Westgarth House

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Monday 19th October 2015

As you know, in the lead up to the 2015 National Architecture Awards next month, we’ve partnered with The Australian Institute of Architects to find and feature a handful of recently completed architecturally designed homes we think are worth sharing.

Today we introduce Westgarth House – a beautiful, relaxed family home in Melbourne’s inner North, designed by one of our favourite local architecture firms, Kennedy Nolan. This is home to Bella Stagoll, her husband Jon and their two kids Isadora (aged 8), Leo (aged 6) and Luna the dog!

Bella Stagoll and her family were living next door to this house, a timber Edwardian home on a large north-facing corner block, when they noticed some real estate agents ‘loitering around’. They soon realised the house was on the market. Having long admired the property, Bella and Jon decided to make an offer – and in a surprisingly short amount of time, it was theirs! With a toddler and a newborn at the time, they weren’t in a hurry to start a big building project, so initially the home was rented out, whilst Bella and Jon planned their next move.

A year later, in 2011, Bella and Jon met with the team at Melbourne architecture firm Kennedy Nolan to commence the design process. They had never worked with an architect prior to commencing this project, but they had always admired Kennedy Nolan’s work. ‘They were always at the top of our architect wish list because we had seen some of their projects in the media and really loved their work.’ says Bella. After meeting with Rachel Nolan and Patrick Kennedy who run the practice, the decision was made.

The client brief was relatively simple – Bella and Jon requested a beautiful, bright, robust family home, with a strong connection between the house and the garden. ‘We showed the architects some pictures of other projects that we liked, but we really had no pre-conceived ideas about what the final design should look like.’ Bella says.

The team at Kennedy Nolan went away and came up with their initial designs. ‘Even at the first design meeting they had a clear vision for how the house would look and function, and what the materials would be’ says Bella. This included the idea of creating a new entry to the ‘public’ part of the house (allowing visitors to enter directly into the kitchen / dining area, bypassing the bedrooms at the front of the house), and building the striking exterior wall with distinctive circle cut-out to provide an entry court, and to screen the neighbouring flats. The design also embraced Bella’s desire for direct access to the garden through an amazing wall of sliding glass doors that disappear completely into a wall cavity.

Not having worked with an architect before, Bella says she was surprised by the meticulous level of detail her architects went to in the design of her home. ‘I was blown away by the amount of thought and care they put into every tiny detail of our house – from the rainwater head to the colour of the grout to the pattern of the bricks.’ Bella says. ‘I didn’t even know what a rainwater head was (still don’t really) let alone that it could be custom designed to make it just a little bit beautiful. Things that I didn’t even know had to be specified were designed, debated in the office and re-designed again… you feel like the whole office is working on your project to make it perfect!’

Being a relatively small office, there is a particularly strong sense of collaboration and camaraderie amongst the team at Kennedy Nolan. In fact, from start to finish, Bella’s home was designed by a total of six members of the team – Rachel Nolan and Patrick Kennedy, alongside Adriana Hanna, Victoria Reeves, Susan Syer and Frank Vedelago.

Specific considerations for the team included the interface between original and new building fabric, how to zone the public from the private parts of the home, and how to ensure a level of privacy and the concealment of services such as the clothes line, bins, vege beds etc on this highly visible corner site.

Key to delivering the best outcomes with any project, of course, is a great relationship between architect and client. ‘I believe it is key for clients to do their hardest work researching what architect is right for them’ says Rachel Nolan. ‘It is important for the client to have complete trust and confidence in this choice. I believe this is how a client stands to benefit most from an architect.’ In Bella’s case, taking time to research local architects, check out their previous projects, and trusting her intuition from their very first meetings was integral to establishing a great collaborative relationship very early on.

After taking time to refine the designs and obtain all necessary permits, in 2013, the build commenced. Bella had a great builder and says she was surprised how streamlined this process was. In 2014 the build was complete. In that same year, the house won a Victorian Architecture Award, and has since been featured in a number of Australian architectural publications.

So, how does it feel being the owner of a semi-famous house? ‘It’s been fun seeing our house get so much praise, we definitely didn’t expect it’ Bella says. ‘I still enjoy seeing people’s positive reactions to the house. Rachel always said she was designing a house that would be excellent for parties, so maybe the next big event needs to be the long-overdue housewarming party!’.

To celebrate this and other clever and achievable architecturally designed Australian homes, the Institute has recently launched an Instagram competition. Share pics of your dream home using #whereidliketolive for your chance to win a design prize pack worth over $2,000 and full of architectural inspiration! Follow @whereidliketo on Instagram or visit for more info.

Homeowner Bella Stagoll (left) alongside Kennedy Nolan architects including Adriana Hanna, Rachel Nolan (sitting) and Patrick Kennedy. Photo – Annette O’Brien. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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