J. Kidman Architecture
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
The clients for this project – a young professional couple and their two dogs – loved their classic little worker’s cottage in Hawthorn. They loved the welcoming little front garden and verandah, they loved the high ceilings, they loved the tactile and humanist details like fireplaces and cornices. They just didn’t love standing outside in the cold of a Melbourne winter to get their socks from the backyard cupboard functioning as their laundry. So they approached J. Kidman Architecture about options to sensitively update and extend their beloved cottage.
Any solution had to account for key restraints imposed from each end of the skinny east-west block. At one end was the primary period frontage, in a traditional streetscape with a general Heritage Overlay and an individual contributory heritage grading, demanding minimum visual impact by any new works. At the other end was the open space of the backyard, which the clients wanted to maintain as much as possible, including the existing ability to accommodate a car driven in and stored off the street when necessary.
While only encroaching into the backyard for a few additional metres beyond the existing house footprint, a new laundry was accommodated inside, the main bathroom was updated, the combined kitchen, dining and living area was expanded, and the number of bedrooms was doubled from two to four, with one bedroom also gaining an ensuite and walk-in robe.
As a counterpoint to the fuzzy accumulation of ill-fitting modifications that are often inherited with workers cottages, the new works were concerned with bringing clarity and legibility to the planning and forms, often employing gestalt principles that are more common in graphic design, aspiring to a sense of ease and respite for the resulting spaces.
The existing entry hall and two bedrooms at the front of the house were retained and extensively repaired, preserving all the heritage features that the clients loved. The new laundry, bathroom, stair and kitchen were all plugged on behind, married together with frameless door detailing and a green paint finish to read as a single ‘pod’ nested back into the larger ground floor volume.
Dining room and living room occur either side of a soaring double-height void, with a concrete chimney breast threading snugly up through the void, and light spilling down into the heart of the house from a lantern-esque polycarbonate roof above. This threshold between dining and living was made to coincide with the end of the existing house footprint, so the void creates a moment of separation which reinforces a sense of the volumes which have been added beyond the existing footprint. The living room’s subsequent connection with the backyard beyond is blurred by extruding the outdoor pergola back into the living room, providing a tactile coffered timber ceiling, and giving the impression of the first floor above being provisionally built atop the pergola.
Upstairs, the two new bedrooms – one with ensuite and walk-in robe – are arranged simply and functionally along a small hall, with a bridge across the void heightening the ritual of arrival to the primary bedroom. The hall is relegated to the south side to give all the rooms an optimum northern frontage. The short cross-section is taken advantage of by windows directly aligned on each side for cross ventilation, and for boosting the ‘thermal chimney’ function of the stairwell.
Shifting material palettes and their resulting atmospheres serve as a subtle embedded wayfinding system during passage through the house. The ground floor is more earthy, with black stained floorboards, burnished concrete, leathered granite, coffee-toned timber and green cabinetry establishing a reciprocity with the garden outside. The first floor, by contrast, is less concentrated and more diffused, with powder blue terrazzo, pale grey cabinetry, and bright white surfaces articulating a closer proximity with the sky above.
Externally, the new two-storey addition is expressed simply as a continuation of the existing building fabric, as if a single-storey rear addition had always existed, but it had simply been lifted and the space beneath it claimed for occupation. A clean and familiar shell with a rich and transportive interior, a portal from the common to the personal.}