Design

As Urban as it Gets - Mary Street House by Edition Office

The owners of this home couldn’t have found a more urban and, in some ways, challenging environment. With access from both Mary Street and a rear lane, the red brick Federation home is aligned to a major arterial road on one side and substantial two-storey period homes on the other. Coupled with being in a heritage locale, it would require a ‘brave’ client to create a family home for the owners and their three boys. However, working with leading architectural practice Edition Office, the owners transformed the house into a comfortable and well insulated home, taking an architecture award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) in the process.

For some, the idea of creating a more cocoon-like environment would have translated to a bunker effect – surrounded by high and impenetrable high walls. This solution might have provided a buffer to the heavy traffic, but it would also have eliminated community interaction and importantly, reduced the amount of northern light entering the home. In this case, the low timber picket fence at the front of the house was retained. And to the north, bordering Canterbury Road, Edition Office created a low brick fence that gently ‘morphs’ into a higher fence to frame the home’s main courtyard. “The house was in fairly good condition but as with many period homes, the kitchen, which was quite pokey, was just plonked at the back,” says Kim Bridgland, design director at Edition Office. “In those days, the kitchen had to be as close to the back garden as possible in case there was a fire,” he adds.

Given there was a need for a completely new kitchen, dining and living area, Edition Office removed this kitchen, along with an old shed in the back garden, and created a contemporary new wing. Constructed in recycled brick with a rough and faded trawled finish, the interior walls ‘bleed’ into the brick walls that enclose the three new courtyards. This allows the courtyards, particularly the main courtyard, to feel like outdoor rooms. Framed on two sides with sliding timber and glass doors, there’s the ability for cross ventilation with reduced noise from the passing traffic. And rather than just adding a rectilinear ‘brick box’, Edition Office included a number of curved walls such as the one framing the dining nook. “If we didn’t include these curves, the reflected light would have been considerably reduced,” says Bridgland, who also included a circular skylight in the open plan living areas to further increase the light.

The usual approach of creating a sharp transition between the old and new was also ditched by Edition Office. Nestled behind the original plastered arch in the hallway, the language transforms to concrete, a curved concrete bulkhead to make a gentle transition into the new wing. New timber joinery also heralds something beyond. “We’ve used a fairly restricted palette of materials: concrete, spotted gum joinery, trawled bricks with moments of deep burgundy marble,” says Bridgland, running his fingers along the marble that appears on top of the monolithic island bench in the kitchen as well as in the form a splashback.

While the bagged brickwork appears recessive in the kitchen and living areas, spotted gum is the leading material used for both the main bedroom suite on the first floor and in the separate studio – the latter accessed from its own separate staircase. And as with the curved brick walls below, both the main bedroom suite and studio feature curved facades. “We wanted to respond to this towering lemon-scented gum tree (in a neighbour’s garden) with the two spaces (the main bedroom and studio) almost appearing like bookends,” says Bridgland.

Most will tell you that something that appears simple is often the hardest thing to achieve. But in the case of the St Kilda West house, the ‘devil is partially in the detail’. Bridgland points out the embedded lights in the concrete ceiling allowing the light to create a soft and gentle glow. And for those fortunate to see the shower in the ensuite to the main bedroom, framed by a curved tile wall with only a skylight directly above, the experience is truly ‘heavenly’!

See more of Edition Office's work on their website and Instagram. Words by Stephen Crafti. Images by Rory Gardiner.