Grey Street House is a home that is as much about the tangible as it is the intangible. As much as the arresting red-brick envelope grounds the home with a reassuring sense of solidity, the diminutive Western Australian residence is filled with purposeful gaps in its materiality.

The mere 170-square-metre dwelling sits behind a heritage house just 200 metres from Success Boat Harbour in Fremantle. As a result, architect Natalie Miller of Local Architecture was faced with the reigning paradox of such waterfront developments: Grey Street House needed to protect itself and its occupants from the prevailing and corrosive climactic elements, while still filling the home with the sunlight and sea breezes that make such locations desirable to begin with.

Local Architecture also faced a web of other challenges. Being a subsidiary dwelling, there was only limited right-of-way access and a tight vehicle turning radius. The narrow site also presented shading setbacks, but local height restrictions and general neighbourly courtesy cancelled out the possibility of a vertical build.

The solution to this matrix of restrictions was a rectilinear form of interwoven, perforated brickwork – a salt-resistant riff on Flemish bond brick patterning, and a nod to Fremantle’s prevailing architectural vernacular. The lace-like character of this light-drinking façade was carefully balanced with a sensitively proportioned, pitched roof form. Dotted with skylights, this upper level capitalises on the sunlit conditions without taking this same privilege away from neighbouring residences.

One of the more interesting features was designed to circumnavigate Grey Street House’s access challenges. In place of a traditional front door, the architects opted for a more immediate and immersive entrance. Occupants (and their guests) are drawn directly into heart of the home as they follow a garden that leads directly across the Jarrah deck into the living space. This lower-level social area is oriented towards the north, ensuring a direct connection to the outdoor garden and alfresco dining area.

Internally, an industrial palette of concrete floors and white-painted brick walls gives complement to the red-brick façade. At the same time, this material choice represents a tactile and aesthetic departure that is more suited to interior living. The canvas-like interior walls also offer a base for the shadow play created by the perforated brickwork of the exterior.

Not just for the protection of neighbouring amenity, the pitched roof form was used as the framework for the interior bedroom scheme. Although the sense of compression contributes to a feeling of intimacy in these spaces, the three bedrooms – all placed along the upper level – are located in corner boundaries, thereby allowing occupants to sidestep the acoustic infringement of shared walls.

All bedrooms are fitted with pivot doors that allow cool sea breezes to enter, mitigating the claustrophobia and stuffiness that such attic-like spaces typically succumb to. The upper-level corner that is not taken up with a bedroom is filled (or rather, left empty) with a void that connects all levels of Grey Street House and further allows spaces to borrow light and air from one another.