Grand Designs Australia: Bittersweet


There’s more than meets the eye for an orphaned factory that’s given a second chance

For many city slickers, the thought of moving to the ’burbs is a transition that is less than palatable. With everything you could ever desire within walking distance, many tough it out just to live in a location that offers pure convenience. For architect Adrian Light and his partner, Liz Murdoch, packing up shop was not an option, and so the couple undertook a quest to find a structure with real substance and character to embrace and make into a home. Enter the vinegar factory.

In another chapter, this gritty, crumbling factory was built by the Melbourne Vinegar Company and later owned by iconic local brand Skipping Girl Vinegar. Left in the tempestuous hands of Mother Nature, the building was abandoned for more than 40 years until Adrian stumbled across it with a vision to transform an unliveable space into one fit for a growing family.

“It’s about creating my own place and the knowledge I’ll gain during the process,” says Adrian. “It’s about creating an essential experience in the wider sense.” But, as Peter Maddison observes, you have to compromise when you want to live where everybody else does, and when working with a structure with no gas, water, electricity or services, “the only way to make these things liveable is to drag them kicking and screaming.”

Using the space as a hybrid home/office, the structure comprises a series of modern boxes within the walls of the original building — or “old envelope” as referred to by Adrian — with the basement level containing his architecture studio and the other three levels for living perched above this space.

With a goal to bring to life a hidden oasis, work begins in May 2013 on the vats in the basement, which serve as the organising principle of the space. Every surface of the home is to be treated, restored and waterproofed. Taking a considerable amount of time, this immediately pushes the completion date back. But ever the optimist, Adrian is committed to doing as much work as possible himself, sticking to his principle of producing a home with zero waste as well as upcycling, reusing and recycling everything on-site.

By April 2014, work on the original structure is finally complete and the new build begins, with steel frames for all four levels carried in and installed by hand due to the lack of access that comes with building in the city. The issue of light, especially in the basement/Adrian’s office, was always a contingent factor for Liz, whose mind was put at ease when the roof was taken off, revealing a healthy dose of natural light.

True to the ethos of upcycling, steel window frames from the factory are repurposed, with a near identical frame from a neighbouring warehouse reinstating the factory’s original aesthetic and industrial pride. With the arrival of the plasterers in September and stairs in January 2015, the house is quickly taking shape, albeit six months behind the original schedule.

From its unassuming street presence, you’d be forgiven for thinking the space inside remained untouched. But beyond the doors, the magnitude of the vinegar factory’s transformation speaks volumes. Thanks to Adrian’s dedication to preserving the factory’s character, this project is very much about the journey. “The story was always at the heart of this build,” says Peter. “[Adrian and Liz] took on a forgotten tale and attempted to make it reasonable once more.”

Drenched with sunlight from the void, every space is connected and offers a peep at what once was — think the vinegar vats that are now a fish pond or the original bricks. Emerging with a few battle scars, Adrian has well and truly proved Peter’s point that some things are worth fighting for.

Originally from magaine, Volume 5 Issue 3
Written by Annabelle Cloros
Photography by Rhiannon Slatter