Bound by Light and Landscape – Silvertop House by Tom Robertson Architects
Nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac in Melbourne’s leafy Malvern, Silvertop House by Tom Robertson Architects merges a characterful Edwardian cottage with a light-filled addition. Through restrained materials and landscape connections, the design brings airiness, relaxation and joy into the experience of home.
As one of two Edwardian dwellings united by a gabled roof, the home’s façade and front rooms are carefully preserved in line with heritage overlay regulations, while beyond, the new addition offers a contemporary counterbalance that reinterprets the home’s ornate qualities with a minimalist hand. Designed for a young family of three, the architecture avoids the typical “rigid box on the back,” explains architect Tom Robertson, instead finding a more nuanced solution “that is neither mundane nor unnecessarily adventurous in its expression.”
The addition’s skillion roof playfully echoes the half-gable silhouette of the original Edwardian home. Rising to the north, the roof pitch capitalises on warming natural light, while preserving solar access for the site’s southern neighbour. Shrouded in silvertop ash cladding, the new architecture reinterprets the timber detailing of the home’s historic frontage with minimalist restraint. The quietness of the addition’s form and finish create “a lovely synergy with the suburb that allows the architecture to sit quite comfortably in its context,” reflects Tom. This subtle design language folds seamlessly into the interior, crafting continuity between indoor and outdoor volumes. The commitment to silvertop ash as a unifying material fosters a feeling of calmness throughout, the timber’s warm hues desaturated with a dusty lime finish, “toning the material back to something quite subtle.”
Volumetrically, the addition pushes east towards its rear garden terrace, carving space for a landscaped internal courtyard that draws light into the centre of the home. Polished concrete floors ground an open kitchen, living and dining space, the combined spaces maximising the impression of space, enhanced by a linear, double-height void. Conscious of creating relief against the interior’s extensive use of silvertop ash cladding, the kitchen is deliberately pared back with white cabinetry and softly veined stone benchtops. Level and material changes afford subtle separation between volumes – namely, the rear sunken lounge room. Here, an inky blue cabinet “serves as a screening device between settings,” says Tom, buffering conversation while integrating usable open and concealed storage for the family.
Broad timber-framed sliding doors connect the lounge to the rear garden terrace, surrounded by a veil of silvertop ash battens and softened with lush planting and creepers by KLP Garden Design. A timber-lined bench nestles over the garden, providing flexible open area to suit the family’s changing demands. To the south, a grey brick wall offers a robust interface to the neighbouring laneway. The wall gently sails into the lounge room, further blurring transitions between inside and out, while harmonising against the solidity of the home’s polished concrete floors. The addition’s rear elevation is defined by a grid of timber-clad portals extruded from its skillion roof form, “framing playful aspects of the garden that shift through the day, and creating shading,” Tom explains. This expression is replicated in the home’s central courtyard, lending continuity between each interface with the landscape.
The stairs to the upper-level wrap around the glazed courtyard to create “a feeling of connection between spaces at tree-top level,” says Tom. The double-height courtyard volume offers a dramatic expansion of scale, which, awash with vertical creeping vegetation, creates ever-changing view lines through and between spaces – a binding together of spatial volumes that allows generosity and openness to be felt throughout. Operationally, this volume creates an effective thermal chimney that expels warm air from the house – “it’s amazing what benefit that also adds to the comfort of the house.”
Upstairs, an over-scaled office space directly benefits from the courtyard’s abundant light and landscaping, offering an uplifting work environment connected to the lower level. Beyond, a main bedroom suite with a bureau, robe and bathroom crafts a calming parent’s zone, well separated from the kids’ areas to create privacy for each family member. Crisp white finishes are animated with shadow and light, set against graphic, speckled terrazzo that speaks to the concrete and brick finishes of the lower level.
Though compact in scale, Silvertop House is afforded great amenity through its borrowed volumes and restrained expression. Sympathetic to its context and environment, the architecture follows Tom Robertson Architects’s pervading architectural pursuits – to manipulate natural light and create joyful spatial experiences that fuse pragmatism and beauty. The result is a calm and balanced home that effortlessly supports family life.