Andrew Maynard Architects extends a Melbourne house with a curvilinear pod creating a series of colourful moments.
For a non-paradigm-threatening alt-and-add project, with existing bedrooms at the front and open-plan living-dining-kitchen area to the rear, you don’t need more than half a dozen photographs and some descriptive text to get a sense of what it’s like to inhabit. Sure, there will be fine details that you might only discover by visiting – the way that afternoon light makes patterns on a timber floor, say, or the pleasing, powdery texture of a precast concrete kitchen bench – but you’re unlikely to be surprised. You’re unlikely to enter a space and feel a physical reaction. Well, at Andrew Maynard Architects’ Mash House, you do. It happens when you pass from the original central hall into the glass walkway to the new extension.
It happens again when you sit in the lounge room, effectively dropped in the middle of the garden. And it happens a third time, when you scale the garage at the rear of the block and perch on the roof deck. The house has a compelling, retro-futuristic look about it, some lovely details and flourishes of colour, and stunning custom joinery, but it is this series of spaces and places – moments, if you’ll forgive the cliché – that set it apart from so many inner-urban residential extensions.
The front four rooms of the old house have indeed been retained as bedrooms, but two bright green pods that reclaim the old driveway along the side of the house surreptitiously announce a colourful and curvilinear new architecture to passers-by. Both pods are accessed from the master bedroom, one a walk-in robe and the other an ensuite; they’re functional and fun and, by plugging into the existing structure, obey the architects’ ecological imperative to minimize demolition and construction.
Walking down the hallway, between the bedrooms, and looking towards the rear of the house, the dining table is visible, albeit through two glass walls. The view is intriguing – the destination is clear but the route to get there isn’t (unlike so many open-plan extensions). Perhaps it’s this moment of distraction that makes the transition from old house to new extension so affecting. Suddenly you’re in a low-ceilinged glass walkway, a glass case. The instantaneous feeling of compression, of squeezing through a tight space, juxtaposed with the transparency of walls and ceiling, makes for an uncanny experience.
The human brain adapts, the moment passes, and details come into focus: to the right, a small walled garden of synthetic grass makes for a perfect, contained kids’ play area; to the left, a study zone; between them, the bifold glass wall of the walkway peels away, merging study and garden into a single, bright space, neither truly indoor nor out. Behind the study, the central bathroom adds a sense of humour to the house: red and white wall and floor tiles have been laid in a Psycho-inspired blood-spatter pattern. The upper half of the shower wall is glazed, letting in ambient light and fogging up to indicate when the room is in use.
The circuitous journey to the living zone passes through the kitchen, which is defined by an elongated kitchen bench, lime green at one end and stainless steel at the other, and custom fabricated with a large radius to the corners. (The soft edges here, as elsewhere, were designed as a response to the make-up of the clients’ family – three females and one male.) Behind the kitchen is a pantry-cum-butler’s-kitchen – the perfect place to hide kitchen mess – while overhead, a black bulkhead matches the low ceiling height of the walkway and perpetuates the feeling of “closeness.” The pay-off comes a few steps further on, as you emerge into the airy dining and lounge area, and feel the space expand around you.
By separating this volume from the original house, the architects have manufactured a sunny northerly orientation for the living area. With floor-to-ceiling glass walls to the north and south slid open, the breeze flows through and the sounds, smells and movement of air are at once energizing and relaxing; the space simultaneously offers connection with the natural elements and shelter from them. Many architects talk of “celebrating the backyard” but this space does more than that: it’s in the backyard.
The budget didn’t allow for a complete redevelopment of the rear garage, so it’s been clad in a lightweight screen of horizontal timber slats and topped with a rudimentary timber deck. Climbing up to the deck, using the screen as a ladder, taking in the urban vista of laneways, fences, rooftops and backyards, and the city skyline beyond, feels somehow carefree, cheeky, and evokes childhood memories of climbing onto roofs, into trees, of going somewhere you shouldn’t, of transgression and freedom. “Are we supposed to be up here? Who cares!”
From this vantage point, the extension looks like something that’s landed in the backyard – a UFO conveying particularly hip aliens with a penchant for Finnish saunas, perhaps. It’s exciting, very cool. But we speak of “look and feel” for a reason. Simply being here is the real treat, one that is reserved for the owners and their guests.