Nestled in a heritage overlay street in North Fitzroy, Melbourne, is a semidetached dwelling on a very narrow section, where a house once took up 122m² of 274m² of its site area. It was no easy feat, then, to renovate and extend this Edwardian villa to 205m². Owner Matt Dalling wanted “a modern extension that was sensitive to the house, but was independently striking”. He enlisted AM. Architecture – a firm experienced in conversions of houses with local significance – for a design overhaul. With the decision made to incorporate a subtle 1960s’ theme, and the brief noting a necessity for simple, Modernist, organic materials that “warmed the house”, architect Andrew Mellios started to create something exciting that was “more than the typical villa extension of a single-room box on the back,” Mellios says.
The result is a black, single-pitched, contemporary architectural expression that was finished in June 2012. The extension creates a fluid relationship with the existing building, utilising the breadth of the six-metre-wide site. And it continually references “the vertical”, Mellios says: floor-toceiling windows reach up to the cathedral ceiling and vertical louvre windows ribbon the building at head height. Inside, it was important to create a formal dining space that was separate from the kitchen, but still maintained a spatial connection. Here, white-painted bagged brickwork sits beside vertical black-painted timber, flanking a sleek, polished concrete floor. “The materials and new colours from the existing heritage portico are used,” says Mellios, specifically noting the external brickwork of the original building’s front. “These serve to bind the two parts together, reinforcing the idea that both old and new, so different in era and style, are borne of the same substance.”
Placed firmly in the room’s centre is a circular wooden table of Modernist tendencies, on atop of which a white pendant light completes the 1960s’ styling. While screened from the kitchen by joinery, the dining room peeks through to the living area and out to the courtyard. The kitchen, highlighted by a central island, contains spotted-gum veneer kitchen cabinetry with retro-styled moulded handles. Along the wall is the stair in the void – which Mellios calls the “main event” of the house – also in spotted-gum veneer, a warm, wooden texture that lifts the whole ground area towards the ceiling, to ensure the central kitchen space doesn’t feel definitively domestic. Upstairs, the spotted-gum floors lead into the bathroom, which is contained by vertically placed subway tiles, once again referencing the old brickwork in size and shape. A floating walkway links the bathroom to the simple, all-white bedroom.
Light is taken seriously in this extension. Using a larger western window than one would normally install, the house exploits all available daylight. “As it changes in intensity, so do the colours that filter in, which gives a great transition from afternoon to evening, and then to night,” says Dalling, who utilises the new extension’s natural illumination with partner Imogen and son Finn. “Not having to turn electric lights on in the main living area until the sun has exhausted itself is a very gratifying feeling.”