From 80s 'Toilet Block' To Picturesque Holiday Home

The 1980’s are famous for many things – taffeta, shoulder pads, Madonna – but sensitive and understated architectural design is not one of the decade’s most defining trends! We chat with Matt Rawlins of Figureground Architecture about turning a 1980’s Sorrento beach house into an elegant family home.

This sensitive architectural intervention transforms the ‘toilet block’ into a coherent and contemporary home, without dramatically altering the footprint of the property.

Lucy Feagins

The stunning coastal dwelling in Sorrento by Figureground Architecture. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

The client brief required the renovation of a 1984 double block, two-storey holiday house on the back beach side of Sorrento. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Given the difficulty of meeting planning requirements for the site, it was decided early on to renovate rather than propose a new dwelling. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

The kitchen and dining spaces wrapping around to the living room. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

The house was designed to be a real retreat from the city. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Artwork by Caroline Walls. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Given the steep site, it was important to the clients to have ample outdoor areas for al fresco dining and entertaining. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Excellent outdoor that feels seamlessly integrated with the interior. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Keeping the staircase open allows light and airflow into the downstairs level. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

A mezzanine bedroom. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Two sets of ‘top-to-toe’ bunkbeds to maximise kids’ play space! Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Facing east, the top of the site enjoys distant views towards Arthurs Seat, Mount Martha, and Port Philip Bay. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

A bright, light bathroom. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

In contrast to the typical ‘box on the back’ renovation, this design process was defined by a series of considered interventions that carefully stitch together old and new. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

Lucy Feagins
4th of October 2018

When the owners purchased this 1980’s beach house, the family affectionately referred to the dilapidated property as the ‘toilet block!’ Eager to move away from this less-than-idyllic aesthetic, they engaged the skills of Figureground Architecture to reimagine this family home: to overhaul the circulation, improve the functionality of spaces, and increase the natural light inside.

Principle architect Matt Rawlins describes how the firm avoided a typical ‘box on the back’ addition approach, instead largely retaining the original footprint and re-organising the space. He highlights, ‘the design process was defined by a series of considered interventions that carefully stitch together old and new.’

On the ground floor, the space has been reconfigured to create an inviting entrance and flowing connection between rooms. The architects have introduced a sense of unity through joinery that is visually consistent throughout the home. In addition to these internal reconfigurations, one additional room was built – a children’s bedroom with fun ‘top and toe’ bunk beds!

The kids room is book-ended by sliding doors, which invite and encourage the children outside. This connection to the environment runs throughout the property, and the architects have deliberately selected specific views to highlight. Matt explains ‘The previously panoramic views of the horizon from the old balcony, is now a framed tableau of topography and water.’

The arresting stair case carries the family upstairs into the redesigned living areas on the first floor, including a new decked terrace. The overall aesthetic of the home is bright, but avoids a stark white gallery feeling. Matt highlights that they painted most surface areas pale grey, ‘to create a softer play of light and overall feeling of calmness.’

While this home has its roots in the 1980’s, Matt explains how the external zig-zag steel column structure is a reference to the modernism movement of the 1950’s. He describes this mid-century period as a ‘time now admired, when beach houses were designed to be of modest scale and crafted with care.’ From the curving wall in the storage room, to the rhythm of the fine battens and joinery throughout the property, the architects have truly transformed this 80’s ‘toilet block’ into a carefully crafted family retreat.

Similar Stories

Recent Architecture