Respecting this home’s heritage has resulted in design triumph at Riversdale.
Riversdale is the site of a historic home with views encompassing not just the rolling verdant countryside, but the tranquil Malmsbury Reservoir. There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to vistas — it’s almost no wonder the home is set on the site of a former gold mine.
The original cottage was constructed here in 1881 and is now heritage listed. “The Riversdale property was purchased in 1881 by the clients’ great-great-grandfather, William Young, who immigrated to Australia in 1866 at 19 years of age,” says Cameron Greiner of JOST Architects. “The property included two gold mines but no house, so he had the original brick cottage built that year, which still stands today.”
Of course, since that time, the property has enjoyed numerous additions and alterations. Yet previous renovations failed to truly celebrate the original residence or capitalise on the expansive views. Enter Cameron from JOST Architects, a friend of the client who was passionate about bringing this new project to life. “The clients, who are close friends of mine, approached me to take on this project back in 2018, knowing it would be one of my first significant projects to design and deliver as a registered architect,” says Cameron. “Typically, my work to date had been in conjunction with or under supervision of my director, Patrick Jost.”
Cameron’s design vision did not disappoint. The brief was based on retaining the original building and adding a significant addition to suitably house a young growing family (four at the time of the renovation, now five and counting). “The children are the sixth generation of the family to live in the house,” reveals Cameron. “A number of subsequent family members have lived and passed away while living at Riversdale, most recently Andrew’s uncle, who was a skilled botanist and planted many of the exotic tree species still present around the house.”
Preserving the historic significance of the cottage was of utmost importance, but it did not come without its challenges and required careful coordination with the council heritage architect to respect and preserve its character. “Additionally, challenging site conditions, such as existing mature trees and retained structures, presented obstacles that needed to be addressed during the design process,” says Cameron. “The decision to retain the red-brick garage and create a specific space between existing structures for the addition required thoughtful planning.”
Yet the result speaks for itself. The cottage now boasts a new ensuite, bathroom and laundry, allowing for greater functionality. An addition was incorporated, allowing for a new rumpus room that connects the old and new buildings, as well as a living room, dining area, kitchen, butler’s pantry and wine store, mudroom with powder room, two new bedrooms and a shared bathroom. “One of these bedrooms can operate like a second master bedroom, with a sliding door from the hallway to enclose the bathroom and bedroom wing,” explains Cameron. This suits the clients’ needs particularly well as they have overseas relatives who need a suitable zone to accommodate their extended stays.
When beginning the design process, Cameron was able to mine the property itself for inspiration. “The inspiration for the design was drawn from a desire to respond directly to the rural landscape and the site’s topography,” he says. “The architecture sought to complement rather than imitate the existing structure, and the choice of materials and colours was carefully considered to harmonise with the overall site. The family’s appreciation for the spatial and material characteristics of the original cottage also played a significant role in inspiring the design approach.”
Warmth and authenticity were created via clever material choice. “Galvanised corrugated iron roofing and standard cost-effective bricks were used for the addition, responding to the farming sheds on the property. The darker brick tone for the primary colour and a lighter tone on the corners reproduced the unique quoin detail used on the original cottage,” says Cameron. “These choices were intentionally recessive to the cottage, ensuring the addition harmonised with the existing structure without dominating its character.”
Sustainability was considered in the design, with passive design principles weaved into the project. A northern orientation for maximum sunlight in the living areas and bedrooms was prioritised, and substantial insulation throughout the house helps retain warmth in the cooler months. The wrap-around verandah and double-skin brick of the cottage effectively keep the house cool in summer without the need for mechanical cooling. “Moreover, the project includes a hydronic heating system powered by heat pumps and is soon to be run off a large solar PV and battery system, further enhancing its environmentally friendly features,” reveals Cameron.
With so many exciting elements as part of the renovation, it could be hard to choose a favourite — but Cameron lists his preference as the rumpus room, which acts as a threshold between the dedicated communal spaces and the sleeping quarters. “It creates a sense of privacy and sanctuary while enhancing cohesion and flow through the home,” he notes. “The glazing on the east and west sides provides beautiful views of the surroundings, connecting occupants with
the natural landscape.”
The renovation has not only brought new life to the property, but celebrated the home’s history — as well as revealing more of the family’s past to the present occupants. “One particularly memorable moment was when we discovered old family memorabilia and historical artefacts hidden in the original cottage during the renovation,” says Cameron. “It was a heart-warming experience for both the clients and the design team to uncover these pieces of history, connecting the past with the present and reinforcing the importance of preserving the property for future generations.”
Words Lauren Clarke Photography Dave Kulesza