A Stitch in Time – Fitzroy North by Auhaus Architecture
Referencing and reinterpreting the details of neighbouring Victorian-era terraces, Auhaus Architecture stitched the heritage streetscape back together with the modern yet timeless façade. Behind this seemingly petite front is an expansive five-bedroom home surrounded by outdoor space.
Developed in the late 1800s, Fergie Street in Fitzroy North is aesthetically and historically significant for its charming and picturesque Victorian terraces. Predominantly single-storey, single-fronted and attached, the dwellings vary from modest timber and stuccoed cottages to decorative Italianate-style houses with colourful brickwork, ornate ironwork and elaborate pediments. Amid these heritage terraces sat a simple timber cottage, somewhat of an ‘ugly duckling’ in the otherwise harmonious streetscape. The façade appeared as two mismatched single fronts – one flat and plain, the other with Edwardian-style fretwork and bullnose roof – and each with a different pitch for its gabled roof. The council had designated the house a contributory item for its seemingly Edwardian façade, but the front had essentially been tacked on to what was originally a chicken shed, then carpentry workshop and, finally, a home. Fortuitously, the council realised the error, enabling the owners to build a new house for their active family of five. They engaged Auhaus Architecture to design a robust and functional light-filled home, with plenty of outdoor space and a façade that stitches the heritage streetscape back together.
“It’s a very beautiful street, and we felt responsibility to design a house that fits seamlessly within it,” says Kate Fitzpatrick, Co-Director of Auhaus. “We had a lot of fun reinterpreting different details, forms, tones and materials from the streetscape. It’s a modern façade that feels ageless at the same time.” Nestled between two Italianate terraces, the house negotiates the different setback distances of each, and the eaves and parapets line up with the neighbours to unite the row. The off-centre brick wall and black vertical strip create the appearance of two single fronts, and an arched opening in the brick wall draws on a common motif of the heritage streetscape. Glazed forest-green tiles cladding the lower façade wrap up the curved soffit of the eaves, while crisp white bricks offer a sharp contrast.
The deeper setback to one side provided space for landscape architect Mud Office to develop a pocket of garden to complement the house and street. “Three strikes of white birch tree trunks against the dark green amplify the depth of the façade and garden, and the glazed green tiles really light up with the late afternoon sun,” says Ben Stibbard, Co-Director of Auhaus. Behind this seemingly petite façade is an expansive two-storey five-bedroom home with living spaces surrounded by a swimming pool
On the ground floor, a bedroom and living room are at the front of the house, with the kitchen and living area stretching along the southern side of the double-width block and culminating in a glass-box pavilion,
offset from the boundary, containing the dining area. “Resisting that continual plan spread along one edge allowed for different pockets of garden to create a little forested area around the living and dining area,” Ben says. Upstairs, the three children’s bedrooms are above the kitchen and living area, while the parents’ bedroom and bathroom are atop the front of the house. This retreat-like space opens to a terrace tucked behind the parapet, which obscures the view of the school opposite as well as concealing this second storey from the street.
Glazing throughout the lower level brings light into all the living areas, with the width of the upper volume and metal awnings creating an eave to shade downstairs in summer. The glazing enhances the openness and spaciousness of the house and provides sightlines and connections through the interior and garden. Kate describes how “from the pool you can look straight through the windows of the living room to the street, and vice versa. You don’t often get that connection in old terraces.”
An atrium is also a key point in the connection and flow of spaces. Sitting alongside the stair, between the front and back of the house, the atrium has a double-height wall of glass with an arch framing the view of the pool and neighbouring terraces from the top of the stair. “It offers a really nice glimpse across the rooftops, chimneys and parapets all lined up down the street,” says Ben. The connection is enhanced by the use of brick on the atrium walls, as Auhaus brought the exterior brickwork inside to create continuity in the materiality. Brick also clads the fireplace in the living area, and another arch is recessed into the exterior of the end wall upstairs. The glazed green tiles on the dining pavilion also continue the palette of the façade through the house, reinterpreting the heritage nature of the street in a fresh and modern way.
The interior palette is otherwise simple, neutral and unfussy, providing durable surfaces and an understated backdrop that does not detract attention from outside. The marble island and benchtops in the kitchen are complemented by light grey joinery whilst herringbone timber flooring references the era of the street. The balustrade is clean crisp steel, and bedrooms and bathrooms have timber joinery and natural stone. The client selected the furniture with assistance from Auhaus. Mixing modern and traditional pieces, the furnishings introduce rich greens, blues and neutrals to enhance the colours of the streetscape and landscape, further connecting the interior, the architecture and the site.
Modern yet ageless, the house nods to the past and provides for the future. The façade stitches the past and present of the beautiful streetscape together, while the volumes and materials connect the interior and exterior spaces for contemporary family living.