Ruum – A Redefined Path to Architect-Designed Homes
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Photography Dave Kulesza
Words Rose Onans
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It is one thing to question the status quo. It is quite another to approach such questioning with the curiosity, creativity and ambition to offer something new. With high-end residential architecture at one end and volume builders at the other, the current spectrum of residential housing is one of extremes, defined by a distinct lack of quality design anywhere in between. Not content to simply identify this as a problem, Ruum proposes a solution.

Limited edition houses, designed by leading architects, crafted by builders with a record of proven success in the architectural construction industry – at its core, Ruum brings together the key components crucial to creating good design outcomes. Founder Elliot McLaren recalls, “Over 15 years working in the housing industry, one thing that became clear to me was that there was a huge gap between volume building and one-off architectural design,” he says. For people with an appreciation for quality and good design, yet without the time to devote to the intricacies of the traditional design process or budgets stretching into the multiple millions, Elliot recognised an absence of options. “In the volume market, it’s all about construction efficiency, lacking quality, heart and design integrity. However, just because you don’t have the time or sky-high budget to spend on a high-end elite outcome doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to good design,” he says.

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The Glow House [left] and the Twofold House [right] are two of the designs from the first release of Ruum houses, designed by Chamberlain Architects.
Chamberlain Architects’ Light Vault House exemplifies the practice’s extensive experience in high-end residential architecture.

Gradually, Elliot reached an understanding that what initially seemed a frustrating gap in the market was, in fact, an exciting opportunity to create something new. He saw this as a chance to offer architects the freedom to design unconstrained by the typical architect-client relationship and to work with the best builders in the industry to apply an intelligent, iterative construction process to keep budgets contained. From this realisation, Ruum was born. The innovative process takes a holistic approach to residential design and construction – between the concept (the architect) and the execution (the builder), Ruum acts as the curator and the central point of contact and advocacy for the client. With leading architects, builders and suppliers brought together through Ruum clients are given full cost transparency and peace of mind knowing Ruum handles everything from start to finish, creating a seamless experience throughout the key stages of discovery, documentation and delivery.

“Over 15 years working in the housing industry, one thing that became clear to me was that there was a huge gap between volume building and one-off architectural design.”

The inaugural release of homes was designed by Chamberlain Architects and will be built by award-winning builder Spence Constructions. Chamberlain Architects Director Glen Chamberlain and Principal Ella Leoncio have been highly involved with Ruum from the early stages. The architects saw a precedent in the vision of Robin Boyd’s Small Homes Service and were drawn to the possibility of giving more people access to architectural design within a limited-edition framework, and to the idea of creative freedom to pursue new ideas and push boundaries to achieve a finely honed result. “What’s really exciting to my team is this idea that we can bring architecturally-designed homes to more people,” says Glen. Each design will be a built a total of 10 times only in each state, which, Glen explains, “keeps things fresh. Ruum will continue to work with architects to design new releases as our designs reach the maximum number of times they can be built. This means someone who buys a Ruum house knows they’re getting a design that will remain one of a very select few within the limited edition.”

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The Pitch House designed by Chamberlain Architects for Ruum, featuring artwork by Saxon Quinn, courtesy of Modern Times.
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Ruum and Chamberlain Architects share their vision to bring architecturally-designed housing to more people.

For Chamberlain Architects, the lack of a client to set design parameters necessitated an exceptionally rigorous design process, in which Ruum, Spence Construction and the architects worked closely together. “It is certainly a challenge to design a number of different houses without a client or a block,” says Glen. “Good design isn’t just about aesthetics. We spent so much time pouring over our plans making sure they’re going to deliver a really fantastic living experience.” This relatively free reign in the design process was made possible by the vision shared by Chamberlain, Ruum and Spence. “Ruum is the curator, and that’s important,” Glen explains. “Ruum’s objective is to deliver the architect’s design and manage a seamless experience for the client. There’s no slow dilution of a design idea in the ruthless pursuit of construction efficiencies, and because of the close collaboration with Spence during the design process, there’s no risk of cost overruns either. For this first release, Ruum has brought together our practice with Spence Construction and some exceptional suppliers, and together we’ve been able to bring this shared vision to life, which is so exciting,” he reflects.

“What’s really exciting to my team is this idea that we can bring architecturally-designed homes to more people.”

For Elliot, this process of curation is “one of the things I love,” he says. In selecting their suppliers, Ruum emphasised quality and chose brands that complemented the ambition and ideas behind Ruum. “Watching everything come together and seeing the collective genius of the designer, the builder and the suppliers – when you gather a group of individuals and companies who are the very best of the best at what they do, it’s just astonishing.” Ruum chose to work with Fisher & Paykel because “they’re constantly challenging themselves to push boundaries and innovate, which we really appreciate,” Elliot says, recognising how Fisher & Paykel’s overall design-led trajectory matches the vision of design-focused living that has shaped Ruum. Each Ruum house will feature Fisher & Paykel appliances, including the Designer Induction Cooktop, All Black Oven, and the brand’s signature Column refrigerator and freezer.

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The Twofold House, like all five houses in the Chamberlain Architects Ruum collection, is equipped with top of the range appliances by Fisher & Paykel.
Elliot McLaren, founder of Ruum, Glen Chamberlain, director of Chamberlain Architects and Ella Leoncio, principal of Chamberlain Architects, all worked closely with Spence Construction during the design process of the Ruum collection.

Fisher & Paykel is creating fantastic design and making it more available, so they are the perfect fit,” agrees Glen. “Their products just sit so nicely with what we’re doing both from a design point of view, and from an ideas point of view with what we’re trying to achieve with the whole Ruum project.” The decision was driven not only by the quality of the product (although as Elliot explains, “quality is paramount, it’s no use investing in such a significant outcome and having elements that fall short”), it was also informed by the premium client experience that Fisher & Paykel offers. Each Ruum client is flown to Sydney and driven from the airport to the Fisher & Paykel Experience Centre, where they are cooked lunch and can see the product in action. “Knowing each client gets to go through this process just shows us the extraordinary lengths Fisher & Paykel will go to and the attention to detail in the whole client experience, which aligns perfectly with Ruum,” Elliot says.

[Left] The Fisher & Paykel Column Refrigerator is seamlessly hidden behind cabinetry, visualised here in the kitchen of the Twofold House, featuring artwork by Kaspar Raglus, courtesy of Modern Times. [Right] The elegant kitchen in the Pitch House exemplifies the contemporary yet warm aesthetic that characterises the Ruum Chamberlain designs.
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The Glow House, featuring artwork by Sarah Kelk, courtesy of Modern Times.

What began as an identification of a gap in the housing market has evolved into something more profound, becoming a passionate cause not only for Ruum but also for the architects and builder too. Making high-quality architectural design and construction available to more people will no doubt elevate the bar for housing in Australia, and above all, set a new standard of living. As Elliot explains, this is the vision that has propelled Ruum from simply an idea to becoming a reality. “Ruum houses are designed with purpose,” he says. “Their vision is considered and encourages intuitive living. We’re creating homes that provide more than just shelter. Ruum represents a lifestyle where fine architecture and comfort exist as one.”

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Published 9 December, 2019
Photography  Dave Kulesza
Renders:  Gavin Scott
Stylist:  Bea Lambos
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