An Architect’s Sleek Multi-Generational Family Home In Northcote

When it came to designing a new home for her family, MA+Co principal Karen Alcock knew the house needed to be flexible enough to meet their needs now and into the future.

After finding a three-metre-wide single-fronted worker’s cottage in Northcote, renovations transformed the run-down property (complete with cobbled laneway) into a modern prototype for multi-generational family living.

The resulting Northcote House has an almost industrial look about it, with an emphasis on functionality and the accompanying laneway garden.

Christina Karras

Northcote House is the renovated family home of MA+Co principal Karen Alcock.

A laneway has been transformed into a green space designed by Amanda Oliver Gardens.

The house’s pared-back design was inspired by Villa E-1027, a modernist architectural icon by Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray.

‘The architecture is deliberately quiet.’

Sliding doors open every room to the leafy laneway.

The kitchen is wrapped in stainless steel to complement the Sub-zero fridge. Artwork on shelf by Naomi Williams.

The sleek space has a futuristic and industrial feel. Artwork by Suzanne Corbett.

‘The focus when you are living in the house is on the connection to the garden rather than the architecture,’ Karen says.

Inside the light-filled bedroom.

Styling injects colour into the minimalistic spaces. Print on left by Jenny Bolis.

The silver and white bathroom.

Christina Karras
22nd of March 2024
Landscape designer

Northcote VIC/Wurundjeri Country

The pandemic has undeniably changed the way we look at housing, and in turn, what our houses should look and feel like.

For MA+Co principal architect Karen Alcock, her partner, and their son Luca, enduring Melbourne’s on-again-off-again lockdowns from their 108-square-metre Fitzroy home inspired the decision to upsize.

‘Our son was nine when Covid hit, and after two years of homeschooling and being confined in the walls of our existing house we decided we needed to swap the density of inner-city living for something bigger with a garden,’ Karen says.

‘We also wanted to design a home that could grow with us — we needed space for my parents to stay and an area where Luca our son could grow into his independence.’

Eager to renovate, they came across a run-down Northcote worker’s cottage that had been lingering on the market for a few months.

The early 1900s building was in poor condition, with plants growing through cracks in the walls and rotten floors, and while the frontage was only three metres wide, the block itself was almost three times the size of their former property.

‘Several developers had looked at the site for townhouses but couldn’t get it to stack up and with limited interest, the vendor dropped the sale price, opening the door for our purchase,’ Karen says.

With only the front facade able to be salvaged, the rest of the home was rebuilt from scratch with only electric appliances. The robust architecture was kept deliberately simple, instead championing the surprisingly lush laneway garden designed by Amanda Oliver Gardens that runs the full length of the block — giving every room a leafy green view.

All the materials were also selected for their affordability and durability. Corrugated iron, polished concrete floors and a stainless-steel-wrapped kitchen add to the home’s ‘quiet’ aesthetic.

Karen says the unique floorplan now offers the flexible spaces her family craved during the pandemic. ‘The long plot is divided into three parts, for three generations: the middle area is the primary zone, including the main bedroom, living and kitchen, with self-contained zones at either end to accommodate our teenage son and grandparents or guests, as well as space to work from home,’ she adds.

Northcote House is the perfect blend of functionality and clean aesthetics, creating a place that will adapt with her family’s changing needs in the years to come.

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