The re-working of a heritage house is no simple task, and can present several paradoxes for the architect. These projects are made even more difficult when the existing structure has suffered from years of neglect.

Such was the case for architects Robert Nichol & Sons, who were tasked with breathing new life into one of the oldest remaining timber dwellings in the inner-north Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, a pre-fabricated cottage that had been imported from England during the 1850s.

“Despite having an individually significant rating, the property was in a pretty dire condition. [It had] been stripped of nearly all of its heritage fabric and character, and [was] seemingly held together with years of thickly applied paint,” says the architects.

The restoration of Crisp House required a complete rebuild. Yet, it was important to keep the heritage patina of the home intact. Robert Nichol & Sons’ two-storey answer to the problem has been designed with the same form, angle and dimension of the existing cottage. Rather than being clad in traditional horizontal timber weatherboard as the old cottage was, the new addition has been fitted with vertical ironbark shiplap. Although a coat of paint had previously been used to finish the property, the ironbark has been left to weather off and soften in appearance.


The original double-hung cord and weight windows were also reproduced for the new build, and the smaller six-pane configuration was reintroduced after being removed during previous renovation works. Additionally, the timber veranda posts were returned along with the wooden decorative details.

The interiors of Crisp House incorporate extensive glazing and north-facing skylights in the living space, and large sliding doors that open up to the outside areas with seamless floor levels. Structural elements such as steel and timber beams have been left exposed.


Hidden behind the angled roof form is a large roof terrace, which is accessible from the living spaces via a sculptural external steel and wooden stair.


“Hemmed in by taller buildings either side of it, the original cottage was overwhelmed and neglected for decades, its identity compromised by inappropriate treatments,” says the architects. “The new works now fill in this gap and provide a sensitive and recessive backdrop to the faithfully restored dwelling that originated [over] 160 years ago in England.”