An award-winning design in Melbourne recycles and revamps to give new life to old materials
Melbourne is famed for its cafe and laneway culture and it’s said the best way to experience the city is to get lost among its streets. Old brickwork and cobbled lanes lead you past bars and restaurants, and coffee shops beckon with tantalising aromas.
This funky laneway vibe is where Wilson id Pty Ltd got its inspiration for this exciting new home in an inner suburb of Melbourne. “The client loved Melbourne’s cafe and laneway culture and wanted to create a home that embraced the robust industrial aesthetic often found in this type of environment,” explains Ian Wilson of Wilson id.
The build redefines the concept of contemporary design. It leans generously on green design principles and much of the material used is recycled and used in its original state. “Our client wanted to live in a warehouse that was filled with natural light,” Ian says. “Our response was to create a house that looked towards the industrial aesthetic via the materials we used, but to introduce them in a way that would make you read the inherent beauty in something you might otherwise see as junk. The result is a house that is considered, but not at all precious.”
The environmental credentials of the home stretch farther than the use of just recycled materials. These were carefully selected for their aesthetic appeal so they could be used in an “as found” condition, while many fittings, fixtures and glazing were rescued from the original Victorian cottage and reused in the new structure.
The home is designed around a central east west axis, which runs the entire length of the home and doubles as a venting stack. The high-level louvre windows can be operated remotely from both levels of the house and when the lower-level bi-fold doors and windows are open, cross ventilation is excellent. The careful placement of windows allows for the deep penetration of natural light into the interior.
A 5000-litre underground water tank harvests rainwater, which services the garden and toilets. Well-insulated double-brick walls and concrete slabs create thermal mass and in-slab hydronic heating warms the ground floor, while reproduction cast-iron panels heat the upper level.
The home offers an intriguing insight into how breaking away from the norm is still as effective as it has ever been. “The concept of designing the house as if it was a laneway is unique and gave the design team opportunity to explore the relationship between communal and personal space,” says Ian. “Spaces and functions overlap, while careful placement of coloured and textured glazing allows for shadowy glimpses between rooms and to the larger urban landscape beyond. The plan was to create a house that is a backdrop to family life, designed to support rather than occupy its owners.”
Ian refers to the use of materials in an “as found” condition as “happy accidents” and explains that one of the challenges to the build was trying to convince the builders to use materials randomly as he picked them up rather than trying to place or arrange the outcome. “Recycled bricks were laid with the painted side turned in, regency lining boards and weatherboards were selected for their patina and previous colour, and then individual boards were fixed in place as they came to hand,” he says.
“While the architectural response and spatial development is tough and industrial, the vast material palette is the tool used to soften and warm the home,” Ian explains. “It’s the sum of the parts which makes this house sing with the echo of the previous lives evident throughout. Ultimately it was the colour found in carefully-selected recycled material that informed the rest of the scheme.”
What makes this house exceptional is not that it is a perfect, symmetrical and neat creation. Rather, it is the opposite that makes it unique and liveable, a home we can all relate to. It gives a nod of acceptance to that which is a bit higgledy-piggledy and actually applauds it. The design proves that a property that turns one man’s trash into another man’s treasure can still be stylish and beautiful.
- This design took home eight awards at the recent Building Designers Association of Victoria’s Building Design Awards, including the BDAV Building Design of the Year Award
- The home is situated in an inner suburb of Melbourne and utilises recycled materials throughout the design
- While the architecture and design is considered and well planned, the build itself celebrated diversity and randomness
- The home has excellent green credentials and makes good use of many sustainable elements, such as a rainwater tank which supplies to the garden and toilets
Words Alexandra Longstaff Photography Trevor Meim