Director of Maike Design Mairead Murphy recognises post-war ‘austerity houses’ as an unappreciated element of Melbourne’s architectural history. ‘These post-war houses are modest and small, but they were the backdrop to a period of such optimism and change in Melbourne’s history,’ she says. ‘I think if you understand their historical context it is hard not to see their charm.’
Keen to retain this history, the designer and her partner bought a 1940s Brunswick East home in 2014, which they slowly renovated over several years.
When the very dilapidated house next door came up for sale, the couple decided to save another post-war weatherboard from likely demolition. ‘The house was built at the same time as ours, was around the same floor area, and had many of the same issues,’ recalls Mairead. ‘It was obviously rundown, but having fixed up one, we figured we roughly knew what we were in for. We had been putting money aside to finish our home and calculated that we had just enough for the deposit and a nice, but modest renovation.’
Unfortunately, this second renovation ended up being far less straightforward. Mairead describes the condition of the house as ‘honestly terrible’, with every update uncovering more issues than initially expected. For example, although both houses were clad in vinyl weatherboards, the first house has well preserved timber underneath. ‘In house two there were just large sections of wall with no weatherboards at all!’ Mairead says. ‘House one we re-stumped and re-levelled, lifting it around 15cm in sections. In house two, there weren’t even any proper footings, just shallow trenches filled with concrete and old pieces of plumbing pipe, so we lifted the back of it 70cm!’
Not only was the second renovation more involved, Mairead was now pregnant with the couple’s second child, while also managing a toddler, work, and two building sites (including living on one) – all at the same time!
‘We decided that if we were going to finish the house up to the standard we wanted, then we would have to reassess,’ she says. ‘We changed our plans and worked to finish the first house so we would be able to sell it, while also continuing construction on the second.’
Like the house next door, this home remains within its 90 square metre footprint to retain the large backyard. Interiors rely on an inventive use of space and careful design detailing to create a beautiful family home.
‘We wanted to place the emphasis on creating a high quality house rather than try and stretch our budget over a larger footprint,’ explains Mairead. ‘The design focuses on the functionality of our family life so that even within our limited 90 square metre footprint it doesn’t feel overcrowded.’
Gestures to improve natural light have been introduced throughout, with the kitchen moved to the back of the house, and the main bedroom opening to the front garden. A home studio was also added to the backyard, serving as Mairead’s office.
The home adopts a deliberately distinct palette from its neighbour, instead featuring dark timber, green kitchen joinery, and Dulux Vivid White walls.
Despite all the challenges incurred, Mairead has succeeded in saving and creating her ideal family home, while retaining the home’s original character – particularly on the external facade.
‘While we were working on the houses we had lots of people in the neighbourhood stop to chat about what we were doing and saying that they were so pleased that the house was being kept,’ Mairead says. ‘It was nice to know that we aren’t the only ones who appreciated these houses.’