The Converted Church Project by Doherty Design Studio | The Fisher & Paykel Series
Hawthorn, VIC, Australia

Rose Onans

As a heritage former church the building could not be changed from the inside, so the project is focused inward on creating a retreat from the hectic city outside.

The Converted Church Project by Doherty Design Studio in Hawthorn, Melbourne creates a unique contemporary family home in a heritage 1930s brick church.

The design is contemporary in its thoughtful selection of materials, restrained colour palette and emphasis on natural light, yet also enriched by taking its inspiration from the original meaning of the space as one of sanctuary and tranquility.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

When Doherty Design were approached to breathe new life into the almost 100-year-old church, they found themselves working with not only the original structure but the repercussions of earlier renovations. ‘When we first went in it felt really tired, but we could see the amazing stained-glass window and feel the potential’ says Mardi Doherty, founder of Doherty Design Studio. ‘It had been divided up into many different spaces by a builder – the rooms felt really cramped, and we actually ended up revealing a lot of the original architecture that had been covered up’.

As the church is heritage listed, it was not possible to make any external changes so the project was entirely focused inward. This made bringing natural light into the spaces a key challenge, as it was not an option to add more windows. Instead, the designers changed the original heavy timber window frames surrounding the void for slim white steel frames, which pivot to bring in the cooling cross-ventilating breezes. Working with a void that encompassed three levels allowed the space to feel more open and introduced views in each room to the stunning stained-glass windows, which bathe the interior in soft colours, changing with the angle of the sun.

A void opens the space and gives views of the stunning stained-glass windows to other rooms.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

A luxurious outdoor bathing zone is glimpsed from inside.

Removing the heavy carpets from the hall, main bedroom and stairs helped to lighten the space, while the light colour palette naturally brightens the interior. The overall focus, however, was to restore the many beautiful elements of the original architecture. ‘Our primary role, I felt, was to just highlight the existing elements in the building.’ says Mardi. ‘The previous renovation detracted from it, so we pared it all back and allowed the existing architecture to shine.’

This approach results in a home that rediscovers the calmness and tranquility of the building’s previous life as a church. Moving from the country to inner-city Melbourne, the clients were looking for a space that could be a retreat from the busy city streets outside. Mardi explains that the project was ‘really driven by their love of unusual spaces historical objects. It was important to them to have a calm, contemplative space, so we embraced the spiritual feel of the home’. This is felt not only in the distinctive stained-glass windows and arched doors but in the thoughtful use of materials and soft curved surfaces.

The main bedroom features softly curved walls with a polished plaster finish, lending a calm, almost monastic feel to the space, and on a practical level blurring the line between ceiling and wall to reduce the impact of the low ceiling height.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

The heavy timber window frames were replaced with white steel frames that pivot, cooling the home through cross ventilation.

While, for many people, contemporary architecture is synonymous with sharp edges and flat finishes, the Converted Church Project finds contemporary beauty in the simplicity of soft curves. As the main bedroom was quite small with low ceilings, the design elegantly curves the wall at the ceiling to blur the line between the two and reduce the impact of the low ceiling height. With the polished plaster finish and discreet furnishings, the effect is a space that feels almost monastic in its simplicity – and luxuriously so. In a fast-paced world of busy lifestyles, time and space for reflection and rest become a luxury.

The design highlights the luxuriousness of this meditative space through the richness of the considered details – a custom-designed bed base, contemporary wall lights, small yet beautiful works of art on the walls and tactile, calm green carpet. An outdoor bathroom continues this sensory luxury. A special request from the clients, the outdoor bathing zone with oval stone bath, hammered terrazzo paving and tiled bench emphasises the joy and comfort of form and texture.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

The kitchen features rounded surfaces and a light colour palette to brighten the space.

The kitchen subtly references these principles through its gentle curves and custom joinery, with marble and tile finishes complemented by brass detailing. With only a small existing window, the original space felt dark. As with the rest of the house, ‘the clients requested a calm, uncomplicated space that captures natural light’, says Mardi. ‘We used light materials and mirrored splashback to enhance the sense of light without changing the window’.

As a family who love to cook and entertain, the kitchen is also an important functional and social area of the home. ‘Last year they invited 50 people over for Christmas!’, Mardi says. ‘They are such warm and generous people, and the kitchen is a big part of that’. Both Doherty Design Studio and the clients were familiar with Fisher & Paykel’s appliances and loved both the functionality and their simple, elegant design credentials. Having worked with Fisher & Paykel on previous projects, Mardi says they could be confident to recommend Fisher & Paykel in this project.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

The integrated French door refrigerator by Fisher & Paykel keeps the kitchen clean and elegant, and the doors are practical for a small space by not taking up too much room in the walkway.

The DishDrawer by Fisher & Paykel is integrated into the cabinetry, and allows flexibility for both a large family or a small household of two.

As it transpired, the clients’ desire for a 900mm induction cooktop was not compatible with the power supply, but Mardi explains ‘Fisher & Paykel‘s seamless design of combined induction and gas cooktops meant that we were able to come to a resolution easily. The appliances side by side create a unified look and allow for versatile cooking.’ A double DishDrawer™, meanwhile, was a clever solution for a home with varying needs. ‘While the house is currently home to four, both drawers are used regularly’ says Mardi. ‘However, the option to only use a single drawer when the kids move out and the house becomes a home for two is hugely beneficial, more sustainable and convenient’.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

‘Given the small space and low ceilings, we wanted the appliances to be integrated easily to allow for a clean aesthetic that gave the illusion of more space’, Mardi continues. The DishDrawer™, refrigerator and rangehood are all integrated, which combined with a sleek wall oven allow the design to remain as uncomplicated and elegant as the clients had requested. As with the rest of the house, subtle detail is important in the appliances too, with black leather handles by Made Measure on the French door refrigerator and the curved edge surrounding the integrated rangehood creating a considered, elegant space.

With such attention to detail in all aspects of the design, the Converted Church Project is an inviting, soothing family home. Luxuriating in creating a calm retreat from the hectic surrounding city, through this project Doherty Design highlight the rewards of finding meaning and beauty in simplicity.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

The stained-glass window was a stunning aspect of the original church.

Photographed by Derek Swalwell.

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