Project Feature

A heritage inner-city apartment is transformed into a unique family home

Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Rose Onas

The Little Collins Apartment by Melbourne studio De.Arch combines sophisticated design and a refined material palette with a well-developed sense of fun and personality.

When the clients approached Peita de Trizio and Jessica Pile, founding directors of De.Arch, to breathe new life into their heritage apartment on Little Collins Street in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, the brief included not only redefining the spaces and introducing more natural light but also an indoor rock-climbing wall. The result is a joyful, unique home that is also at once elegant and contemporary.

The Little Collins Apartment by De.Arch – a small heritage apartment in Melbourne’s CBD is transformed into a fun, unique and contemporary home. Photography by Tatjana Plitt.

Recognising that the most inspired results come from working with the clients passion for the project, De.Arch took on the challenge of re-envisioning the heritage apartment with similar excitement. The significant constraints of the existing apartment building resulted in an inward-focused project. ‘We view interiors and architecture as one and the same’, says Peita, project architect on the Little Collins project. ‘Although we are trained in architecture, interiors have always been just as important to the overall project’. This approach enabled them to work with strategically with features of the original apartment, such as the steel-framed windows and solid bones, while introducing contemporary materials and finishes to reinterpret the space to suit the clients and their young daughter.

The internal rock climbing wall in action! Photography by Tatjana Plitt.

Peita describes the Little Collins Apartment as, of their projects, ‘probably the one that has been the most authentic representation of the client’. Often people focus on broad-appeal ideas for resale, ‘and therefore shy away a little from dictating what they really want in the design that’s just for them, but sometimes we come across clients like those for the Little Collins Apartment who weren’t afraid to make sure the space was uniquely theirs’, she explains. In this case, the clients’ ideas which showcased their personality included the aforementioned rock-climbing wall, leather floors, and hidden kids’ nook.

Photography by Tatjana Plitt.

Directors of De.Arch Jessica Pile and Peita De Trizio.

‘Refining these fun ideas created a challenge’, Peita says. ‘Firstly, in reigning in what was most important, and then determining how it would work functionally – the right numbers of bedrooms, gaining some extra daylight wherever possible and overlaying it with the absolute must-have rock climbing wall’. With collaboration an important part of De.Arch’s design process, the architects worked closely with the clients to ensure they could engage with their ideas to create a design that also worked within the other constraints.

Photography by Tatjana Plitt.

With the apartment predominantly facing south, introducing more natural light was a key challenge. As a heritage building, it was not possible to change the windows, and as an apartment nor was it possible to simply add a skylight. The architects found a solution in polycarbonate sheeting, with its semi-translucent properties allowing the inner rooms to borrow natural light from the main windows. ‘A little added bonus was when lights are turned on in the study or bathroom at night, it creates a beautiful glow to the centre of the apartment’, adds Peita.

Photography by Tatjana Plitt. Semi-translucent internal walls allow natural light to be borrowed from the perimeter rooms.

With no outdoor space to work with, the design incorporates a small ‘winter garden’ internal balcony, which increased the sense of natural light and created a feeling of outdoors without actually accessing the outside. ‘It’s one of my favourite spaces’, says Peita. ‘The fact that a sliding door and wall and floor finishes could make a space feel outdoors, (although it’s actually not), added an extra element into what was essentially an internal fitout’.

Photography by Tatjana Plitt. The indoor ‘winter garden’ provides a sense of the outdoors without actually creating any outdoor space.

The small overall size of the apartment meant it was important to not only use space efficiently, but to avoid cluttering the interior with too many materials and finishes. De.Arch follow a very structured design process at the beginning, always starting with the floor plan. As Peita explains, it allows them to ‘focus on how the spaces work functionally, how they flow and connect from indoors to outdoors, without getting caught up in the aesthetic. The floorplan-only approach allows us to understand the client needs a little more first and really lock in the function of the spaces. We then move into 3D with a much more thorough understanding of what they’re looking for.’

In the Little Collins Apartment, the floor plan was largely decided by the hierarchy of rooms’ access to natural light. The bedroom, kitchen and living room, as the spaces most used, were positioned around the perimeter to maximise their access to natural light. Bathroom, laundry and study nook were positioned further in, using the translucent polycarbonate to take filtered light from the perimeter rooms. Then, they focused on deliberately restrained colours and materials for the interior – Peita says ‘Keeping things light and minimal within the interior architecture ensures the space feels as generous as possible. Splashes of colour or a unique material are allowed to sing and not complete with too many elements.’

This highly considered and detailed approach creates a strong foundation upon which the fun and interesting elements can play. Such a level of focus on the essential elements of the space results in a small apartment that perfectly captures the essence of the clients’ personality and ideas, while also being highly functional as a home for a young family. More than simply highlighting the success of an integrated approach to architecture and interiors, with its hallway rock climbing wall, indoor balcony and innovative approach to light and natural materials, the Little Collins Apartment shows what is possible when both client and architect are passionate about their project.

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