The Barn

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Monday 5th October 2015

We know you’re used to seeing a great variety of Australian Homes here every week, but we must admit, it’s not often we have the opportunity to shoot a new home designed by an architect.

This month, in the lead up to the 2015 National Architecture Awards, we’ve partnered with The Australian Institute of Architects to source and showcase a handful of the cleverest architecturally designed homes we think are worth sharing! These are real homes, designed by some of the best and brightest residential architects and small practices working in Australia right now.

We’re kicking off this mini-series with a very special and seriously small (!) heritage renovation project in Hobart. It belongs to young architects Alex Nielsen and Liz Walsh.

This very special and seriously small (!) heritage renovation project in Hobart belongs to young architects Alex Nielsen and Liz Walsh, who met whilst studying Environmental Design and Architecture at the University of Tasmania. Both talented young designers, they have each gone on to work at respected architectural firms in Hobart – Liz is at Cumulus Studio, Alex at Circa Morris Nunn Architects.

Liz and Alex purchased the building they affectionately call ‘The Barn’ in their first year of practising architecture after graduating. The pair had just returned from time spent living and studying in Europe and Morocco, and were inspired by ‘vernacular architecture’ – that is, architecture using local materials, and techniques that have been passed on from generation to generation.

‘Cities like Copenhagen and Krakow also challenged our notions of home within the city’ says Liz. ‘We loved the pedestrian nature of these cities, and the luxury of being car free. Travel has significantly informed the way we practise.’

Upon their return to Hobart, Liz and Alex rented a house on the same street as a tiny, run down old barn, and would walk past it everyday. ‘We fell in love with the simplicity, raw spatial quality, and its rough and ready texture’ says Liz. ‘We were amazed by the condition of this almost 200 year old building. We started casually making a case to put in an offer, unsure of everything but our desire own this little outbuilding.’ They eventually purchased the barn in mid 2012, and commenced their redevelopment of it in early 2013.

The Barn was in surprisingly good structural condition, considering it was constructed around 1829! Also, amazingly the space had never been converted, its last occupants had been horses. Due to its heritage value, as a condition of their permit, Liz and Alex we were required to keep one of the original horse stalls as it was originally located and constructed. This central narrow stall space became the obvious location for the bathroom, and provided the opportunity to bring functional services (ie modern plumbing!) to the centre of the building.

‘We purchased the barn largely because of its heritage, therefore it wasn’t so much the heritage impeding our design, but rather ensuring our decisions to alter the existing fabric were not only considered, but enhanced the spatial quality and exposed existing fabric’ says Liz. ‘It takes a lot of design hubris to cut into a 200 year old sandstone wall, we questioned our design motives a lot because the fabric we were working with was so rare.’

Aside from working within heritage considerations, Liz and Alex’s other great challenge was of the more contemporary kind. Finance!

‘Functionally, our brief for the project was largely reflective of our financial arrangement with our lending institution’ says Liz. In order to obtain the finance required, the home had to have two ‘bedroom’ zones, one bathroom, and ample functional storage. ‘Whilst we saw the Barn as a rare opportunity, the bank saw only risk’ Liz explains matter of factly. ‘Therefore our brief became about exploring and understanding how a 2 bedroom house could possibly fit into 62sqms stable!’

The main building works were completed by the end of 2013, at which point Alex and Liz moved into a partly finished home, sleeping on the living room floor while Alex and his Dad finished the mezzanine floor! More recently, the mezzanine bedroom, study and joinery were completed.

This unique restoration project has been a passion project and a coming of age for these two talented young architects (both still under 30!). ‘The barn has given us the confidence to discuss, explore and develop spaces that respond conceptually and uniquely to both brief and context’ says Liz. It’s also been a new and joyful experience to actually live in one of their own designs!

Liz and Alex are thrilled that The Barn is nominated for two Australian Institute of Architects award this year, in both the heritage and small projects categories. ‘We’re very excited, because it is the first and only project we have completed together, and it is our home’ Liz says. ‘The nominations are a great example of what can come if you take a risk, we feel so lucky we had the confidence in each other to take that risk. The response has been great, Alex’s mum was very excited we featured in the local newspaper!!’

Liz and Alex’s Hobart home is shortlisted for an Australian Institute of Architects award this year. To celebrate this and other clever and achievable architecturally designed homes across Australia, the Institute is launching an Instagram campaign this week! Share your pics of your dream home with #whereidliketolive, follow @whereidliketo on Instagram or visit for inspiration and info.

Alex and Liz at home, in their sweet courtyard garden. Photo – Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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