A warehouse conversion by Techne Architects retains the integrity of the original structure, with some carefully inserted refined contemporary elements.
It is one of those unfortunate facts that the process leading to a beautifully simple result is rarely as simple as the outcome. In fact, as this project demonstrates, the road to pared-back simplicity usually involves innumerable iterations, rigorous refinement and a willingness to pore over every detail. Luckily a result like this is well worth it.
With their grown-up children out making their way in the world, clients Dianne and Frank McCulloch embarked upon … what is the opposite of a tree change? An urban escape, perhaps? Selling the family home in the suburbs, they searched for a warehouse conversion that would fit their needs.
The space they found, in inner-city Richmond, had, some years ago been converted from its original warehouse function. It had served time as an office, then a dance studio and, most recently, a residence. The clients were drawn to the warehouse conversion type because they loved the history and the visual cues to a building’s past. It was fortunate, then, that despite its varied uses, this space retained much of its original fabric. And, with this latest reworking by Techne Architects, those wonderful elements take centre stage.
“Retaining the warehouse aesthetic was really important to Dianne and Frank. That was made pretty clear from the outset,” says Steve McKeag, project architect at Techne Architects. Indeed, it is those existing elements that give the project much of its character – a network of black steel struts crisscrosses the space, piercing the beautifully solid blockwork of the original structure. On the east-facing street frontage, multi-paned, steel-framed windows gaze at the train line, just visible behind the fronds of the tall peppercorn trees opposite.
To retain the integrity of the existing structure, the project plays with the idea of insertion. The new elements are quite deliberately glossy and refined, altogether different from the solidity and ruggedness of the warehouse’s industrial past. The architects envisaged the kitchen as a floating element within the space – the edges have been pulled in to create a narrow slot above the joinery. Black sprinkler pipes slide in from this gap, emphasizing it and contrasting with the white joinery.
Rather than span the full width of the space, the kitchen has been pulled in from the southern wall too, to allow a hallway through to the rear of the building. While this hallway accesses a compact powder room, it also does a neat trick of capturing light from the window on the rear wall. “It was so important to bring that light in,” says Steve. “We originally had the window into the powder room, but it made more sense to allow the light into the living space instead.”
There is a high degree of craft in the project, with many custom fittings and a rigorous approach to detailing. “So much of the project is about the joinery, so it was important to get it right,” explains Alex Lake, Techne’s architectural graduate. “We’re obsessed with shadow lines.” This fastidiousness is evident in the crisp geometry of the joinery, the custom shelving and wine racks, and monochrome palette. “Working with a trusted builder makes all the difference on a project like this,” says Steve. “It’s great to have someone who has an interest in the design aspects.”
Above the kitchen, a mezzanine bedroom sits under the rake of the roof. A less sympathetic architect might have extended this mezzanine to occupy much more of the void, but the team here demonstrated considerable restraint, adding a few metres to improve the practicality of the space but keeping as much of the open-air quality as possible.
The bedroom proper looks down to the living room below, and a compact but thoughtfully conceived bathroom has been installed behind a bank of wardrobes. In the bedroom there is one beautiful detail that really characterizes the project: along the rear wall there is a lean interstitial space separated from the trafficable area by steel struts and sturdy-looking timber beams. This sliver of space serves no practical purpose, but it is an elegant reminder of the building’s structure and history.
At ground level there is a second bedroom with an ensuite – a compact retreat accessed via an impressive top-hung steel door, most fitting for the conversion’s industrial flavour. “There’s a real solidity to these steel doors. You mightn’t notice it at first, but we really liked the authenticity of it,” says Steve. Though the room was originally intended as a guest suite, the imminent return of Dianne and Frank’s son from overseas means it is likely to see a more permanent resident soon.
In the absence of an outdoor area, the former garage plays dual roles as bike workshop – Frank is a bike enthusiast – and, in the warmer months, de facto terrace. “We’ve had barbecues down there. You see the neighbours passing by and they always stop for a chat,” says Dianne. “It’s been a lovely way to get to know the neighbourhood.”