After nearly ten years of apartment living, Sarah Abbott and Matt Collins bought a traditional timber Queenslander in Brisbane’s leafy suburb of Wilston in late 2012. The previous owners were in fact Sarah’s parents – when they started talking about selling, Matt and Sarah decided to purchase the house. They had been looking for a larger place for some time due to their growing family, and, of course, the house had sentimental value as well – ‘Sarah was living here when we first met!’ says Matt.
Though they hadn’t worked with an architect before, Sarah and Matt’s previous two homes had both been architect-designed apartments (Donovan Hill’s Cornwall Apartments and Job and Froud’s Torbreck – both well known developments in Brisbane), and living in these clever, highly considered surroundings instilled in both of them a real appreciation of the value of good design. ‘We knew an architect was essential to creating a special place to live in’ Matt says.
Prior to working together, Matt and Sarah had long been fans of OVP, having first noticed their work in 2008 at an exhibition of contemporary Queensland architects at GoMA. More recently, they had been impressed by their Four Room Cottage project, which demonstrated how a traditional Queenslander could be modernised sensitively, without losing a sense of character.
The design approach for OVP really starts with the brief. ‘Stuart (Vokes) and Aaron (Peters) asked us to prepare a narrative of our daily lives to help develop the brief, rather than the more traditional list of rooms that we might think we need’ explains Matt. ‘This approach helped refine what was necessary, as distinct from what was wanted, and focused us on finding a design that would match how we actually live our lives’.
‘Collecting a brief is really key to our design process’ says Aaron Peters of this unique approach. ‘Some years ago we worked for an author, and Stu asked that they write their brief as a series of short narratives that describe how they live, and how they might like to live in their house. This method was really productive for us, so we continue to ask people to write us a brief in this way. It helps us to understand where our clients place value in their lives, and makes it much easier to craft a building that is suited to their aspirations.
Of course, Matt and Sarah also had their own list of what they felt was important for their new home – lots of natural light, a modest footprint, and a strong connection to the garden. ‘We wanted to avoid the usual renovation strategy – lifting the Queenslander to build under and a big back deck, as this would sever the connection with our backyard’ explains Matt. ‘Having seen their past work, we knew that Vokes and Peters shared our ideals.’
The project was undertaken by architects Stuart Vokes, Aaron Peters and Kirsty Hetherington at Vokes and Peters, who worked closely with the builders to realise their vision. Much of the design work was focused on ‘reprogramming’ the house to maximise natural light and to create a connection to the back garden. To achieve this, the living, dining and kitchen areas effectively swapped position with the bedrooms and bathrooms.
Aaron was also adamant about reinstating the central hallway, which references the traditional four room layout of a typical Queenslander. ‘We were initially pretty sceptical about this, as it would take away valuable floor space in what is a very modest house. But now that we have it, we understand!’ says Matt. This central hallway creates privacy and separation between Maggie and Sibella’s bedrooms, and has been designed as a fluid and functional space with in-built joinery, hooks for hanging bags and jackets, a newspaper and magazine rack, and an integrated bench looking into the ‘garden room’ towards the rear of the house.
Not having worked with architects before, Matt says he was surprised at the minute details considered by the architects. ‘The level of detail in the schedule of finishes surprised us, with every aspect of the house really was planned down to a fine level’ he recalls. Despite this, some of the design did evolve during construction to respond to the quirks of this old timber house! A close relationship between the architects and builders meant that even when decisions had to be made on the fly, the result remained true to the original design intent.
All up, the design and build of Matt and Sarah’s home took a little over 18 months, and was officially completed in early 2015. The family are now working with Aaron on stage two, which is to complete the garden and outdoor areas.
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