Featured design: Victorian tribute

Featured design: Victorian tribute


By Danielle Townsend

Following significant changes over more than a century, a late-Victorian home is beautifully updated with a host of contemporary touches for today’s modern family.

home renovations 

The story of this renovation involves travelling back in time about 120 years ago to when this house in Enmore, in Sydney’s inner west, was originally built in the late-Victorian style. Since then, while the front of the house retained its original qualities with the formal rooms and grand hallway intact, the rear had been significantly modified. Most recently, it had been converted to three small bed-sit flats, which were in nearderelict condition.

“The brief was to make some sense of the awkward series of tangled, darkened spaces at the rear of the house,” says the architect employed to undertake the transformation, Ben Giles of Ben Giles Architect. “The clients, a couple recently returned from living and working overseas and their two small children, needed a family home with a spacious kitchen and family area that connected to the rear garden.

They also required three bedrooms, a new bathroom, ensuite and laundry. There was also a wish for a covered outdoor area, similar to the kind they had experienced in tropical Asia that could be used in all weather conditions.” The footprint of the existing house was already over the maximum permitted by council so it was not possible to extend further at the back.

However, the rear of the house was a rabbit warren of disconnected spaces, with a dog-legged hallway. “We re-arranged the spaces so that the hallway could become an extension of the existing hallway and continue all the way through the house,” says Ben. “A big challenge was to re-arrange the circulation of the house, create light-filled rooms in existing dark spaces, and improve the connection to the rear garden, all within a fairly tight budget. “After distilling the client brief and budget, the existing house configuration and the council controls, I sought to create a light-filled, openplan contemporary living space.

I wanted to improve the connection between the front and rear of the house, and enable a continual view from the front door to the rear garden. I wanted to use simple, timeless materials in a way that is rational, buildable and even a little beautiful.” A number of load-bearing brick internal walls were demolished to create new spaces and circulation. Also, new floors were built, the rear wall was re-aligned, and new large sliding doors were built in.

There was also a new laundry, bathroom and ensuite created, plus a new, crisp white, modern kitchen installed, which, when one looks at the photos of the original kitchen, was desperately needed and well deserved by the home’s owners, Elizabeth and Matthew. “From the start, the clients had some definite ideas about the kitchen,” says Ben. “While not extravagant, it uses a combination of quality materials: stainless steel and spotted gum hardwood timber benchtops; glass splashbacks; and good-quality joinery. It is designed as a piece of furniture to be seen and enjoyed as a part of the family living space.”

 As the children’s bedrooms were to be located along the northern boundary, it was not possible to provide new windows in the boundary walls, so Skydome rooflights were installed to increase light and ventilation. Ben says his favourite part of the renovated space is the outdoor tallowwood deck, allowing this family to enjoy extra space as an extension of the indoors and providing sun protection in the living areas from the harsh western summer sun. “Externally, we built a new timber deck and slatted timber pergola overhead,” says Ben. “The covered outdoor deck provides a good transition space between the indoor family area and the rear garden. It has a slatted timber ceiling that provides sun protection and is also waterproofed with a layer of polycarbonate roofing above the timber.

It was a contemporary Australian interpretation of the covered outdoor areas that my clients had used in Asia and also casts a slatted, dynamic shadowing effect.” As construction progressed, the home’s existing roof was retained, which was good news for the limited budget, but new insulation was installed underneath, which improved the thermal comfort. Also in the name of energy efficiency, louvred windows were installed in the southern wall to enhance cross-ventilation and a new concrete slab improved the thermal mass of the house.

Ceiling fans were installed rather than air-conditioning. According to Ben: “Renovation projects are often about compromise and all parties compromised in order to achieve a good result, on time and on budget.” This project was completed for approximately $250,000, a result which wouldn’t have been possible without extensive co-operation from those involved. “We found the builder (Keen Edifice) through a referral from friends of the client,” continues Ben. “He was great, very attentive, honest and reasonable. Our fortnightly three-way site meetings were relaxed and productive as a result. The best component of this renovation project was the people involved.

Throughout the project the clients were fantastic, they were open to new ideas, enthusiastic and responsive. This made it all the more rewarding — whether presenting initial sketch plans or once building started. They also had some definite ideas of what they wanted and this makes it more challenging for an architect to respond to and develop a solution together. “The finished product is one of good communication and genuine enthusiasm and commitment from everyone.”

Photography by Andy Baker 

Project Particulars
Designed by: Ben Giles Architect
3/1 Farrell Avenue, Darlinghurst NSW 2010
0412 599 468

Built by Keen Edifice
0417 466 440 
Licence Number: 82081c

Kitchen, dining, living: Polished concrete floor slab with Boralstone neutral base 219026 (no oxide)
Bedrooms: Blackbutt timber with Tung oil finish

Kitchen/dining/living/bedroom: Flush-set plasterboard painted Dulux Antique White USA

Benchtop 1: 40mm-thick dressed spotted gum timber benchtop; sealed finish
Benchtop 2: Stainless-steel commercialgrade benchtop
Splashback: Colourback glass
Cabinetry: White two-pack polyurethane; semi-gloss finish

Bathroom fittings
All client selections

Windows + external doors
Frames: Trend western red cedar window and doorframes with insect screens
Louvres: Breezway Altair louvres with 102mm blades with insect screens
Rooflights: Skydome CSD800 rooflights

Pergola: Timber-framed pergola with treated pine battens painted to match Colorbond Monument; polycarbonate roofing above
Decking: 19mm-thick tallowwood hardwood timber decking on spacers on concrete slab; Tung oil finish