In 2006, when Karen Alcock and her partner Jojo were looking to buy a house in Melbourne’s inner North, they quickly watched prices rise by $50,000. Desperate, the couple opted to inspect the literal cheapest house for sale in Fitzroy at the time.
‘Because it was one bedroom, it was in our price range,’ says Karen, principal of MAArchitects. ‘The laneway location probably put a few people off, [but] what they didn’t realise was that it was its best asset.’
They bought the property, and went on to undertake a major renovation in 2010, just after their son Luca was born.
‘We moved out, knocked everything off from the ridge back, and were able to tuck in an upstairs bedroom and ensuite and renovate the lower level,’ Karen says. ‘To keep the height of the building down, we created a split level on the ground floor so the upstairs bedroom could tuck behind the existing roof with an east-facing window poking over the ridge.’
It’s been a slow process, with the garden and kitchen taking the most time to refine. ‘It’s one thing to design a house for clients. but much more difficult to design a home for yourself. You have so many ideas!’ says Karen. ‘We spent a few years just building things and playing around to see what worked and what we liked.’
A particular challenge was deciding on a suitable interior scheme for the kitchen. As it turns out, simple is best. ‘When we first moved in we did a refresh of the kitchen, and I made Jojo paint it three times because I couldn’t make up my mind (she wont let me forget this),’ Karen says. ‘It was then I realised that I like white. Keep it simple and add the colour with art and furniture.’
The couple have styled the home with a variety of thoughtfully selected pieces, from a Hans Wegner CH25 chair, to $10 lights from Ikea. ‘We choose things that are something or nothing – they just can’t be mediocre,’ Karen says. The main paint colour on the walls and panelling is Dulux Lexicon.
In 15 years, this house and its owners have changed a lot. ‘We came here just two of us, and we will be leaving as a family of three with two dogs!’ says Karen. ‘The only reason we are moving is because we bought a Labrador and learned how to garden during lockdown.’
The two-bedroom house goes to auction next week!