A Play on Expectation – Harry and Viv’s House by Ha Architecture
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
One of a row of four, Harry and Viv’s House by Ha Architecture is a small Victorian terrace – or so it would seem. The home of Ha Architecture principal Nick Harding, the project questions expected relationships while maintaining the integrity of the detailed heritage façade.
Having lived in the home for a number of years prior to the commencement of the design process, Nick Harding and his young family had developed a strong understanding of the original terrace and the neighbourhood of Abbotsford, in Melbourne’s inner north. The terrace is set within a row of four, which had all been previously under the same ownership. The former owner had arranged for all four terraces be classified as historically significant buildings, which meant “we were able to read a well-researched report that detailed the building’s history,” Nick explains, “and that deepened my appreciation for the heritage architecture.” It also contributed significant constraints to the project. Undaunted, and driven by their love of the home, “we didn’t settle for just one impossible dream — we added degrees of difficulty. Maximum focus on passive design principles and outdoor space. Minimum impact on heritage and adjacent amenity,” Nick says.
As a single-fronted, single-storey terrace, the modest scale is integral to the character of the original architecture and the new design is a response to this. The back of the house was rebuilt using the original bricks of the house to maintain the relationship with the rear of the row of terraces, which entailed that the new works take place within the original footprint – a decision that also preserved open outdoor space in the yard. The new upper level, which houses the master bedroom, is set back over 18 metres, and is scaled so that it is invisible from the street. The result is a distinct disparity between the unchanged external façade and the reality of the new internal spaces.
Having lived in the home for a number of years prior to the commencement of the design process, Nick Harding and his young family had developed a strong understanding of the original terrace and the neighbourhood of Abbotsford, in Melbourne’s inner north.
The design plays on this by articulating a new dramatic increase in internal volume through a double-height void. The front corridor opens onto the void, with the effect made more potent by a sequence of sculptural skylights that light the void from above. Yet the juxtaposition between the scale of the front façade and the internal volume is not so straightforward. While the expectation of space created by the original façade is resoundingly disrupted on entering the home, the new plan is not, in fact, large. With the void taking the place of a second bedroom in the upper level and the home constructed within the original footprint, the new design increases volume without substantially increasing the area of the plan.
Just as the relationship between the exterior and the interior is subverted, the typical relationship between different spaces, both indoors and outdoors, and indeed between the different elements within the home’s spaces, are also challenged. Building boundary-to-boundary meant that opportunities for glazing were limited. Instead, in the master bedroom, Nick explains “I knew I wanted the skylights to bring light down the void and back into the centre of the house, so I saw this as an opportunity to borrow the natural light for the master bedroom.” On this basis, instead of orienting all openings to the outside, a series of operable indoor shutters are inserted in the wall between the master bedroom and the void, allowing the amount of light and privacy to be controlled at any one time.
The front corridor opens onto the void, with the effect made more potent by a sequence of sculptural skylights that light the void from above.
Meanwhile, though the outside of the home does not reflect the inside, the master bedroom establishes and expresses a connection with the roof form. To ensure the new upper level remained low and unobtrusive, a hip and gable, mansard-inspired roof “keeps the envelope as low and as small as possible. [As a result] it feels very cosy and a bit like a loft up in there,” Nick says. The kitchen and living space also create a connection with the outside world through materiality, the tonal palette and the glazed doors that, when open, make it feel as though dining is taking place in the courtyard. “The landscape became very much a part of the dining and kitchen experience,” Nick says. “We made the decision to paint the fences a similar colour to the kitchen, and dining is the centrepiece of both the kitchen and the outdoor courtyard.”
Reflecting the modest amount of space available for the kitchen, living and dining, the design diffuses the line between zones. The kitchen is located in the centre, with the dining space on one side and the living on the other. With elements of a galley incorporated into the layout, a central island bench is the designated ‘hearth’ around which the entire space circulates. Adjoining the island, the dining table acts as a bridge between the kitchen and the courtyard.
The kitchen and living space also create a connection with the outside world through materiality, the tonal palette and the glazed doors that, when open, make it feel as though dining is taking place in the courtyard.
The decision for an electric-only kitchen was made in line with the choice to make the house fully electric, and this is evident in the choice of appliances from Fisher & Paykel. “As a family with young children and both of us working full time, we do not have the time to cook like we used to – fortunately, the simplicity and functionality of the oven in particular, make cooking very efficient and easy,” Nick explains. “The oven settings are easy to understand and the efficiency of the oven is remarkable. Similarly, we love the ease of function of the induction cooktop. It only took a moment to adjust to converting from previous gas cooking. Both appliances are particularly well designed and very easy to keep clean too.”
The other key consideration in the appliance specification was the ability to integrate the refrigerator and dishwasher. “My experience of integration from Fisher & Paykel meant it was inevitable that I specified Fisher & Paykel products,” Nick says. “The kitchen was specifically tailored to the idea of a central bench which is also our main dining space, so everything had to be integrated and really neatly concealed.” The only hint of the French door refrigerator hidden beneath the stairs is the expressed lines that double as handles and the vents machined into the custom toe kick that runs the full length of the cabinetry beneath the stairs. On the opposite side of the island, the integrated dishwasher is similarly hidden, and while cooking appliances cannot be integrated, the induction cooktop and black electric oven are visually unobtrusive, allowing the feature marble splashback and benchtop to take precedence.
“My experience of integration from Fisher & Paykel meant it was inevitable that I specified Fisher & Paykel products.”
With the kitchen and staircase forming an unconventional relationship, the detailing of both the stair and the joinery was especially significant. With the skylights above the stair an important source of natural light for the level below, Nick explains that “I didn’t want to give a millimetre more than was required for the thickness of the balustrade, so it’s very fine and transparent. We spent a lot of time developing that detail.” The effect is a further blurring of the line between spaces, creating a sense that the entire home is one interconnected series of spaces that unfold within the walls of the original modest terrace.