It’s not surprising that the front façade of this Melbourne home is filmic in appearance and scale. The owners — Jess, a freelance costume designer, and JD, the founder and managing director of a film and television distribution company — are both involved in the movie industry.
“Many of the private residences and locations we have filmed in have been ripe with inspiration, which helped inform how I approached working on our home,” says Jess. “It’s been a good way to keep our stamp on our home and find the end result imbued with our own unique taste and personality.”
The pair, who live in the house with their young son, were also “fortunate to inherit such a striking and beautifully preserved piece of architectural history,” explains Nicholas Travers, co-founder of Melbourne-based design studio Techné Architects. Travers is referring to the home’s two-storeyed Victorian-era facade, one of the finest domestic examples of its kind in inner-city Melbourne.
Commanding a grand presence on a quiet, tree-lined street in the suburb of Fitzroy, the frontage also provides the perfect foil to the theatrical, designer strokes of Techné’s contemporary extension to the rear. “Crafting an appropriate response to the existing house was a key challenge,” explains Travers. “In addition to incorporating our clients’ creative ideas and negotiating a sensitive site plan, we wanted to create a clear distinction between the new extension and the original Victorian form.”
As a result, the 350m² house is a dramatic tale of two halves. “The interiors of the original front rooms were designed to recall the home’s grandeur,” says Travers. Designed in collaboration with Techné interior designer Virginie Lhermet, the front-facing sitting and formal dining rooms have a rich combination of Victorian Ash wall panelling, silk damask wallpaper, period-style ornamentation and heavy furnishings.
“We took a risk by playing with strong colour and adventurous materials,” Jess explains. “But details like the vintage leather armchairs, antique bronze mirror details, the velvet curtains and the deep, book-lined joinery give the rooms an old-worldly, gentleman’s club feel.”
The owners commenced design development with Techné in 2011, with Jess heavily involved in all aspects of the design process. Crediting her design degree and career in costume design for her well-honed aesthetic, the owner sourced all the finishes, furniture and fittings, relying on Lhermet to ensure her interior selections worked together with the planned architectural design. The moody duo of decorative ante-spaces also provides the perfect visual counterpoint to the light-filled and comparatively pared-down extension, which is encountered, as an element of surprise, just beyond a small, open-air, oasis-like courtyard.
It’s a clever architectural device, the negative space of which clearly distinguishes between the period remnants and the rectilinear form of the new build. It’s also a useful threshold, serving as a light source and intimate breakfast spot, cleverly integrated into the kitchen via cafe-style, flip-top windows.
The courtyard is also the point at which the materiality of the new build comes into sharp focus. “As nature lovers, we wanted to reflect our love for raw materials,” explains Jess. In addition to the extensive use of timber floorboards, timber joinery and exposed timber beams, the entire pavilion extension has been clad in a rich, red ironbark. It’s a bold move but one that also sets the tone for the striking materiality and proportions of the new build.
“We wanted to craft a sense of scale and lightness,” explains Travers. Accordingly, architectural tricks include heightened ceilings and expansive window sections along the living room.
“By cranking the extension at a slight angle to the original house, we were also able to include a terrace at the rear of the property, providing visual connections and cross-flow ventilation across the whole floor plan,” adds Travers. The house has been set a metre off the north boundary, allowing filtered light through large openings along the elevation. The drama continues to the upper floor, which is defined by an oversized external deck accessed via a Coreten-clad external stair. Framed by timber-clad part-walls on three sides, the space supports the clients’ penchant for entertaining and their desire to capture the silhouette of the city-line beyond. “It is somewhat over-scaled but we wanted to create an outdoor space that didn’t feel in any way urban and, therefore, potentially pokey,” Jess explains.
It also features a number of personal elements sourced by the clients, including vintage light fittings, street art by local artist Ghostpatrol and reclaimed ironbark wharf posts, reincarnated as pergola beams. “They are 850 kilograms of impressively chunky, weathered hardwood complete with gorgeous rusty bolts and marked-up patina,” Jess adds. “I gaze at them endlessly.”
Their mammoth scale is best surveyed from her son’s bedroom, which features a full-height, glazed city-side façade. “Our son certainly has the prime view,” admits Jess, “but we reserved the outline of the Dandenong Ranges for our bedroom.” Although the view is partially clipped due to height restrictions, their beloved mountains are seen from their elevated bathroom, which sits comfortably within the master bedroom space. It’s a rich, sanctuary-like, timber-clad room with additional views to the courtyard beyond.
“This house has been designed to reflect and support the personalities of its owners,” adds Travers. “It was critical that we knitted our spatial vision with their ideas and desires.”