George House is a completely modern home with a heritage past featuring a palette of unique and customised materials that delivers a beautifully surprising urban design in East Melbourne. The renovation replaced a bad 80s extension at the rear with new living, kitchen, garage, loft and terrace spaces, capturing breathtaking city views.

For Byrne Architects founder Nicholas Byrne, the renovation of George House was always going to be about finding the right material that would fit with the ceramic brick of the existing house. Byrne wanted something that was scale appropriate, contemporary in its role, and contrasted with the red brick.

Though initially he had Kolumba in mind for George House, he changed his selection to the newest brick product in the Petersen range – Petersen Cover.

“We decided that it would be a really interesting approach to use a shingle and a lightweight structure rather than a brick structure, but still have the material relationship with the existing building,” Byrne says.

Similar to the Kolumba brick, Petersen Cover by Robertson's Building Products Pty Ltd is handmade in wooden moulds; however, it is completely different from a brick. Each shingle is fastened to an underlying baton structure by a carpenter, rather than a bricklayer, so that they lie accurately on a building’s surface.

“Choosing shingles was the most important design decision that we made. Petersen Cover (C54) has a really unique expression and externally the feeling of the house is like a bizarre medieval tower – it has a unique character to it, which we couldn’t have achieved with other materials. Brick would have been nice but the shingles really set the design apart to something really special,” Byrne explained.

Homeowners Jamie and Natalie Forsyth were happy with the choice because of Cover’s finished texture, which retained its old handmade vibe and colour even in a modern application.

Installing the shingles was a challenge since the product was new on the market. However, the task was completed with spectacular results with the help of Melpro and its talented team of carpenters, as well as with extensive detailing around the batons from Byrne Architecture.

“It’s not like using brick at all, it’s almost like a rain screen, so you have a waterproof layer behind it, and then use batons to set them out correctly. Melpro did a great job, and it all aligned. And because it’s handmade, it’s got a bit of variation to it, so it’s not a real precision art to put together. And it had that handmade feel to it that I really like,” Byrne commented.

Petersen Cover runs all the way to the top of the building with the aluminium flashing sitting behind the shingle. A folded skin of zinc comes down the sides dividing Cover at the corners because, being handmade, you can’t mitre the corners and have them meet up.

Cover is then combined with unique materials such as charcoal anodised aluminium windows, and zinc caps and flashings to make this home a cut above. “Zinc has a real lustre to it and it develops a patina over time so that sitting alongside the shingle is really beautiful because they both have this natural quality to them, which ages off really nicely,” Byrne explained.

Byrne sees the external façade as the standout feature, particularly its character in the street and the way the shingle works well with the existing building and in the surrounding context, set on a bluestone laneway.

The Forsyth’s are happy with the results. “It was a great execution to tie the old in with the new. I love the finish and the product, and it’s versatile in the way it can be used… it’s great for wrapping around things, it wraps all around in the courtyard, which is a really nice feature, and we have a garden going there now, so it does have a beautiful feel. And I get a lot of comments from the neighbours – they really like the shingle, too,” Jamie Forsyth concluded.

Photographer: Derek Swalwell