Elevating the Everyday – Balwyn House by Robson Rak
The Fisher & Paykel Series
Balwyn, VIC, Australia
Tasked with increasing the footprint of this 1930s house in Melbourne’s leafy suburb of Balwyn and injecting natural light into its previously dark spaces, Robson Rak has created a dynamic home that elevates the everyday while catering to the needs of a young, bustling family of seven.
From the street, there is little indication that anything contemporary has transpired. True to the home’s Arts and Crafts styling, the heritage-protected façade is beautifully detailed, with a strong focus on artisanship. Wanting to honour the identity of the original home, Robson Rak founding directors Kathryn Robson and Chris Rak made minimal changes to the front elevation. However, subtle contemporary elements inspire curiosity from the outset, and a new zinc-clad wing spanning three levels and a light-filled internal courtyard characterise this layered family home.
The new addition features a zinc-clad rectangular form with a highly sculptural concrete awning that extends over the back terrace.
A reimagined entryway featuring a steel canopy above steel-framed fluted glass doors catches the eye from the front. It is an elegant solution, one that excites and intrigues, setting the tone of what unfolds beyond the threshold. One other key element interrupts the predominantly heritage language: the zinc-clad addition at the back, which cantilevers over the right-hand side of the house. It is deliberately subtle, and a striking example of Robson Rak’s meticulous and deeply considered approach to the marriage of heritage and contemporary architecture. “We wanted to introduce some really strong sculptural forms to contrast against the original house, which has that decorative aesthetic,” Chris says.
Recycled bricks to match the original red clinker-style bricks have been used to clad the extension down both sides, creating an uninterrupted language. However, the intentional juxtaposition between old and new is completely arresting at the back of the house. The new addition features a zinc-clad rectangular form with a highly sculptural concrete awning that extends over the back terrace. The concrete awning has been constructed at an angle to the house, creating a partially covered outdoor seating area overlooking the pool and garden. This allows for maximum natural light in a south-facing backyard.
While the architecture creates a deliberate disjunction between old and new, with the interiors Robson Rak has taken a cohesive approach through a classic, timeless look.
While the architecture creates a deliberate disjunction between old and new, with the interiors Robson Rak has taken a cohesive approach through a classic, timeless look. “Internally , our approach is always to try and link a new and an old portion of a building, rather than have that feeling like you’re in two different houses,” explains Kathryn. In the original part of the home, many of the heritage features have been wholly embraced by the architects but interpreted with a contemporary edge. In the entrance, a sweeping staircase complements the existing curves of the arched doorways, but also speaks to the sculptural, intersecting concrete planes at the back of the house.
Stepping through steel-framed fluted glass doors into the formal living room, you are welcomed by a rich palette of colours and textures which enhance the grandeur of the original home. The walls are painted in a deep cerulean blue, a sumptuous choice alongside dark wood floors. Designing for a young family, the architects selected materials for their durability, without compromising on beauty. Hardwearing terrazzo flooring throughout creates a wonderful fluidity, acting as a single thread from front to back and enhancing the unified approach. More robust materials like terrazzo and steel are balanced with natural stone and timber, elevating the sense of luxury .
All the heritage features gently remind you to admire the history of the house through a contemporary lens.
Upstairs, there is a wing of four bedrooms for the children overlooking the backyard, each with an ensuite. The master bedroom is located at the front of the house and is finished in subdued, lush tones of grey and oatmeal. Much like downstairs, Robson Rak has allowed the history of the original house to inform the design. The ceiling curves with the trajectory of the original building, traditional double sash windows have been re-installed (and double glazed for ultimate thermal performance) and there are wood-panelled built-in cupboards painted in a soothing dove grey. All these features gently remind you to admire the history of the house through a contemporary lens.
As the home of a family of seven big on entertaining, cooking and gathering, it was imperative that the open-plan kitchen and living area considered practicality, beauty and comfort in equal measure. “When we start designing a kitchen, it’s important to consider the layout and the functional aspects, but there’s also aesthetics and materiality,” Kathryn explains. Achieving both a high degree of performance and a streamlined aesthetic was essential, therefore, Fisher & Paykel appliances were selected for their seamless integration, black finish and functionality. “As designers, we want a fully functional kitchen, but we want to see as little equipment as possible. For this reason, we’ve been using Fisher & Paykel for years; they don’t try to make a feature out of anything unnecessarily,” the architects say.
Achieving both a high degree of performance and a streamlined aesthetic was essential, therefore, Fisher & Paykel appliances were selected for their seamless integration, black finish and functionality.
The Column refrigerator and freezer have been installed side-by-side and are concealed behind beautifully-executed cabinetry. They are generous in size, therefore perfect for a large family, and the scale was ideal for this spacious area. “We liked the integration of the Columns and the scale overall felt right,” says Chris. Kathryn adds, “they have a generosity that, for a family, is really important – having have that extra volume.” The integrated double Dish Drawer is also hidden behind cabinetry, supporting the pared-back design intent.
The main pair of ovens, one convection and the other steam, and the cooktop from the Fisher & Paykel Minimal range blend seamlessly into the design and enhance the refined feeling, while the butler’s pantry is a welcome opportunity for more space and a second oven. With features such as steam technology and intuitive guided cooking, the 60cm and 76cm touchscreen ovens (with a generous 115L total capacity) are a joy to use and give this family the functionality and ease they required. The clients “have been using the ovens and the butler’s pantry quite a lot – they’re thrilled!” Kathryn says.
It was imperative that the open-plan kitchen and living area hit practicality, beauty and comfort in equal measure.
As the heart of the home, natural light was important in the kitchen and living space– and with the new addition facing south, getting natural light into the back spaces posed a significant design challenge. Robson Rak’s elegant solution involved an internal courtyard between the old and new parts of the house. Running almost the width of the home, it acts as a divider between what was and what is, in turn, becoming the unintentional anchor of the home. The northern sun streams in through the large glass windows into the kitchen, opening up the space and connecting you to greenery on all sides.
The courtyard can be enjoyed from upstairs, too. Floor-to-ceiling glass capture natural light and offer views to the verdant atrium below. A window at the end of the hallway also offers perfectly-framed vistas over the neighbourhood. Walking along this hallway is one of the most delightful experiences of the Balwyn House – “it is as though you are floating amongst the tree canopy ,” the architects fondly reflect.
To strike the balance between subtlety and effect is no easy feat. Robson Rak has combined the old and new of Balwyn House to form a powerful piece of architecture that will serve this family in both a practical and intangible sense for years to come.