we had an opportunity to treat the rear like a new street address."
Melbourne's Heritage Overlay planning regulation meant retaining the front of the house, and alterations to the rooms in that area were minimal.
"We really just tidied up and refreshed, with new bathrooms squeezed in and (new) joinery in all the bedrooms," says Mel. But the changes to the rear were dramatic. An earlier extension was removed and replaced by a twin-gabled facade enabling MAKE's team to create new indoor-outdoor spaces. These spaces expand or contract through the use of external sliding timber screens. The use of translucent polycarbonate in the gable adds a feeling of spaciousness and is a touch of magic at night when the lights are on.
Removing previous additions also made room for a separate two-level garage/studio, which opens on to the street at the rear of the property. Space was tight and it was important 'the little brick studio' had minimal impact on the house and the outdoor area at the back - with sensitivity to the residential scale of neighbouring houses. This was achieved by the angled roof form, that minimises the height of the building.
The nearby brick factories and warehouses inspired the brick texture of the studio, where staggered bricks form an almost honeycomb effect as the sun moves around the building. "There is some beautiful brick detailing nearby and we wanted to make our own contribution."
City planning regulations, regarding overlooking into private open space, had to be taken into account. This required an "inventive response", to providing views to the street and house from the studio space. But at the same time limiting the view of the neighbours.
"The fins of the studio windows control the views of the neighbours, but still allow a look out onto the street and down to their own house."
Effectively, the project involved two separate elements and was undertaken in two stages. The actual house renovation - which saw the family relocate to a nearby rental - was stage one, taking 10 months on site. Stage two included the studio, garage and pool, which took around seven months.
Mel says MAKE's greatest challenge, when reconfiguring the house, was "fitting everything in and achieving it for a pretty low budget." (The entire project, including the studio, pool and landscaping, came in under a million dollars.)
While somewhat unusual, in that the house size was reduced, the project illustrated a trend they're encouraging at MAKE; consideration of environmental impacts when renovating or building. This is resulting in smaller, more flexible houses, indeed, flexibility is key; or "possibility for a room's function to shift and change." The multi-functional spaces in this renovation are an example, says Mel.
"Screens, moveable walls and retractable doors provide flexibility and adaptability. We try to make rooms do many things. For example, the deck outdoors area is a second TV room in summer or an extended dining room for entertaining."
"The kitchen also works as a study, library or second living room, depending on the time of day." In winter the deck space can be made cosy with the two-way fireplace, which also heats the central living room, plus the use of the sliding screen system.
The studio and the 4th bedroom are what Mel calls flexible undefined spaces. The studio, with its separate access could be anything from a teenage retreat to granny flat, home office and even a commercial or residential rental.
MAKE's 'reduction' project turns the belief that it's necessary to increase the size of a house in order to create more space, on its head. Rather, they've shown that by designing more flexible space, a makeover can achieve the same aim, and at a more environmentally-friendly cost.
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All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.
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