You can usually pick a street that might be subject to a heritage overlay. Consistency is the giveaway – typically, for inner-Melbourne, row after uninterrupted row of Victorian terrace houses. So Jeremy McLeod and the team at Breathe Architecture can be forgiven for being a little surprised when they were told that their new project, on a street in Northcote with a mishmash of architectural styles, was subject to such a planning restriction. The reason stood a couple of doors down the road – a double-storey 1850s bluestone cottage that had been appended in the early 1900s with a single-level, double-fronted brick extension to the street facade. Strange, yes, but not so strange that it hadn’t at some point been deemed architecturally significant.
Rather than rail against the planning bureaucracy, Breathe used the old stone building as inspiration for a completely new house, and the architects’ rationale was enough to convince the local council that they could knock down an ageing cottage to build it.
The connection between the new house and its stone neighbour is best appreciated from the other side of the road, with both houses in view. The new house is compact and upright, with symmetrical doors and window openings, mirroring the appearance of the heritage house; it sits forward on the block, echoing the direct relationship the stone building has with the street; and sugar gum panels to the facade borrow the scale and proportion of the old house’s bluestone blocks. The project was christened Stonewood.
So the new building satisfied the requirements of the heritage overlay by paying due respect to the curious old-timer down the road. But, of course, it also had to function as a modern home for a family with three young boys. It had to reconcile a south-facing rear orientation. And, given Breathe’s longstanding commitment to sustainability, exceptional environmental performance was non-negotiable. Predictably, this is where the architecture really gets interesting.
From across the street, something about the facade catches the eye – movement behind the sugar gum panels, some sense of light and shade belying notions of a solid block facade. Indeed, the front of the house is anything but solid. Hinged at each end, the ground-floor facade peels open like a barn, revealing floor-to-ceiling glass that, in turn, slides open, connecting a small north-facing deck with the open-plan living space inside. This shedding of layers enables the occupants to control and harness northern sunlight, but also allows for different kinds of occupation – everything from being closed up and cocooned, cosseted for privacy and warmth, to having a party spill out into the front yard and, given its proximity to the street, into the community.
This idea of flexibility permeates the whole house. The ground floor is a program of connected functional zones – lounge, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and studio space – which can be opened up or closed down by sliding massive panels crafted from recycled Tasmanian oak. On the upper level, four bedrooms – all of equal size – open onto a small landing, and two of the children’s rooms have pivot windows that look down into the void above the stairway. When both are open, the rooms are connected visually, acoustically and, more often than not, by a string flying fox for action figures.
Passive forms of climate control have informed much of the design. An exterior window to the stairway brings in natural light, offers stolen views over trees and rooftops to the south and, when it’s opened, creates a thermal chimney effect that draws hot air up and out of the house. There’s the operable facade, of course, and full-height sliding glass doors leading out to the rear deck to enable cross-ventilation. When the facade is open, the concrete floor in the lounge area is warmed by winter sun. The slab steps down to the kitchen and dining areas, too far south for the sun to reach, but hydronic coils embedded in the concrete allow solar-heated water to flow to the lower level, reducing the energy required to keep the space warm.
The back of the house slopes down to the rear garden to minimize overshadowing. It’s clad in silvertop ash that was charred on site, enhancing its durability and bringing a rustic tone and texture to the exterior. This is consistent with a materials palette that has been chosen for robustness, honesty of expression and environmental credentials. Outside, it’s predominantly timbers and recycled brick. Inside, the mix is a little more refined but still very natural and honest – Tasmanian oak panels and floors, concrete, and plywood joinery – with accent colour introduced in geometric tiling, yellow-washed plywood joinery and on a handful of painted walls.
The effect is sophisticated and contemporary. The house is filled with light and fresh air and it allows for the different modes of occupation required by a modern family. A million miles away from its heavy-set nineteenth-century neighbour, then. And yet, to passers-by, to the local community and, yes, to the council, it is a fitting and respectful neighbour nonetheless.
Products and materials
- Stramit Longspan roof cladding in Colorbond ‘Windspray’ and ‘Woodland Grey’.
- External walls
- Eco Timber Group sugar gum and silvertop ash; grey cement render on recycled brick; Stramit Longspan wall cladding in Colorbond ‘Windspray’ and ‘Woodland Grey’.
- Internal walls
- Plasterboard painted with Ecolour; Urban Salvage recycled Tasmanian oak floorboards in Lobasol Akzent floor oil and wax.
- Rylock aluminium double-glazed windows powdercoated in Colorbond ‘Woodland Grey’; Eco Timber Group ironbark awnings.
- Rylock aluminium double-glazed door powdercoated in Colorbond ‘Woodland Grey’; Cedar Windows kiln-dried hardwood double-glazed doors in ‘Black Japan’; Lockwood door hardware in black powdercoat and satin.
- Polished concrete with bluestone aggregate; Urban Salvage recycled Tasmanian oak floorboards in Lobasol Akzent floor oil and wax; Eco Timber Group sugar gum decking boards.
- Lights from Ambience Lighting.
- Miele dishwasher and rangehood; V-Zug oven; Academy Tiles Tex Mutina tile splashback; Urban Salvage stainless steel benchtop with integrated sinks, and recycled Tasmanian oak benchtop and floorboards; Amerind whitewashed plywood in Intergrain Enviropro ‘Liming White’ and Quantum MicroClear matt finish, and yellow-washed plywood in Dulux ‘Lemon Delicious’ and Quantum MicroClear matt finish.
- Omvivo Neo basin; Sussex Pol tapware; Academy Tiles penny round tiles and Tex Mutina tiles; recycled Tasmanian oak benchtop and floorboards; Amerind whitewashed plywood in Intergrain Enviropro ‘Liming White’ and Quantum MicroClear matt finish, and yellow-washed plywood in Dulux ‘Lemon Delicious’ and Quantum MicroClear matt finish.
- Heating and cooling
- Hydronic panels; in-slab hydronic coils.
- External elements
- Eco Timber Group sugar gum decking and ironbark fencing; Tankworks water tank.
- Tretford Fiona Lynch Fields rug; Butterfly chairs and Twist a Twill Throw from Angelucci; Jardan Nook sofa; Eames Wire Base Table, Moulded Plywood dining chairs and upholstered Shell lounge chair, Backenzahn side table, Walter Knoll Joco occasional table, BassamFellows Sharp boxes, and Howe seating block, all from Living Edge.
- Breathe Architecture
Melbourne, Vic, Australia
- Project Team
- Jeremy McLeod, Fairley Batch, Eugenia Tan, Janusz Choromanski, Bettina Neate
Engineer R. I. Brown
Landscaping Richard Bellemo Landscapes
Lighting Ambience Lighting
- Site Details
Site area 700 m2
Building area 220 m2
- Project Details
Construction 12 months
Type New houses