“Wow! But shit...what to do...?”
This was Perversi-Brooks Architects’ reaction when their client, an ex-chef and ex-toy museum owner, approached them with the task of creating a Mexican-Swiss chalet in the middle of the Australian bush, to be carved out from the existing 1970s-built mudbrick.
As it stood, Malmsbury House was “dark” and “somewhat drab”; an anachronistic structure in picturesque agrarian surrounds. The problem with such a radical vision for the renovation was that the existing structure was protected by a number of overlays: An Environmental Significance Overlay, an Erosion Management Overlay, and a Heritage Overlay. The site was also within a bushfire prone area.
A clear brief helped to set out what needed to be done, and which elements were priority. First, the owner and his partner wanted more light, and light that penetrated deeper into the house. The sunroom was the overwhelming solution to this; an extensive extension that is wrapped in glass, from floor to pitched ceiling. Looking in from the outside, the sunroom façade looks like a pentagonal mirror, with its double-glazed surface reflecting the landscape. On the inside, various nooks were incorporated to sit, read, eat and generally capitalise on the sunlight. Since the sunroom juts into the landscape, the occupants can simultaneously enjoy the garden views.
“The sunroom extension was designed to draw more light deeper into the living areas, but also to visually extend the living space of the house out into the landscape,” says the architect. “A brick floor within the sunroom internally folds up into a seated plinth edge which slips through [the] full-height glazing to become a strong geometric plinth in the garden.
“The idea over time is to have pots and plants strewn across this geometric form, creating a 'fuzzy' edge between the building and the landscape.”
The second priority was storage. Considering the owner’s ex-toy museum past and extensive collection of objects, toys and artwork, a mixture of cupboard space and display areas was important. A “monolithic” joinery unit was installed in the lounge area behind the existing fireplace, where one of the two old timber staircases – both removed during the renovation – used to stand.
“The joinery acts as a sort of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, displaying some of the owner’s most prized pieces: A 17th-century doll, a number of candelabras, a clock, an underwater diver, and a number of toy cars,” says the architect.
Two more display cabinets were added throughout the home: one adjoining the dining area where the second original staircase used to be, and a third in place of an old external door, which doubles as a means to “visually open” the end of the corridor.
The timber staircases weren’t the only things that were removed from the interior structure. The home was additionally “gutted” of its existing kitchen and bathroom, to make room for something more in-line with the needs of a chef-slash-creative. The new kitchen was designed with materials “robust enough to deal with the punishment of an ex-chef”. This meant a stainless steel benchtop, timber veneer fronts, and ample overheard cupboards. In the bathroom, creativity was injected amongst the amenity – for instance, a heated towel rack and water-efficient fixtures sit alongside a custom-designed mosaic wall that incorporates Mexican-inspired colours and a nod to the owner’s history cooking seafood: a vibrant, pixelated octopus.
As the final, grand interior gesture, the architects replaced the navigational ease they tore down with the stairs. In their place, a new black steel spiral stair was erected with a bridge to link the two upper-level lofts. Not only this augment the available floor and wall space previously eaten up by the timber stairs, it also improved the circulation of the space.
Aside from the pitched, chalet-esque form of the sunroom extension, the shell of the existing structure was left in-tact. Made from a robust palette of mud brick, traditional brick and timber, it needed no more than a coat of paint – specifically white paint, to lighten up and enhance the home’s sense of volume.