A historic stone barn has been sensitively brought back to life by Maria Gigney Architects as a one-bedroom dwelling in the old farming district of West Hobart.
Peppered within large suburban blocks lining the hills of Hobart are grand homes, often barely visible at the end of long lanes. These homes reflect Hobart in the opening decades of the colony, when farmers and wealthier colonials built residences away from the dirt and smell of the settlement. Such historic remnants are relatively easy to find and heritage laws now protect them. Harder to discover are the more lowly outbuildings, particularly if they have lost the home to which they belonged. Tucked away behind a Federation terrace, this stone barn is one such building that has been sensitively brought back to life with a refurbishment by Maria Gigney Architects.
Leaving one builder speechless and making another swear violently, the barn presented to Maria was literally falling apart. Rising damp, rapidly deteriorating stonework, an earthen floor, every wall out of square and a noticeable lack of footings were features that might well make a builder swear. On the other hand, the little barn excited the heritage experts, as there is a reasonable chance that it is one of the earliest stone structures remaining from the days when West Hobart was a farming district. While it is currently unlisted, all parties involved were keen to retain the best qualities of this heritage building.
Not only did Maria happily take on this tricky project, she also cannily uncovered the potential to stratum title the property, significantly increasing the value of the rear section of the site containing the barn. This move increased the value of the renovation and made it into the project it has become. She also coerced the right kind of builder to patiently love the building back into shape.
Working predominantly within the existing six-by-four-metre internal footprint of the building, Maria and the builder have crafted a one-bedroom dwelling over two floors, solving a series of problems along the way. The first issue was the earthen floor and rising damp. The solution was to cap the damp at the base with one hidden slab and one polished slab and detail throughout to set any new work away from the walls, allowing the masonry to breathe. The next and rather substantial obstacle was an inability to insulate the stone and brick walls present on three sides of the building without lining the interior and hiding the texture of these materials. Similarly, Maria did not want to conceal the existing aged roofing timbers. The resolution was to build a steel frame within the masonry walls that supports a new floor and heavily insulated roof. The new roof sits over the old as if part of the original structure, without applying any structural load to the aged rafters. In addition, all openings were double-glazed.
With the main problems solved, the remainder was all about designing for a clever fit into the small space, imbuing every decision with the desire to retain the original qualities of the building. To provide a little extra breathing space, Maria has stretched the building on the approach side to make a sky-lit entry. Lined internally and externally with vertical timber, this elevation pays homage to the original cladding. The very solid matching entry door disappears into the cladding with a soft click, transforming the alcove into usable space. The heated, polished slab of the entry extends to encompass the kitchen before giving way to a raised timber floor for the living space. Rising through the building is a joinery “tower” that provides storage on both levels and, most importantly, accommodates all of the services so that the walls can be left free of any form of conduit or pipe. The stairs spring from the living level, rising behind the service core with lush, solid timber treads. Other new finishes throughout are either timber or tile. A dark stain is generally used for horizontal surfaces, to match the original timberwork, while natural oak is reserved for floor planes.
Like any good piece of urban weaving, the success of this renovation is about knowing what to hold on to and what to let go. Luck would have it that all parties – client, architect, builder – were in agreement about the division between these aspects of the project, so that the end result feels contemporary while still exuding some of the character of a small outbuilding. Importantly, they all shared a desire to really engage with the process of recycling and reuse. Wherever possible, not only the shell but timbers and salvaged bricks have found their way back into ceilings, paving and furniture, such that little of the original building has actually left the site. Even items of glassware and crockery, found under the earth floor, have become a framed art piece for the living space. Herein lie the seeds of genuine sustainability.