The Pocket House
The Fisher & Paykel Series
When Whiting Architects were approached to renovate a tiny Melbourne terrace on a footprint of just 96m2, they rose to the challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to prioritise quality of space over quantity.
Likening the design and construction process of the Pocket House to ‘building a ship in a bottle’ due to the restricted site access, the final result is an achievement of design that takes restrictions and reimagines them as opportunities. With its abundance of light, clever use of integrated storage and appliances, considered monochromatic white, grey and black palette and elevated roof terrace, the Pocket House’s small footprint has arguably led to a more efficient and creative use of space that is perfectly suited to the lives of its inhabitants.
Whiting Architects are a Melbourne-based design studio encompassing both architecture and interior design. Their approach focuses on the individuality of each project – ‘We never set out with a grab bag of preconceived ideas. Each project is new and individual’ says founder Steven Whiting. Their design approach begins with broad brushstrokes that then begin to stimulate detail, and at each step, the team commit to communicating clearly with the clients. ‘Design starts with the spark of an idea that does not yet have a physical presence. Without proper communication, discussing the intangible can seem a little pompous. We consider that we have a duty to properly explain what it is we want to achieve. Communication is everything’ says Steven. He still works on a drawing board with pen and pencil to produce detailed freehand sketches that form the basis for the design, which is then produced in a detailed 3D computer model, leaving nothing to chance. Each decision is made through discussion with the design team and clients, making it an accessible and collaborative process.
For the Pocket House, the site was the starting point of Whiting Architects’ design. The opportunity to capture city views via a roof terrace meant that it was possible to use almost the entire small block for the building, while still providing outdoor space (important for the clients’ large dog). ‘The terrace also provided an opportunity for an extra long skylight over the hallway, accentuating a sense of volume as you arrive in the new addition’, says Pocket House project architect Eleanor Eade. ‘The central courtyard has been absolutely maximised, with windows accessing the available light from all 3 sides.’
Filling the space with light and maintaining height was key to creating a feeling of spaciousness. The long skylights in the dining and living areas capture the precious north light, and the internal courtyard brings natural light into the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The name Pocket House derived from this central courtyard, which creates a pocket of light and greenery in the middle of the home. For Steven, the most important consideration is ‘the quality of space. In these sort of situations, a lot of space is simply unachievable. We concentrate on creating good quality space. We kept as much height as we could and worked to incorporate long views to accentuate depth (the view down the corridor and along the rear wall lit by the skylight overhead for example).’
As the house is single story, the challenge was fitting the home’s living and functional kitchen, dining and bathroom spaces within a mere 32m2. The clients are a young professional couple who like to entertain, so the home needed to be flexible enough to work for just the two of them and also work while entertaining guests. This flexibility required an integration between the architectural and interior design. ‘We don’t differentiate between the two disciplines, taking a holistic approach to the design process.’ says Steven, ‘The office is set up primarily as a design studio with an emphasis on team involvement and consensus. This flows through to our clients, consultants and builders. We are all in it together and we aspire to a common goal.’
This holistic approach is evident in the Pocket House, with the interior elements working in tandem with the architectural elements to complete the space. ‘We retained the same language across the various elements to tie it all together’, says Steven. A large mirror on the kitchen-living space wall moves the natural light around whilst giving the impression of a large window. The shape echoes the smaller mirror in the bathroom, linking the spaces visually. The kitchen design was also key to maximising the usable space and continuing the cohesive interior aesthetic. The kitchen and laundry are one continuous run of joinery, with the laundry concealed under the stairs. An integrated fridge and single Dishdrawer™ ensure the cabinetry is seamless, helping to blur the distinction between the kitchen, living and dining spaces.
With the kitchen becoming a harmonious part of the interior, the architects describe this as allowing them to ‘cheat’ extra space – where a traditional kitchen would feel separate and reduce the sense of space, integrating many of the appliances into cabinetry makes it feel part of the whole. ‘Treating the component elements [of cabinetry and appliances] as furniture items is a great way to break down the mass of a kitchen’ says Steven.
As the clients are such keen entertainers, the kitchen needed to be just as practical as it is beautiful.The kitchen doubles as the dining and entertaining area, so Whiting Architects designed the kitchen to work with both scenarios – a design for when the couple are using the kitchen alone in their day-to-day and a second scenario for when they are entertaining. This approach to aesthetics and functionality meant that the appliance specification was key to the quality and efficiency of the space and the interior style in equal measure. The Whiting Architects team worked closely with Fisher & Paykel to achieve this. ‘The owners love to cook so they wanted high quality, hard working appliances. We wanted to play down the look of the kitchen. So the need for functional appliances that blended seamlessly into our design was paramount and Fisher & Paykel do this extremely well’ says Steven. ‘The appliances are discrete and practical but when on show they still look great. We’ve had nothing but praise for Fisher & Paykel from all our clients.’
An integrated fridge and single integrated DishDrawer™ play a key role in creating a kitchen that feels like a seamless part of the furniture, while the 90-litre 60cm oven needed to provide the biggest possible capacity for the small space. With its stylish black front, the oven is in tune with the dark timber joinery and monochrome palette, and the discrete, slim induction cooktop provides extra bench space when not in use. Meanwhile, as the laundry is tucked beneath the stairs, a two-in-one washer-dryer combination meant the clients did not have to sacrifice functionality for space. ‘The selection of appliances from Fisher & Paykel allowed us to make the most efficient use of space, and in a tight area this made a big difference’ says Josie Somerville, Whiting Architects design coordinator. ‘Fisher & Paykel really listen to designers and have worked with us to create the products that designers want. When selecting appliances for a project, we like everything to compliment each other and work together. The appliances are well designed and slimline, tying them in with the simple and monochrome palette of the kitchen’.
Creating such a flexible space that works in tune with the residents’ needs while maintaining a timeless yet warm and personal aesthetic – all in a tiny Melbourne block with restricted access – is no mean feat. From the high level of attention to detail in the choice of appliances, to the emphasis on natural light, and the integration between the architectural and interior design, the Pocket House proves that it is the design approach, not the amount of available space, that matters most.