The Fisher & Paykel Series

No Ordinary Heritage Renovation - The Stables House by Robson Rak

Caulfield, VIC, Australia

Rose Onans

The Stables House by Robson Rak is no ordinary heritage renovation. Formerly a 1920s outbuilding for a nearby mansion in the Melbourne suburb of Caulfield, The Stables House is a testament to architect Kathryn Robson and interior architect Chris Rak’s ability to work with old and new, finding a new design language while respecting the building’s history.

The old stable had been subsequently converted into apartments, making it a challenge for the designers to open up the space and create a cohesive and functional interior layout. The brief for the project was to create a warm and contemporary family home for the clients, their three children and pets. The life of a busy, sociable family informed each aspect of the design, from the layout to the material palette. This is a home made for the full spectrum of living, from the everyday rough and tumble of a family of school-aged children, to entertaining guests with dinner parties held at the generous 14-seat dining table.

The red-brick heritage building was a former outbuilding, possibly a stable or maid’s quarters, for a nearby mansion.

Robson Rak transformed the space into a contemporary, elegant and functional family home that respects the building’s heritage.

“If you dissect it, everything is really robust”, says Chris, explaining that the focus was on balancing tough, low-maintenance materials with the luxury and aesthetic attention to detail of a contemporary home. The material selection was also important in creating large spaces that maintain a sense of warmth and intimacy. The kitchen, dining and living areas needed to be large enough to comfortably gather groups of family and friends when the clients entertain without feeling cavernous and empty at other times.

The Stables House is a testament to architect Kathryn Robson and interior architect Chris Rak’s ability to work with old and new.

“Balancing size and intimacy came quite naturally”, says Kathryn. “It’s a big room but it has a lot of texture”. Natural timber joinery imbues the space with warmth, and the design expands on certain heritage details that impart a sense of character and depth. “The ceiling in the kitchen had an existing lining of boards”, Kathryn explains, “we wrapped these down onto the wall to add the extra layer of texture.” This approach is also evident on the balustrade around the stairs where an original geometric timber paneling detail was also extended, adding a bench that doubles as a storage box and highlighting the beauty in the building’s history.

Original timber paneling on the stairs was extended to cover a new bench seat that doubles as a storage box. The original detail brings character and warmth into the space.

While the spaces are large, Robson Rak’s design is simultaneously warm and inviting through the use of texture and robust materials.

The moving interplay of the new and the old in the Stables House is especially evident in the windows and openings to the outside. The building was quite dark, exacerbated by the southern orientation, so the imperative was to bring more natural light into the home. The clients also sought a greater relationship with the garden, so “we tried to visually connect to the garden in every room”, Kathryn.

The old stable had been subsequently converted into apartments, making it a challenge for the designers to open up the space and create a cohesive and functional interior layout.

To achieve this, new, larger windows and glazed doors were clearly necessary. In the dining room, however, the new window was constructed in the style of the original windows, so that “is in keeping with everything in the dining room”, Chris explains. In the living spaces, meanwhile, the simple steel frames and the very deep reveals created by the original, extremely thick triple-brick walls means these new openings feel sympathetic with the heritage building yet simultaneously contemporary.

A new timber window in the dining room was created in the style of the original, keeping it in harmony with the rest of the space.

In the living kitchen area, new steel windows and glazed doors feel simultaneously contemporary and in resonance with the heritage building.

While some of the new aspects of the design resonate with the older elements, the kitchen is a deliberately contemporary zone. “Designing the kitchen was very much a collaborative process”, says Kathryn, “the clients were very involved in where things were going to go”. Robust porcelain benchtops were a practical choice for a family of five, as was a large butler’s pantry that ensures the kitchen is clear when entertaining. Of the appliances, Chris says “the client came to us and requested Fisher & Paykel on recommendation from friends. This was probably the only thing the clients were very specific about.” In particular, the clients wanted the Fisher & Paykel double oven, which provided the freedom to cook for large groups of friends and family.

The moving interplay of the new and the old in the Stables House is especially evident in the windows and openings to the outside.

With the clients’ emphasis on entertaining in addition to everyday family cooking, the appliance choice was significant. Robson Rak had worked with Fisher & Paykel previously and appreciated that, as well as filling the clients’ needs in terms of cooking and preparation, the aesthetic of the appliances is simple and “designed to integrate”. The integrated fridge maintains the expanse of timber joinery, and the architects worked to fit the gas cooktop flush into the porcelain benchtops to create a seamless finish. Chris reflects that “Fisher & Paykel suited our aesthetic – it’s understated, it’s true to itself”.

A glimpse of the double oven by Fisher & Paykel, one of the only aspects of the entire project about which the clients were very specific.

Robson Rak were impressed by the Fisher & Paykel appliances design, which they felt was very similar to their own aesthetic.

The contemporary kitchen situated within the home that is by turns heritage and modern highlights the Stable House’s approach, which delights in juxtaposing the old and the new while at other moments seamlessly unifying them. The success of this multi-layered design can be traced to the deep integration of architecture and interiors in Robson Rak’s design process. As a husband and wife team, with children of their own, and design partners, Chris says “we’re not detached from what we design, we understand family life”.

“The client came to us and requested Fisher & Paykel on recommendation from friends. This was probably the only thing the clients were very specific about.”

Kathryn explains, “It’s hard to quantify, when we sit down and start sketching, we’re thinking about the interior spaces as much as the architectural form. They go hand in hand, it would be difficult for us to design the architecture and then not flow on through with the interior because they are so connected”. Chris and Kathryn also work closely with landscape architects during their design process, as well as considering the placement of art and loose furnishings in the earliest phases of the design. The result is an incredibly cohesive design language, in which the intent behind each decision is clear, enabling a deeper exploration of certain ideas in any given project.

The very deep window reveals created by the triple brick original walls act as a reminder of the building’s heritage.

Original fireplaces were painted white, creating continuity with the light airy new design.

By deeply integrating new with old, architecture with interiors and landscape, Robson Rak bring them into relation, creating simplicity from complexity. In this way, the Stables House tells a story that takes inspiration from its past and from its current inhabitants, weaving them together to forge a new design language.

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