Newport house featured in The Age newspaper (Domain 15/06/2013) titled ‘Upsized efforts create ample room to breathe’ by Jenny Brown
Upsized efforts create ample room to breathe
Housing affordability often forces young buyers to settle for small, rickety older houses and renovate when they are able to afford to do so. Architects working on these cottages on small, inner-city blocks need to be able to maximise space while staying within the building envelope limitations that press in on all sides.
In the refurbishment and extension of a weatherboard cottage in Newport, Melbourne architect Daniel Xuereb used many of the techniques he’s been perfecting as a designer who often works in some of the most compact neighbourhoods of the inner city.
There are many tricks that ”add up to making a house feel bigger than it really is”, he says. The one you probably wouldn’t anticipate but that he has applied throughout the only-just-detached Victorian, which sits on a seven-metre-wide site but within centimetres of its period house neighbours is, he says, ”that everything within it is oversized”.
The inherited ceiling height in the front rooms of 3.5 metres was a good beginning for effecting space-stretching trickery. Where he inserted new features and facilities into the house Xuereb took most of them to the full height, which instantly amps up the perception of internal volume.
He replaced doorways with 2.4 metre-high openings and made them slide into cavities or along walls so they didn’t consume space within rooms. This ”tallness” effect is best exemplified in the en suite, inserted like a wide hallway into the main bedroom, which like the second bathroom is tiled all the way to the ceiling. Mirrors are big, too. ”Again,” Xuereb says, ”it all works to emphasise the height.”
In the new main living and kitchen addition that opens up almost completely to the back deck, he popped up a central void with high clerestory windows to the north and west.
”We always use ceiling height to make spaces feel larger,” Xuereb says.
Over the kitchen and dining areas, the roof comes down marginally to 2.7 metres and, within those parameters, there are smaller alcove openings: ”Creating a hierarchy of heights in an open-plan room gives a sense of subtlety to the experience of the living space.”
Even the cupboards, which are everywhere that it is feasible to locate storage, are playing a part in the morphing sense of spatiality. In the kitchen, the side banks of full-height cupboards are shiny and black, ”which gives extra depth”, and, like the white cupboards between them, are reflective to bounce light around. The splashback above the stove alcove is a dark mirror that reflects the back garden and again blurs the real boundaries.
When flight steward Paul Carter and his partner Gavin Dean opted to swap their Eureka Tower apartment (that Mr Carter says was too much like the hotel rooms he stays in around the world) for ”the rundown Victorian that was all twisted”, they deliberately lived with the illogical arrangements of rooms and lean-tos for 12 months before calling in Xuereb to fix the significant defects and give them an upgraded and extended two to three-bedroom home ”with a little bit of interest”.
One of the main interior structural amendments, and critical space extender, was to make the formerly cut-off hallway into one long line that gives a through-view to the back garden, where a freestanding wall now contains an outdoor open fireplace. ”We use the backyard a lot for entertaining and wanted a room outside,” Mr Carter says. ”But we really wanted a wall to block off the rubbish bins and the old shed.”
The architect says that ”the tight sites and the smaller houses are where you’ve got to use all your skills and experience to create an efficiency of space that is really workable”. ”It makes for an intensive architectural design process. But the tough sites and planning policies are often the very same places where you end up with the greatest results.”
According to the owners, the once-little house has turned out to be a total surprise. ”It’s more than we ever thought it could be,” Mr Carter says. To him, the results justify ”spending money on an architect”: ”An architect was part of the investment we were putting in and to us, it’s been money well spent.”