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Grand Designs Australia: Second Skin


A Windsor townhouse transforms into a force to be reckoned with

Project details

House: Skin Box House
Location: Windsor, Victoria
Date commenced: May 2013
Date completed: March 2014
Cost: $450,000

Colour Palette: Natural colours embed the house into the surrounding landscape. Timber, grey and black with a hint of green makes this an almost camouflage scheme

Your house says so much about you. So when it doesn’t reflect your style, the relationship with the place you call home can be rocky, perhaps even generating a little havoc in your life. For a design-savvy couple, an ’80s-style, semi-detached townhouse was the mirror image of everything they’re not. Thankfully, designers Rob Nerlich and Kate McMahon possess the creative foresight required to turn an undesirable property into a place worth coming home to.

Beginning the transformation in May 2013, the original townhouse consisted of two bedrooms, one bathroom

Now cantilevered over the garden, the first-floor bedrooms and ensuite are cocooned in the ‘skin box’, a structure encased by polycarbonate balustrades
and incredibly low ceilings. There was no harmony within the space and, worst of all, no connection to the outside elements. “The clients are a couple in their 40s who were looking to settle into one residence,” says designer Rob. “They were aspirational and knowledgeable about design from the outset, demanding a modern interior that would suit their needs and provide a cool environment for their teenage children to stay over.” With a strict brief, the process involved renovating the whole house using a material palette that would “envelop the senses and create a contemporary feel”, while improving indoor–outdoor flow. The master suite was also ready for an overhaul, along with the living areas and kitchen. Also on the agenda was the creation of a new roof deck with city views.

Broken apart and put back together again over the speedy period of 10 months, the body of work undertaken and the end result is impressive, to say the least. With a strategy to work with as much of the original building as possible, “the existing bathroom and laundry were maintained and the only significant piece of demolition was the curved roof of the rear living room to allow for the new bedrooms and ensuite above”, says Rob.

Once two claustrophobic rooms, the new living area is big on space thanks to a fully glazed wall and sliding glass door that “dissolves the barrier between the living area and the garden”, says Rob. A highlight of the new room is the tongue-and-groove timber ceiling and joinery that’s the perfect match with the vertical timber battening found mere steps away in the garden. The use of concrete in this space was a risk that paid off, with the Pandomo floor making its way from the living area to the courtyard, ensuring continuity in style and aesthetic.

Furnishings are simple and cut to the chase here, with a Halo pendant adding another dimension and materials including leather, cowhide and timber adding layers of warmth.

Now cantilevered over the garden, the first-floor bedrooms and ensuite are cocooned in the ‘skin box’, a structure encased by polycarbonate balustrades with an aluminium privacy hood connecting it to the spaces below. “The inspiration for the skin box came from the idea of building fabrics of ‘skins’ that mediate their environments and filter light,” says Rob. “The idea was to float the first floor above the slender, existing ground floor and envelop it with a lightweight translucent skin that would allow light through, control glare and privacy, and encourage a sense of spatial expansion to the courtyard. During the day, the skin seems silvery opaque, and at sunset, the evening sky reflects purple hues.” To access the box from the ground level is by way of a staircase that also leads up to the second floor roof terrace complete with picturesque views, a dining setting and plenty of seating to kick back and unwind with a drink in hand. “Providing a dramatic rooftop experience, the pop-up addition makes an idiosyncratic contribution to the streetscape,” observes Rob.

Now at one with its owners, this Windsor abode has morphed into a fascinating creature that welcomes the outside in to beautiful effect. With its minimalist interior, the materials utilised steal the spotlight — just as they should. “The origins of the Skin Box House sit within the frame of contemporary modernism and the play of phenomenology, site and sustainability,” reflects Rob. “In the context of an increasingly connected world, it defines itself uniquely.”


Originally from Grand Designs Australia magazine, Volume 5 Issue 2
Written by Annabelle Cloros
Photography by SuperK