Renovating Your Heritage Home

From our inception as an architectural design practice 15 years ago, one particular type of project which DX Architects has been regularly asked to assist with, is the contemporary renovation to a heritage home.

What does a Heritage Architect do?

Melbourne is the most densely populated city in Australia and is home to just below 5 million people. Property prices ar therefore rising, whilst building space within the CBD is diminishing. A typical project for us is the residential architecture of a heritage home or townhouse within a 10km radius of Melbourne city, including locations such as South Yarra, Richmond, Hawthorn & Yarraville.

Suburbs including South Yarra and Hawthorn are extremely sought-after due to their proximity to the city, modern living culture and access to bars and restaurants. They are also home to a huge number of residential properties and the lack of building space available means that residents are looking to add to, renovate or improve what the property that they already own.

A large number of these residential properties are charming heritage homes and therefore our heritage architectural services are extremely popular. We have completed a number of projects that include maximising living space, improving lighting or extending a heritage home in Melbourne.

As is common in most Australian cities, the inner ring Melbourne suburbs maintain strict town planning heritage protection for its significant heritage homes. When renovating these, a careful balance needs to be struck between retaining the important heritage contributory elements and allowing new additions to be added. Local authority town planning controls include heritage guidelines which can sometimes create conflicting guidance on what is appropriate, and therefore a skilled experienced approach is required when developing concept designs to renovate heritage homes. As each individual location is unique, a customised design solution is required each time to suit the characteristics for each individual site.

Generally, our client’s renovation design brief’s outline a common desire to upgrade their heritage home to accommodate for a contemporary lifestyle. Some common design brief requirements include;

  • Creating flexible living areas
  • Creating a seamless flow between inside and out
  • Capturing natural light and ventilation to create healthy internal environments

Green Edges Residence
Photography: Emily Bartlett

It’s common that older heritage dwellings don’t achieve these requirements and tend to have smaller/ darker internal rooms, with only limited windows. Further to this, older dwellings with previous renovations may have poor internalised amenity, and convoluted circulation paths, which were not envisioned that well.

Another very important aspect to be tackled when upgrading a heritage home is to;

  • Improve the internal thermal comfort, and
  • Reduce impacts on the environment through energy wastage

Many heritage homes tend to have poor heating and cooling systems, which, when coupled with low thermal mass and non-optimal building orientation, create a poor internal amenity. Older heritage dwellings also tend to have been constructed without added thermal insulation, and generally haven’t been optimised to capture natural sunlight. This results in a dwelling which misses the ability to passively heat and cool itself and therefore wastes energy via added heating & cooling systems.

Designing for the local climate and achieving sensible sustainable performance benchmarks are also critical to achieving the National Construction Code (NCC) 6-star building thermal performance requirements. Actually, every major renovation to a heritage dwelling (altering more than 50% of the building volume) is required to fully upgrade the building fabric and energy systems to achieve a minimum 6-star performance and ensure that Australia can achieve set carbon emission reduction targets.

Green Edges Residence
Photography: Emily Bartlett

But the good news is that with a careful assessment of the site context, a customised design solution can be developed, and a good balance struck, and we can upgrade your heritage home to address these typical problems. At DX Architects we have extensive experience in creating contemporary renovations to heritage homes which deliver high-quality design outcomes for you, so your home can accommodate your contemporary lifestyle.