This Clever Extension Makes The Most Of A Victorian Cottage

When Alexandra Buchanan Architecture were engaged to renovate and extend this Fitzroy North cottage, the house was dark, disconnected, and dated. Despite its decent block size (over 520 square metres), the property felt completely devoid of outdoor space. 

After peeling back layers of ‘misdemeanours’ applied over the years, the architects carefully restored the original cottage, and increased space with the addition of a two-storey extension.

This project reimagines the typical ‘house with a backyard’,  instead inserting a series of landscaped courtyard gardens throughout the home, ensuring connection to outdoors from every room!

Amelia Barnes

Merri Creek House is a renovation and extension of a heritage weatherboard cottage in Fitzroy North, Melbourne. Photo – Tom Ross

The project reimagines the typical house with backyard typology and is designed around a series of landscaped courtyard gardens. Photo – Tom Ross

The glass link between the original cottage and new addition. Photo – Tom Ross

The ground floor addition extends to an outdoor entertaining and barbecue area. Photo – Tom Ross

The courtyard gardens overlap and intersect with the internal spaces, blurring the boundaries between inside and out and bringing light and life into each of the rooms. Photo – Tom Ross

The dining area at the centre of the home. Photo – Tom Ross

The main living areas remain on the ground floor, with the kitchen consciously positioned at the heart of the house. Photo – Tom Ross

Materials (timber, glass, and brick) in the addition are similar to the original cottage, although applied in distinctly different ways. Photo – Tom Ross

The breakfast area overlooking the barbecue area outdoors. Photo – Tom Ross

The glass link features a cottage garden to the east and small kitchen garden to the west. Photo – Tom Ross

The children’s bedrooms, bathroom and rumpus area are located upstairs. Photo – Tom Ross

The upstairs bathroom. Photo – Tom Ross

The property is home to a family of four. Photo – Tom Ross

The heritage Victorian facade. Photo – Tom Ross

Amelia Barnes
12th of January 2023

In renovating and extending this Victorian cottage in Fitzroy North, Melbourne, Alexandra Buchanan Architecture saw an opportunity to reimagine the typical backyard.

Their vision, instead of a traditional rear garden, was to dissolve and disperse the ‘backyard’ throughout the plan, creating an arrangement of flexible outdoor spaces oriented north (towards the street).

The benefits of this arrangement were twofold, facilitating visual connections to the outdoors from every room, and inserting optimum natural light into the plan. 

The project, named Merri Creek House, began with the restoration of the Victorian cottage. Alexandra Buchanan Architecture ‘peeled away previous misdemeanours’ to reveal the original four front rooms, which were converted into the main bedroom and parent’s retreat. 

‘I am very proud that we managed to retain and integrate so much of the existing cottage into the design and to retain it in a way that it is clear and legible as you move around the home,’ says Alexandra.

The original cottage hallway directly connects to a new glass link leading into the extension with a cottage garden to the east and small kitchen garden to the west.

All the main communal areas are contained to this ground floor level, which extends to an additional outdoor entertaining and barbecue areas. At the very rear is the contained guest bedroom suite afforded with privacy away from the main house.

This property was designed for a family of four including two teenagers. ‘They wanted to provide a house that allowed for connection, but also privacy and separation within the program,’ explains Alexandra.

The upstairs level of the addition addresses these requirements, featuring the children’s bedrooms, bathroom and rumpus area. Voids penetrate through the plan, inviting interaction between the two levels while maintaining necessary privacy for the kids upstairs.

The finished project carefully manages light and space to connect the clients to each other and the outdoors. Skylights along the boundary wall of the living room trace the passing of time and seasons and activate the space, creating an ever changing and dynamic home interior. 

‘The client regularly sends me photos and videos of the play of light across different parts of the building and courtyards. They have even sent me a video of the rain falling on the glass roof of the glass link—they said it was an unexpected moment of delight for them to sit in the dining room with a cup of tea and watch it!’ says Alexandra.

‘Creating those moments and spatial experiences is a triumph for me.’

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