The Artedomus Series
Reconnecting New and Old Narratives - Captain Kelly's Cottage by John Wardle Architects
Bruny Island, TAS, Australia
Catch a glimpse of Captain Kelly’s Cottage nestled against a gentle green slope of Bruny island farmland and one recognises the easy familiarity of the galvanized iron pitched roof, the wide, low veranda, the cylindrical water tanks and the cluster of brick chimneys silhouetted against the sky.
It is an identifiable rural early-Australian architectural vernacular, most often found in tumbledown condition here and there outside small farming towns. Look closer though, and this familiar scene becomes disrupted – a timber ‘exoskeleton’ on one side, an improbably raised roof plane on another, the expanse of geometric timber window shutters – while these cannot possibly be original, these disruptive elements nevertheless intuitively feel that they belong. Step inside, and the full extent the work by John Wardle Architects is there to be discovered, in a home that introduces the inhabitant to narratives large and small – of materials, of moments, of place and of history.
The raised roof plane and expanse of timber shutters disrupt this elevation of the traditional 1830s weatherboard cottage. Photography by Trevor Mein.
Inside, the full scope of the work by John Wardle Architects is felt.
John Wardle, founding principle of John Wardle Architects, and his family have lived in the cottage on their Bruny Island farm since 2002, maintaining and improving the land over that time, and developing an affinity with the modesty of the dwelling while “pondering the changes that could be implemented”. Through living in the cottage and working on the land, the design “unfolded over time”, says John.
When observing Captain Kelly’s Cottage one recognises the easy familiarity of the galvanized iron pitched roof and the Australian low veranda.
A large part of this unfolding design involved a process of discovery as they delved into the cottage’s history, learning that it had been built in the 1830s for Captain James Kelly, a mariner who, it is speculated, employed his whaling crew to construct the cottage during the off season. The labour of this crew became visible in the unconventional construction techniques uncovered as the architects and construction team painstakingly removed the intrusions of previous unsympathetic renovations and additions.
Much of the work in the restoration involved ‘peeling back’ layers of previous unsympathetic additions.
Through living in the cottage and working on the land, the design “unfolded over time.”
The new design stays true to the spirit of the original cottage, seen here in the form of the traditional chimney. Photography by Trevor Mein.
“We undertook extensive research into the historical and social context of this cottage, mainly for personal interest but it became inextricable from my great desire to maintain the integrity of the cottage and the techniques of the past”, says John. The project may be termed a restoration, which in many ways describes how the design continuously finds its way back to remain true to the original, yet it by no means seeks to return the cottage to its utterly original state. Rather, the evidence is left to remain of the process undertaken to ‘peel back’ these later layers of the building and expose the original, creating a chronology that culminates in the home’s present incarnation.
The new design by John Wardle Architects stays true to the modesty of the original dwelling, reconnecting the new with the narrative of the old.
In this way, the structure of the cottage is imbued with the compounded narrative of its history. The materiality of the design is integral to recalling the old in the new through the deliberate use of a single purchase of Tasmanian oak for everything from the floor and the walls, structure and ceiling to the joinery. “We sought to showcase old techniques, reuse original timbers and highlight the work of the original fabricators”, says John. “In this project the significance of history and place are highlighted by these materials. The materials in the contemporary interventions are sympathetic with the old and continue a narrative of global imports in similar way to what the original builders would have encountered, as there were so few materials available at the time in the new colony.”
The structure of the cottage is imbued with the compounded narrative of its history.
Artedomus sourced the INAX tiles for Captain Kelly’s Cottage, which bring with them their own sense of history and reflect the colonial need to combine local materials with imported products.
This sense of uniting the local with global imported products comes through in the few aspects of Captain Kelly’s Cottage not fashioned in timber. An earlier trip to Japan had seen John’s love of handmade traditional crafts leading him on the arduous journey to the small, inaccessible town of Tokoname. This town, where the streets are paved with broken clay sake bottles and few tourists ever venture, is the home of INAX tiles, founded by a father and son following the commission by Frank Lloyd Wright to produce the tiles for his Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. On his return, John discovered that Artedomus, whose products he has long specified in his work, are the Australian distributor of INAX Tiles.
John Wardle Architects highlighted the significance of history and place through the natural materials and Artedomus products used in the design.
These fortuitous circumstances enabled Artedomus to source the bronze scalloped INAX Yousai tiles that cover the hearth and coffee table and the Yohen Border mosaics for the bathroom walls in Captain Kelly’s Cottage, their handmade quality, texture and hues complementing the interior’s warmth and depth. “The handmade is always of interest to me and seeing the facility in Tokoname where these tiles were made was a wonderful experience”, recalls John. These imported tiles, which carry with them their own historical narrative, beautifully encapsulate the unique combination of local materials and global products found in early Australian colonial architecture, creating yet another contemporary link to the cottage’s past.
The INAX Yohen Border Mosaics and Agape basin sourced by Artedomus.
Two Agape basins were also sourced by Artedomus. Wall mounted, they convey a sense of simple functionality, suitable to the spirit of this modest cottage, and yet also a timeless elegance of organic form, which John found to be reminiscent of the weather-worn stones found on the nearby beach. “We have appreciated the range and depth of the Artedomus collections for many years and have specified their products on a range of our projects”, says John, adding wryly, “I personally have a great affection for clay and the many and varied finishes available. Artedomus know and understand this weakness and continue to feed it to us with their generous customer service.”
The bronze burnished sheen and handmade quality of the Yosai tiles appealed to John, who took this photograph during the design phase.
The INAX tiles and Agape basins from Artedomus provide a contemporary link and bring with them their own subtle narratives in Captain Kelly’s Cottage. Photography by Trevor Mein.
The small cottage, remarkably modest in scale, has received significant recognition worldwide, including most recently winning the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards for International Excellence 2018 and the House Interior of the Year at the Dezeen Awards. This huge acclaim for a dwelling in many ways so humble recalls an invented word John Wardle Architects use to describe their architecture: ‘scaleless’. It refers to their belief that “architecture must work at many scales – from the landscape to the hand, from the city to an individual window – and in so doing reveal something about us and our surroundings”.
“Artedomus know and understand my love of natural materials and continue to feed it to us with their generous customer service.”
Captain Kelly’s Cottage is a profound example of this belief at work, encompassing the architects’ desire that the project complement its wider coastal landscape “while sitting comfortably within itself, a tiny cottage atop a cliff”.‘Scaleless’ also perhaps describes the intent behind the design, which saw the architects drawing on ideas from the practice’s civic-scale projects “curating moments which encourage social connectivity, and other quieter moments of reflection and repose”. The original verandah, extended with the new intervention to fully encompass the cottage, creates a “journey of moments” – a seat, a fireplace, a courtyard, a reading nook.
A single purchase of Tasmanian oak was used for everything from the structure to the joinery, reflecting the restricted materials available at the time of the original cottage’s construction in the 1830s.
The original verandah, extended with the new intervention to fully encompass the cottage, creates a journey of moments.
“Scalelessness, in this way, refers to striving for a direct and intimate connection with the human condition regardless of the scale project”, says John, and it is perhaps here that the project’s extraordinary quality lies. Without regard for scale or pretention, Captain Kelly’s Cottage connects with the essential humanity whose thread has endured throughout the humble cottage’s long history.