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An Architectural Gem, Designed Around An Oak Tree

Architecture

Many people dream of having a grand old tree in their backyard, but they can sometimes throw up challenges!

The owners of this Fitzroy North home certainly didn’t want to remove their property’s beloved tree, but wanted a house and garden that better embraced the oak in all its glory, without impacting the dwelling.

Kennedy Nolan stepped in to devise a careful reworking of the existing Victorian house, which now feels embedded in its accompanying Amanda Oliver designed garden. 

10th December, 2020

Large format sliding doors open to the garden. Photo – Derek Swalwell

The incredible oak tree stands proudly alongside the home. Photo – Derek Swalwell

Terracotta tiles and red oxidised steel on the exterior. Photo – Derek Swalwell

A steel brise-soleil performs many functions, including sun shading.Photo – Derek Swalwell

‘It was obvious for us from the start that the kitchen should always remain the heart of their home,’ says Rachel Nolan. Photo – Derek Swalwell

A new courtyard is bound by sitting rooms at either end, with the long edge incorporating the kitchen and dining room. Photo – Derek Swalwell

The interiors range from the dramatic to the tranquil, using concentrations of colour in varying intensities. Photo – Derek Swalwell

Terracotta tiles feature inside and out. Photo – Derek Swalwell

The interiors are wonderfully unique. Photo – Derek Swalwell

The ‘muscular’ concrete roof. Photo – Derek Swalwell

‘In this home there is a concerted effort to restrain expressive excess, maintain formal and material cohesion, resist the conventional, and most importantly, amplify a sense of joyousness,’ says Rachel. Photo – Derek Swalwell

All rooms have garden aspects. Photo – Derek Swalwell

One seriously amazing bathroom! Photo – Derek Swalwell

The project makes use of the deep site, and better benefit from its sunny north orientation. Photo – Derek Swalwell

The original Victorian entrance. Photo – Derek Swalwell

Amelia Barnes
Thursday 10th December 2020

‘Our clients now live happily with this most remarkable tree.’ – Rachel Nolan

Having a mature oak tree in your backyard is a coveted gift, but also something to be carefully managed. 

Prior to a recent alterations and additions project by Kennedy Nolan, this Fitzroy North home was experiencing all the cons of such trees, but few of the benefits.

‘The oak tree is very tall, and living under it was hard for our clients. They fought hard to keep the noisy brushtail possums out of it, and they struggled to grow any garden under it,’ explains Rachel Nolan, founding director of Kennedy Nolan. ‘In fact, given the height of this beauty, they really couldn’t see it at all from their home. The neighbourhood could enjoy it, but they really could tolerate it at best. This situation needed to change.’

Kennedy Nolan went back to the drawing board to address the problem, reworking the elements that make a domestic environment functional and dignified: zoning, acoustics, privacy, aspect and comfort. 

Their response was to reconfigure the existing double-fronted Victorian house to feature a new pavilion forming a central courtyard, a garage and workshop building to the rear laneway, and a small swimming pool. A north-facing upper storey was also added, providing private accommodation for the client’s two boys.

Not only does this new upper storey provide more space and a better outlook to the tree, the elevation with its brise-soleil provides a backdrop to the central courtyard. ‘As such it needed to form a cohesive and singular backdrop, but also accommodate complex, ventilated glazing for a variety of rooms and provide sun shading and privacy from below and above,’ says Rachel. 

The oxidised red colour on the steel elements gives the home a clear visual identity, complementing the terracotta tiles. 

As a result of Kennedy Nolan’s architecture, along with landscape design by Amanda Oliver, this house is almost embedded within the garden. Particularly notable is the new rooftop garden above the living room, which truly enhances this overall experience.

‘This room is rich and raw, yet feels quiet and soft given it is carpeted,’ says Rachel. ‘Once this rooftop garden takes root, it is anticipated it will spill over the edges and you should feel completely in, under, and within a garden.’

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