Architects working in Australia’s major cities are increasingly being forced into the role of spatial problem-solvers. Floorspace is an ever-shrinking commodity, but the human need for light and volume is not going anywhere. Which means that architects are not only having to pull out all the tools in their toolbox to address the disjunct between these two realities, but that they’re also having to invent new ones.

As Apparte Studio realised with their recent Curtain Cottage project, it helps when you can cover architecture, furniture and building all within the same practice. When they were tasked with the transformation of a “cramped, dark and damp” Victorian cottage in Melbourne’s inner-north, it was the integration of building design and specification that helped them add a sense of spaciousness to the strictly 60-square-metre space – especially considering there was no budgetary room for an extension.


The starting point for the project was a hypothetical brief, delivered by Apparte to themselves. At the centre of this was the question, ‘How might a professional couple live comfortably inside a formerly tight and dingy Victorian of 60 square metres?’.

The fact that Apparte Studio had amongst them architects, builders and joiners meant that they were able to test out their own ambitious ideas (and their consequences) during the construction phase, and adapt them accordingly.



In the words of the project team, one of the most “special aspects” of the redesigned Carlton Cottage is the façade – or, specifically, the contrast it creates with the home’s interior. The understated façade of the building acts as a veil, lending the owners a sense of anonymity from the street frontage through a modest design that becomes akin to camouflage.


In-line with the brief Apparte made for themselves, they decided to insert just one bedroom into the home – adequate accommodation for a couple, leaving them space for a living area within their diminutive 60-square-metre home. On the occasion that guests stay over, Apparte fitted a curtain that could be pulled across to ‘wall’ off a temporary second bedroom. All of this was done without expanding the existing envelope of the home.

Ease of circulation was paramount in the kitchen, and so a kitchen island bench was designed to facilitate this. The dining area extends out from the bench right up to the courtyard perimeter, providing a natural transition from inside to out while helping to bring light deep into the home.


“While we couldn’t increase the square meterage of the house, we could add to the volume and feeling of space,” explains the project team.

“We did this by lifting the ceiling to the line of the original rafters, which created the opportunity to light the house indirectly by placing LED strips atop the newly exposed ceiling joists. In addition, a little quirk can be seen on the brick wall in the kitchen, where we punched a hole through at the top to add a further connection between front and back, while also providing an access point to the attic floor.

“This connection can be felt when the light from LEDs running around the bedroom perimeter are switched on. There are no downlights in this project and the entire house is lit indirectly with energy-efficient LED strip lights shining up at the ceiling and reflecting back a comfortable, warm glow.”



In some areas of the home – such as the kitchen and bathroom – LEDs were insufficient. In their place, Apparte designed custom linear pendants to complement the linear theme of the house. This linear pendant scheme was flipped upside-down in the bedroom for a soft-lit uplight that helps ease the transition between day and night lighting.

In the bathroom, a skylight has been cut out over the shower so that natural light can be utilised during the day. As this wanes, the shower screen is able to be lit thanks to a fitted LED strip along its top edge. This subtle soft lighting is supplemented with another custom pendant.