Balance & Seclusion - Nelson House by Neil Architecture
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Photography Hilary Bradford
Words Rose Onans
18 Nelson Rd 1964

Veiled by a series of white perforated screens, Nelson House by Neil Architecture layers materials, landscape and spaces to create a balance between seclusion and connection to the surrounding urban context.

Nelson House marked the third project the clients had embarked on with Neil Architecture. After designing their family home and beach house, “this project represents the next phase of their lives, with both children now at university, they felt now was the right time to downsize and move to the inner city,” explains project architect Jack Carolane. “The brief was to design a house to suit the needs of the family now, but also for the ‘empty nesters’ they’ll be in the future.”

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Nelson House balances privacy with connection to the surrounding context.
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Analysing this brief, the architects saw the design process as an opportunity to “address a series of dualities that became apparent – the present needs of the family and the future opportunity of the next generation.” Spaces would be required to function to entertain larger groups while being of an appropriate, intimate scale for a family of four and also a couple, as the family’s needs change over time. “This led us to think about incorporating the spaces beyond the site boundaries as integral parts of the design, effectively expanding the site out into the surrounding neighbourhood,” says Jack.

Dedicating the ground floor to the children, who are in university, complete with bedrooms, a second laundry, rumpus room, study nook and courtyard allows for relatively self-sufficient living, and in future, the ground floor will function as contained guest quarters. The parents’ retreat on the upper level, meanwhile, is conceived as an escape, accessed through a concealed door, it luxuriates in its own outdoor terrace with city views. While this programmatic approach was a simple and effective response to the foreseen changing needs of the clients and their family, “the irregularly-shaped site with strict site building controls posed a number of challenges during the design process,” Jack reflects.

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The façade is veiled with a series of white steel operable screens.
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The ground floor is dedicated to the children’s bedrooms, creating a relatively self-sufficient living for the young adults.

“The site is opposite an open space reserve and is afforded great views of the city,” he continues, which mean that “the design needed to balance the desire for an open, light-filled house whilst maintaining some privacy.” This challenge was addressed through the elegant gesture of an operable façade, layering mesh screens that retract entirely into a solid brick panel. “During the day, the screens are actually quite transparent when you’re inside, allowing you to play with various configurations without affecting the quality of light or the distant views,” Jack says. The result is a building that subtly yet palpably shifts from day to night. At daytime, with the sun shining on the white perforated steel screens the effect, together with the brick, is “quite a monolithic, solid form which appears to float above the ground floor.” As evening descends, light shines from within and the screens become more transparent, leading the house to take on a much softer feel.

“This project represents the next phase of their lives, with both children now at university, they felt now was the right time to downsize and move to the inner city.”

An emphasis on natural materiality and the continuation of brickwork and timber throughout the architecture and interiors, combined with considered openings, further enhance the sense of connection between inside and the broader site. This reflects Neil Architecture’s overarching holistic approach to architecture, interiors and landscaping, Jack explains. “In this project especially, the relationship between interiors, exteriors and landscape is very interconnected in our attempt to draw the distant outside spaces inside. We’ve used the same materials, bricks, white screens and timber, both inside and outside. Rooms flow casually out to numerous terrace and courtyards; internal spaces are punctuated by large linear skylights flooding them with light.”

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The parents’ retreat is located on the second floor, with a generous north-facing terrace capturing city views.
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The interior is warmed by a restrained palette of natural materials.

Strategically-placed glazing is complemented by a number of built-in planters and gardens tucked in and around the house, created in collaboration with Bethany Williamson Landscape Architect, which will grow over with time and enhance the internal outlook. Meanwhile, the bricks that feature both internally and externally are locally-produced in Victoria and contribute a subtle natural variation in colour and tone, “so even though they’re a feature in their own right, they’re not overwhelming. We wanted the architecture to have a lightness to it,” Jack adds. This is further emphasised by the warmth of natural materials with the use of grey-washed oak and grey travertine floors sourced from Spain.

Through the architects’ prevailing holistic approach, Nelson House achieves the delicate balance between openness and retreat. The result is a carefully planned, layered home that will serve its inhabitants into the future.

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Published 4 September, 2019
Photography  Hilary Bradford
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