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Our Eltham North Playground designed in collaboration with Jeavons Landscape Architects and built by the master playground builders Naturform was featured in an interesting article in this month’s Sanctuary Magazine about the importance of play. The photos of the playground are thanks to Tess Kelly.⁠

Gardiner Architects_Sanctuary Magazine

This project located in Brunswick, Melbourne started when the clients Liz and Ian decided they’d like to restore the worn-out terrace house that their daughter and her friends were living in. The project moved beyond an investment opportunity, holding the intention to create a comfortable, sustainable home prioritising longevity. The house is in a great area of Brunswick, close to cafes, transport and parks. It has a childcare centre to one side and a two-storey large red brick dwelling on the other. The site is small, long and narrow. Due to these neighbours, the house felt quite crammed in on both sides. The site still held opportunity though the building was in a very poor state.

Our small site with large neighbours to both sides

Fortunately, there are a lot of recreation facilities in the inner north of Melbourne. This has been brought into consideration in a few of our projects in the area where we’ve identified that the site doesn’t necessarily need a big backyard. If appropriate, we opt to provide smaller, efficient outdoor spaces that creates more opportunity on small sites. This often allows for a reduced area on the upper level which in turn lowers building costs.

The existing house consisted of two rooms at the front of the house. Down the hall was a semi open plan kitchen, living and dining area that had two distinct areas that made the space awkward and difficult to furnish. The back of the house consisted of a typical lean-to extension that housed a small room, bathroom and laundry in a very dilapidated state. We’ve often recalled our first site visit when we lifted the timber floorboards in the back room and found that the undersized floor joists were sitting straight onto the soil below.

Existing floor plan

Due to no heritage overlay on the site, a range of possible schemes were assessed. The exploration resulted in the sub-standard section of the house being demolished. The front two rooms and hall that held the vernacular cottage aesthetic of the area, were deemed important to retain. Keeping the front of the house, along with being a more sustainable approach, felt like a more sensitive response to the street frontage. Numerous heritage facades in the area have been lost as new developments replace the traditional style single dwellings.

Above: The finalised plan. The area to the left is the existing house, to the right is the new area with kitchen, dining, living and study  connecting to the north facing courtyard.

Due to the orientation of the site, the scheme chosen prioritised a central courtyard that allowed northern light into the ground level living areas. A spine of services including a bathroom, stairs, storage, a laundry and a study nook run along the western boundary. Large east facing windows through to the courtyard ensure the passage through the house that connects the old and new areas is full of natural light.

Left: View down the hall towards the front of the house. Right: View down hall into new section of house

The kitchen, living and dining area open up to the courtyard to the north as well as the back garden area to the South. A high ceiling in the living space coupled with expansive glazing, enhanced the sense of space due to the increased volume.

The light filled kitchen, living and dining area

Upstairs, the master bedroom and ensuite were also provided a north facing aspect. Due to the small size of the site, multiple tactics to fit the required facilities in the home were implemented. To name a few, the laundry was placed in a cupboard under the stairs, incorporating the stairs into the service spine in an efficient layout as well as doubling up circulation with usable spaces such as the dining area.

 Left: Upstairs master bedroom. Right: Vanity unit in ensuite.

The clients came to us via the local building company Sustainable Homes Melbourne. Liz and Ian described their attraction to the idea of ensuring the renovation incorporated sustainable practices, resulting in a low energy consuming, efficient home. Along with the fundamental passive solar design measures incorporated into the design, additional measures such as the use of PV cells, utilising rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing, double glazing etc. would ensure the building was practical and efficient to run. The form of the building also allows for effective passive solar sun shading. Rather than building a box that a sun shade is then added onto, we designed the walls and roof to continue past the adjacent wall which makes for a cleaner aesthetic, allows for privacy from the close neighbours while efficiently shielding the hot western sun.

  Overhang shielding the hot western sun

The colour scheme developed around the idea of continuing the feel of light, spaciousness and connection to outdoors. The intention was that a paired back palette would allow for flexibility and longevity for the different times and ages that the client’s daughter and other people live there. Due to the ambiguity of who would be living in the house, we wanted to create spaces that were enjoyable, light and interesting, allowing anyone to be able to come in and incorporate their own taste. In the living areas, timber and ply dominates. Splashes of colour are found in the splashback and terracotta pendants hanging above the island bench.

Splashes of colour seen in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom

Few views of the house allow the exterior of the home to be seen. The house is more so experienced from inside, viewing out. The cladding selections aligned with this less common way the house was experienced. Externally, the central courtyard was clad in timber lining boards. The extent of timber cladding in the courtyard makes the space feel very warm and inviting. Liz, Ian and their daughter Cat are very keen gardeners, so the space will soon be very green.

The intersecting faces of the courtyard clad in timber lining boards

For the outer walls, we opted for a low maintenance, raw finish cement sheeting product. The cement sheeting works well on the boundary walls and pairs well with the timber elements such as the windows, doors and decking.

      Cement sheet cladding seen from the rear lane behind the site

The driving force of the project was to not just add a two-storey bulk extension at the rear of the site but incorporate close views of gardens along with longer views of the neighbourhood, distant city and sky. The resulting design of the house creates a quality of light and spaciousness which was a priority identified by the clients in the initial stages of the design process and a strong contrast to the existing house. Returning to the sustainable driving force of the project, passive solar design measures ensured a strong relationship to nature, the sun and natural light, which is often missing in traditional terrace houses, that are always dark, often damp and insular. Overall, the project was kept simple, pragmatic and honest. The clients Liz and Ian were an absolute pleasure to work with and Sustainable Homes Melbourne did a fantastic job.

  The north facing aspect of the upper level master bedroom

This project is one of several new centres that involve the adaptive re-use of existing commercial building stock.

These projects present unique design challenges requiring equally original solutions. This design involves the removal of a large portion of the existing roof to meet the department’s outdoor play space regulations.

We are a small architecture firm based in metropolitan Melbourne and often work in the residential sector. We wanted to share our perspective on the current discussions around social housing and housing affordability in the property market. This post references a Radio National podcast called the Minefield between Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens titled ‘Housing (un)affordability: Is social housing a moral imperative?’ We also refer to a piece reposted by Architecture Australia titled ‘Tackling housing unaffordability: a 10-point national plan.’ Both pieces can be found through the links at the bottom of this post.

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Clients will often approach us with hopes of improving the liveability of their homes though will have concerns of overcapitalizing their properties. More often than not, our professional opinion is that if you are going to be there for another 5 to 10 years, it doesn’t matter too much. You’ll capitalise that expenditure over time and enjoy living in it. If you do something that’s well designed, that suits your needs, that will naturally attract a fairly large sector of the market later when you do sell. We recommend not designing with future occupiers in mind unless you’re selling soon. Overall, there can be a balance and a reduction in risk of overcapitalising when a client doesn’t make their home too specific for them but rather, rely on us as professionals to make that space work no matter who’s using it. Good design will always come back to the intentions of efficiency and usability. Which is a priority that quite often, comes above looking good. Looking good comes as a natural predecessor.

De Carlo Images

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A recent project that involved internal, interior based works, was in a family home in Ascot Vale. The project is a great example of how smaller aesthetic changes can make monumental differences to the experience of a home. The client first approached us with the main concern being the aesthetics of the living, dining and kitchen areas of their house that they’d lived in for over 20 years. This encompassed the entire rear area which was very dated and very dark.


Before: the dated, dark kitchen.                            After: the new kitchen in adjusted location

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