The renovation and extension of this inner-Melbourne cottage has brought its inhabitants closer to nature and turned their small, dark home into a light-filled sensory experience. 

From the architect:

The concept for this project consists of four key elements: The existing front house, the tunnel, the pavilion and the voids. Each of these elements are designed to be formally understood separately, but knitted closely together to work with each other.

The client approached us with a brief to renovate their double-fronted cottage in Hawthorn and after a few briefing sessions, it became very clear that their lifestyle revolved around their garden and spending their days outdoors as much as possible. Unfortunately, their existing house did not utilise the exterior as well as it could, and being completely south facing, the central body of the house remained quite dark most of the year.

So our first approach was to remove the awkward rear lean-to and instead of extending from the existing house, we decided to build a standalone structure at the front of the house and connect the two spaces with a central passageway. The new standalone living space at the rear opens up the central body of the site to create a north-facing courtyard. With this planning strategy we now have a new north-facing rear living area, natural light into the ‘darkest’ spot of the front house and an active garden courtyard.

At the rear of the front house, there is a connecting tunnel which leads you through into the new living zone which then forms the central courtyard. Conceptually, the tunnel is designed to communicate the transition between the old and new zones. It is formed in salvage brick and a glazed sliding door. The brick portion of the tunnel is designed to subtly compress the space down before releasing the clients into a high and light-filled living room. The bricks also give a sense of weight, density and coolth, which when walking through, momentarily shields your senses.

Photography by Peter Bennetts

 The new addition consists of a kitchen, pantry, dining room, living room, bathroom and laundry. Unlike the brick tunnel, the concept of the addition is to borrow qualities you may find in a park pavilion. Rather than creating a wall space with windows and doors punched out, we decided to mirror it and place objects (black boxes), lines (structure) and planes (roof) to hold the space, with the spaces between glazed. By reversing this approach, we visually opened the living areas to the garden and the ‘walls’ are now the garden itself, which subtly changes throughout the day, evening and season.

The roof form kicks up to form an asymmetrical butterfly roof, and the combination of the raked ceiling and high windows softly diffuses the natural light down into the space, giving the effect of gently lifting it up. The ceiling continues to diffuse light in the evening. A set of track lights are used to bounce light back down into the living areas and the ceiling helps to soften the light while also creating quite a sculptural element in the evening.

The void is the garden space between the spaces. There are four sets of sliding doors which are designed to slide away completely - used to enhance the ‘pavilion’ concept. With the doors fully opened, the interior space becomes incredibly permeable and invites the garden through the space to become the ‘hero’ of the story.

Photography by Peter Bennetts