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A Sleek, Surprising Reworking Of A Victorian Cottage

Architecture

When architect Blair Smith first met the owners of this Brunswick house, the three sat in the property’s original lean-to, wearing puffer jackets due to the almost untenantable temperature. 

While it was clear a new and improved extension with better thermal performance was required, Blair noted a poetic quality and modesty in the original structure he was keen to retain. 

The double-fronted cottage now sits alongside a new 51 square metre addition, achieving a high level of detail and finish, within a limited budget.

14th January, 2021

Rather than creating a much larger extension that would see the garden destroyed, Blair settled on a more understated design encompassing the kitchen, dining area, and bathroom.Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Velvet dining chairs in sand, dining table and retro webbing stool by HK Living from House of Orange. Hand-loomed olive rug from Halcyon Lake. Fliegenbein standing lamp from Great Dane. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Ross Gardam ‘Polar’ wall light. Velvet dining chairs in sand, dining table and retro webbing stool by HK Living from House of Orange. Hand-loomed olive rug from Halcyon Lake. Fliegenbein standing lamp from Great Dane. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Velvet dining chairs in sand, dining table and retro webbing stool by HK Living from House of Orange. Hand-loomed olive rug from Halcyon Lake. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

An assortment of objects. HK Living abstract head sculpture from House of Orange. Ribbed peach glass vase + fruit bowl available from House of Orange. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Ross Gardam ‘Polar’ wall light. Velvet dining chairs in sand by HK Living from House of Orange. Hand-loomed olive rug from Halcyon Lake. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

The kitchen is an exercise in functional monochrome. Laminex AbsoluteMatte cabinetry in black; Sussex Taps in chrome; Bosch integrated dishwasher; Sirius rangehood with custom stainless steel surround; splashback in white gloss tile from National Tiles. A pop of colour courtesy of ‘Wash in Pastel Mountain’ painting by Giorgia Bel from Fenton & Fenton. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

The signature black cladding on the exterior is made from a range of materials: Adbri Masonry architectural brick ‘Slate Blend’ blackbutt timber battens (wall and screens) and silvertop shiplap cladding from Britton Timbers with ‘Ebony’ stain from Abodo. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

‘Wash in Pastel Mountain’ painting by Giorgia Bel from Fenton & Fenton. Hand-loomed olive rug from Halcyon Lake. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

The home’s rear, northern facade now features three sliding timber screens to control heat gain, glare, and privacy. Each has an integrated fly screen that can be locked across a dedicated doorway, enabling security and passive cooling simultaneously. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

The existing edible garden became a central focus for the team at Blair Smith Architecture and led them to conceptualise a dark exterior in order to accentuate the greenery. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

The . Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

The interior lighting scheme has been deliberately designed to feature no overhead fittings, which works to accentuate the garden. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

When the battened screens are closed, the house can be completely partitioned off from the garden. Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Blair describes the updated home as a retreat from the activity and grit of Brunswick. ‘It now has a palpable “slow” quality to it.’ Photography – Tom Ross. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Amelia Barnes
Thursday 14th January 2021

‘The lighting scheme heightens your awareness of the garden as the sun goes down and there is a calming, primal quality to the interior in the evening.’ – Blair Smith

The standard process when updating an outdated lean-to is to replace the structure with a much larger, modern extension.

At one stage this might have been the course for this Brunswick property, but an existing edible garden on site inspired Blair Smith Architecture to consider other ideas. 

‘The original lean-to had a poetic utility and modesty I wanted to somehow distil,’ says Blair. ‘The site already had a detached [14m²] brick studio, and an edible garden started by the previous owner, so part of the brief was to insert something new that could retain those elements.’

Clearly the original lean-to with its lack of aspect, awkward layout, and poor thermal performance had to go, but there were other elements of this structure that spoke to Blair. 

Rather than creating a much larger extension that would see the garden destroyed, he settled on a more understated design encompassing the kitchen, dining area, and bathroom. The original lounge room within the cottage was able to be retained as a result, allowing the contemporary addition to be minimised. 

The home’s rear, northern facade now features three sliding timber screens controlling heat gain, glare, and privacy. Each has an integrated fly screen across a dedicated and lockable doorway, enabling security and passive cooling simultaneously. 

Attention to detail has been paid throughout the project, as seen particularly in the bathroom orientation, (which opens to both the interior and exterior, meaning someone at an outdoor gathering can step directly into the bathroom without trudging through the whole house!), and moody interior palette.

Another interesting detail is the lighting scheme, which has been deliberately designed to include no overhead fittings. ‘I mentioned to the clients that I always wanted to do a project where there were no ceiling lights, and they liked the idea of that as a design challenge, as well as having low lighting generally,’ Blair explains.  The only fixtures touching the ceiling are a custom range hood, and part of a pendant light in the kitchen – the rest are wall mounted. ‘The lighting scheme heightens your awareness of the garden as the sun goes down and there is a calming, primal quality to the interior in the evening,’ Blair says. The impact of the upward light from walls also brings added dimension to the ceiling with its medium-density fibreboard ribs.

Some minor, cosmetic updates have been made to the original portion (73m²) of the house in this project, but overall this remains largely untouched. ‘Even before our project, the clients had a great selection of art and artefacts within the cottage that felt homely and naturally accumulated over time… Sophisticated without pretence,’ Blair says. ‘This may have been something I was subconsciously responding to.’ 

At 51 square metres, this home’s new extension is relatively modest in size, but its impact is radical. Even the owner’s cat and dog have been thoroughly impressed with the updates, particularly the rear windows that facilitate keen observation, and the concrete floor that soaks up the sun!

Blair describes the updated home as ‘a retreat from the activity and grit’ of Brunswick. ‘It now has a palpable “slow” quality to it.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net