Integral solutions: Fitzroy North House

Preserving the integrity of its existing heritage condition, this addition to a single-fronted Victorian terrace by Rob Kennon Architects uses clever spatial solutions and seamless detailing to simplify the daily lives of a growing family.

There is nothing ostentatious about this house. At first glance it’s not obvious that a renovation has occurred at all; the single-fronted Victorian heritage facade remains intact, complete with leadlight sidelights in the window and original door knocker. Peeking out from behind the ornate parapet, however, is the second floor addition, which has been key to comfortably housing a family of four on this 138-square-metre block. “We were very lucky that one of the immediate neighbours had already received approval to construct a second floor,” says architect Rob Kennon. “Not every single-fronted Victorian terrace can be transformed in this way. It was the existing height precedent that made it possible.”

With council requiring the facade and chimney to be retained and protected, the strategy for the project was a straightforward one: to preserve the integrity of the front half of the terrace and demolish the lean-to at the rear. The two bedrooms making up the front portion of the house would be converted into a main bedroom plus ensuite and stair, while the rear would provide a new light-filled kitchen, dining and living space, with two more bedrooms and a study on the floor above. The challenge was to include these functions on this small block in a manner that allowed for degrees of separation between family members, that enabled the articulation of different zones and that allowed some control over their distinction.

Limed plywood, American oak, burnished concrete and Carrara marble create simple volumes animated by light and life. Artwork: Malcolm Grear.

Limed plywood, American oak, burnished concrete and Carrara marble create simple volumes animated by light and life. Artwork: Malcolm Grear.

Image: Derek Swalwell

The insertion of a glazed courtyard into the guts of the extension provides the main solution, acting as a kind of valve that mediates between the kitchen, dining and living spaces on the ground floor and the bedrooms of the clients’ two daughters above. On the ground floor, glazed, fully retractable doors enable visual continuity between the kitchen, dining and living areas. This visual connection can be enhanced by opening the doors or, alternatively obstructed with courtyard plants. Above, the two girls’ bedrooms face each other across the courtyard, with full-height glazing and louvre windows providing a visual togetherness. This can be mediated by blinds and plants as they grow older and less interested in chatting through the window and pulling faces through the glass.

A change in level from the kitchen down to the living room offers another subtle shift in space, which speaks of settling in to play or read and a nod to the 1970s conversation pit. The living space can be opened to the outside on its north and south ends, as the house is pulled back from its southern boundary to provide another external space. The same concertina doors used for the courtyard enable the living space to extend outside, or to be buffered by planting.

Throughout the project, Rob has employed a palette of limed plywood, American oak, burnished concrete, creamy white paint and Carrara marble. The aesthetic is simple and elegant and works hard to conceal the complex and messy requirements of a family home into simple planes and volumes of material. The powder room, fridge and pantry, as well as the sliding door to the laundry, have all been neatly concealed within a near seamless timber-clad volume that provides a warm and textured background to the kitchen. A similar approach is taken in the ensuite, where the shower and toilet are hidden behind a timber-clad wall, reducing the space to its essential elements. In the living room, joinery is elegantly accommodated along the full length of the east wall within the height of the step-down, neatly aligning with the datum that encircles the space and providing a platform for sitting and reading, or a place for the television.

At the rear of the kitchen a timber-clad box disguises the fridge, pantry and entries to the laundry and powder room.

At the rear of the kitchen a timber-clad box disguises the fridge, pantry and entries to the laundry and powder room.

Image: Derek Swalwell

The simplicity of Kennon’s understated composition belies a series of clever spatial solutions. Perhaps the most surprising is the compact, timber-lined roof terrace at the top of the stairs with views to the north over Edinburgh Gardens. A small hatch in the terrace’s timber balustrade conceals a deep storage space nestled within the roof cavity over the main bedroom, a testament to Rob’s consideration of every square metres.

Perhaps the greatest feat of this extension is its abundance of sunlight, a challenge for all single-fronted terraces, but particularly those with living spaces oriented to the south. The house is bathed in light, largely thanks to the courtyard and a series of skylights. The light is multi-directional: changing throughout the course of the day, throwing plant shadows on the floor and reflecting off the limed-ply walls, concrete floor and marble benchtops. The light illuminates the elegant interior of Fitzroy North House and animates its patterns of family life.

Products and materials

Lysaght Longline in Colorbond ‘Surfmist;’ Fielders S-Rib and Heritage Barrel Rolled roofing
External walls
Recycled red brick; timber cladding in Dulux ‘Clear Concrete’
Internal walls
Hoop pine plywood in Whittle Waxes Treatex Colour Tones in ‘Spruce’
Aplo steel-framed bi-fold doors in Dulux ‘Flat White’
Vic Mix polished concrete in ‘Alpine Half White;’ American oak floor boards; Supertuft Escape Velour carpet in ‘Kiki’
TossB Sphere and Disk pendants; Volker Haug Wall Step
Plantation oak veneer from Timberwood Panels; Victorian ash timber battens; Laminex laminate in ‘Parchment;’ Bianco Carrara marble benchtop; Miele cooktop, oven and dishwasher; Fisher and Paykel fridge; Astra Walker tapware; Abey sink; Condari rangehood
XLight wall tiles from Earp Bros; Fibonacci Stone terrazzo stone floor tiles in ‘Platinum;’ Astra Walker tapware; Hydrotherm hydronic towel rail
Heating and cooling
Daikin air conditioner
Thonet No. 811 Hoffmann dining chairs; Massproductions Tio dining chairs and cafe table from Luke Furniture; Artek Stool 60 and Bar Stool 64 from Anibou; Jardan Nook sofa; Armadillo and Co rug


Rob Kennon Architects
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Project Team
Rob Kennon, Jack Leishman
Builder Dimpat
Engineer Meyer Consulting
Site details
Site type Urban
Site area 138 m2
Building area 172 m2
Category Residential buildings
Type Alts and adds
Project Details
Status Built
Design, documentation 16 months
Construction 12 months



Published online: 26 Aug 2019
Words: Marnie Morieson
Images: Derek Swalwell


Houses, June 2019

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