This alteration and addition to the “worst house in the best street” is thoroughly focused on the needs of the clients, bringing delight to daily life.
Every now and then I have the opportunity to visit a house renovation and extension that is practically archetypal in its configuration. Some architectural formulas are repeated often for the simple reason that they work so well. This is the case with the Sandringham House by Technē Architecture and Interior Design, in collaboration with Doherty Design Studio, who designed the interiors.
The project started its life as the proverbial “worst house on the best street,” a rather tumbledown weatherboard cottage that was so worn and weather-warped that you couldn’t close the front door on a humid day. Despite its ramshackle condition, the client and project designers were equally committed to retaining the cottage frontage, to a depth of two rooms, as a gesture to the existing streetscape. This is a development that seeks to be a “cordial neighbour” rather than an agent provocateur, and why not?
The decision to retain the cottage set the pattern for the development of the site. The familiar and modest frontage dominates the street-front view, while asymmetrical, black-clad, upper-level gables peeking over the cottage roof hint at more contemporary goings-on at the rear of the site. This suggests that something different is playing out in the private realm and, as the visitor discovers, this is indeed the case.
The planning of the cottage is symmetrical and axial and the central hallway, with Victorian arch embellishments, leads the eye past the two front bedrooms (the main bedroom on the left and the guest room on the right) to a folded and perforated metal screen that marks the transition to the rear extension.
The main bedroom bears the features of the existing cottage, with a functional black marble fireplace and an attractive boxed window seat. At the rear of this room is the ensuite, which is characterized by a full-height fixed glass panel in the shower, letting in precious northern sunlight. This desire to seek natural light is played out in the other half of the plan, with the main bathroom lit by a broad skylight over the bath and shower.
Leaving these front rooms behind, at the end of the corridor through the cottage you arrive at the decorative folded metal screen. This screen terminates the view through the cottage and forms a clever device, creating a pivot point in the plan between the traditional rooms at the front and the open planning of the rear extension. The screen contains a collection of plants suspended in Dinosaur Designs vessels, forming a living wall.
To the left of the metal screen is the study, which has a large, square picture window looking out to a north-facing incidental outdoor seating area that is ideal for sheltered winter sun seeking. The occupants delight in the configuration of the study; it is shaped to finely balance a necessary separation from the traffic of the house with a desirable visual connection back to the kitchen and living space.
To the right of the screen, the visitor moves into the combined open-plan living room, dining room and kitchen. The architectural form of this space, which is a contrast to the compartmentalization of the cottage, is referred to by the designers as a “crate” – high-ceilinged and easily opened to the garden on two sides. This crate form is clad externally in white weatherboard, as a gesture of material continuity with the cottage. A bank of fixed white louvres on the roof edge control sunlight penetration into the living space. They also help visually reinforce the “coastal” aesthetic of the house.
The living space is where the interior design of the dwelling, spearheaded by Mardi Doherty of Doherty Design Studio, reaches its apex. The palette of materials, fittings and fixtures is in pleasing harmony with the architectural aspirations of the dwelling, and indeed the architects and the interior designer found the collaboration satisfying in a way that is evident in the final product.Mardi’s specification of graphic forms, colour and detail took the project to the “next level” in the words of Justin Northrop of Technē. He spoke to me of the satisfaction of seeing the project take that extra step beyond the architectural impulse, and the result appears to be both rich and stimulating, with a bold, graphic and direct use of materials and finishes. Of particular note is the “spilled paint” finish on the sliding panel dividing the cottage from the open-plan rear rooms.Upstairs you find the two children’s bedrooms, both finished with bright orange hypo-allergenic goat’s hair carpet. These two rooms and their accompanying bathroom, with its playfully juxtaposed suspended mirrors, form the children’s realm – positioned beneath the black-clad asymmetrical gables.
It is clear that the decisions taken during the design of this dwelling closely honour the needs and desires of the building’s occupants. Technē and Doherty Design Studio have created an architecture and interior without dogma, thoroughly focused on the needs of the occupants, eschewing the notion that contemporary design must first seek to serve some ill-defined and tiresome notion of the avant-garde. As intended, the resulting home will serve its owners for many years to come.