The First Ruum Collection – Chamberlain Architects & Ruum
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
In the practice of design, opportunities and challenges share a complex coexistence. When Ruum and Chamberlain Architects began exploring a new model redefining the path to architect-designed homes, they recognised a rare opportunity for the architects to design free of the parameters of a traditional brief, in the absence of a site or client. Yet this freedom also posed a central challenge to ensure that the houses would be responsive to their future inhabitants. Addressing this challenge created the opportunity to explore new approaches to design that encouraged Chamberlain Architects to place the future inhabitants at the centre of every design decision.
Ruum founder Elliot McLaren explains that not imposing a prescriptive brief on the architects became a foundational element of the Ruum model. “My whole belief system was to have designs that are a true representation of the selected architects’ personal design approach,” he says. “This was the intention and purpose behind giving Chamberlain Architects the organic freedom to explore and to bring their particular ethos to each of the home designs.” For Chamberlain Architects, this presented an exciting opportunity to explore ideas in testing a new approach, however, it also marked a radical departure from their usual practice of design.
“My whole belief system was to have designs that are a true representation of the selected architects’ personal design approach. This was the intention and purpose behind giving Chamberlain Architects the organic freedom to explore and to bring their particular ethos to each of the home designs” says Ruum founder, Elliot McLaren.
“As architects, we’re taught the fundamentals of design are the brief and the site,” says Chamberlain Architects Director Glen Chamberlain. “But the Ruum model asks us to think about this differently.” At the heart of Ruum is an emphasis on curating an experience for their clients, beginning with the discovery and construction process and culminating in a home that is dedicated to improving the lives of its inhabitants through design. The key challenge, therefore, was to create homes of the same calibre and integrity as high-end, custom-designed houses, without the clients’ involvement in the actual design process.
At the heart of Ruum is an emphasis on curating an experience for their clients, beginning with the discovery and construction process and culminating in a home that is dedicated to improving the lives of its inhabitants through design.
“We did a lot of workshopping early on to understand the people who will eventually live in these homes,” Glen says. Having spent over 15 years working one-on-one with individual clients, Chamberlain Architects could draw on this experience to inform the Ruum designs, and the architects worked closely with Ruum to define the basic functional requirements. Ultimately, Glen explains, they saw the challenge as an opportunity to deeply interrogate their design practice, to question the qualities that constitute a good plan, consider what the housing needs of prospective inhabitants might look like years in the future, and to explore flexible design solutions that can respond to differing needs.
Flexible planning emerged as a key consideration across the collection, resulting in five different designs. “The Ruum houses have an inherent flexibility,” says Glen. “We were always thinking about how spaces can be adapted to support people through all stages of life.” The houses include ‘flexible rooms’ that can transform into a bedroom, study or lounge as needed, while two houses have an option for dual-key entry that reflect the changing needs of contemporary living. The Gable House and the Pavilion House are divided into two virtually independent zones. “These can be engaged with on a case-by-case basis,” explains Elliot. “Children are living at home longer, so they might be used by a family with adult children, or they’re perfect for elderly parents who need to live close to family. Otherwise, they can provide an additional source of income if rented out on Airbnb.”
While each house expresses its own identity, Chamberlain Architects’ ethos is felt throughout. A continuous thread across all their work is the idea of creating “small moments of delight”. In the Ruum collection, light is key to this approach. “Natural light is incredibly important and most of the houses have carefully considered courtyards carved into them,” says Glen. “This ensures most spaces have natural light and allows the orientation to flip if the site requires it, so the home will always have a sunny living area.” The only home that does not have a courtyard, due to its smaller footprint, is the Glow House. Instead, a translucent ‘lantern’ is inserted through the central core of the home, penetrating light into the interior and creating an expansive sense of space through the resulting double-height void.
While each house expresses its own identity, Chamberlain Architects’ ethos is felt throughout. A continuous thread across all their work is the idea of creating “small moments of delight”.
Meanwhile, just as the approach to light unites the Chamberlain Architects’ Ruum houses, “the kitchens are all different, but all have shared ideas,” explains Glen. Recognising that the kitchen forms the heart of the contemporary home, the architects sought to balance the functional requirements of a kitchen with an aesthetic that complements the entire living space. To achieve this balance, Chamberlain approached the components of the kitchen more like furniture than a traditional kitchen. While the island benches act as focal points, Chamberlain has designed them like a beautiful piece of furniture, blurring the line between the interiors and the kitchen. This approach was made possible by the specification of integrated appliances by Fisher & Paykel.
Each house features Fisher & Paykel’s top of the range Column Refrigerators and Freezers, along with their signature all-black ovens, induction cooktops and DishDrawers™. “Previously, there used to be a trade-off between functionality and design, with terribly compromised integrated dishwashers and fridges that were used to achieve the aesthetic, but, thankfully, we’ve teamed up with Fisher & Paykel and that has enabled us to create designs some would say don’t even look like kitchens!” says Glen. Seamlessly integrated within the cabinetry, the appliances complement the overall design intent of the homes, while providing the high level of finesse and functionality required by homes that deliver exceptional quality of life for their inhabitants into the future.
“These are enduring houses, designed with longevity in mind,” Glen reflects. This is achieved through the attention given to the fundamental qualities of each design in conjunction with the floorplan flexibility. The interiors are characterised by natural stone, timber and steel, while the exterior of each home incorporates brickwork. “We’ve chosen materials that age well, that are low maintenance and have integrity,” says Glen. “We’ve been fortunate to do quite a number of houses in our history where we’ve experimented with brick,” he continues, “and it’s one of those materials we’ve always had an affinity for. When we approached this range, we were keen to continue our exploration of brick work as an expressive material.”
This approach to materiality reflects both Chamberlain Architects and Ruum’s uncompromising attitude to design. “We use the word curation as these houses are pieces of art,” says Elliot. From the use of bricks crafted by a Victorian family business, to the bathtubs that are hand-polished in South Africa, to the high-quality integrated appliances and the Melbourne-made tapware, “everything has a story behind it,” Elliot reflects. “Ruum is about the curation of collective genius, and everything is categorically uncompromised.”
While the entire Ruum model represented a stark challenge to the norms of architectural design, through the architects’ rigorous design process, the challenge became an opportunity to respond to the evolving nature of contemporary housing, and to deeply consider all aspects of the future clients’ experience. As a result, Chamberlain Architects and Ruum have created a collection of designs that support the lifestyle of each inhabitant, with the flexibility and adaptability to respond as their life changes.