New Lease on Life

New Lease on Life


by Danielle Townsend  

A flexible Queensland home is now ready to take on the next 100 years.

renovations gallery 

The original building belonging to these homeowners was a typical pre-war Queenslander that had been subjected to several renovations over its lifetime. The ‘mass’ of the building was really a giant cube, with the ground level filled in and the resultant internal spaces awkward, somewhat dark and poorly connected.

The first floor had an exterior deck but failed to take advantage of the building’s elevated position and fantastic northerly outlook over the backyard to Kedron Park beyond. This floor retained a mostly historic character, while the ground floor was a very generic slab and a plasterboard-all-round type of interior.

The initial brief from the client to architect Matt Cooper of Aspect Architecture was “let’s bulldoze it and build something new and cool!” However, due to local planning restrictions covering pre-war buildings in the area, this was not an option. Hence the new brief was “let’s get rid of as much of the old as we can and make something new and cool!”

The realistic brief was then to create a much more usable home for the busy and growing family — something they could grow into and would be flexible in nature for the future. The idea of distinct areas for ‘public’ and ‘private’ to achieve a certain level of separation between adults and children was also something discussed early on.

“As strange as it sounds, the design was purely inspired by client needs,” says Matt. “We take a very pragmatic approach in the early stages of the design process so that out of the client brief local climatic conditions and assessment of the needs, an overall planning or layout regime emerges that then becomes a floorplan. This will then inform the overall three-dimensional shape of the building. The style and detailing come from our client’s preference along with materials and construction detailing we like and have used successfully on previous projects.

“Basically, the house was stripped right down to its ‘underwear’, so to speak, with only the first floor’s front and side walls left as original in line with council controls (with some repairs that were needed). The existing carport structure was also retained.

“We removed everything on the ground floor, including all structural columns, slabs, walls and internals, and all services such as plumbing and electrical. We removed the large concrete pool from the backyard along with a separate granny flat built sometime in the 1970s. Where possible, we tried to retain existing structural walls on the first floor to minimise the need for new engineering to hold up the roof framing that we left intact.”

The design centres on the large doubleheight space at the core of the building. “We personally love the double-height terrace space and its connected internal ‘partner’ space,” says Matt. “The scale, along with the striking timber work that forcefully pulls your eye out towards the rear yard, works really well we think.”

Because of this double-height space, a large section of upper-floor framing and any walls affected in this area had to be removed. “This was a huge part of the project and particularly challenging for the builder, Jim Maguire of Onedec, as the house was basically suspended in mid-air while all prep work and construction went on underneath for the new design,” says Matt. “We always try to take a commonsense approach with the engineering side of things in order to keep costs down, so wherever we could we continued load-bearing paths from the upper floor straight down to the new ground slab. Nevertheless, there was a reasonable amount of new steel to be added due to some of the long, open spans and a couple of cantilevered elements that we included.” 

A large wing was added along the western boundary, which functions as the kids’ area, with bedrooms, bathroom and a games room all contained here. The wing also has the dual role of providing protection from the intense afternoon western sun over the outdoor terrace and pool entertainment area. A large, terraced platform and stair area was created that allows a usable transition space from the main building’s living areas down to the pool.

Due to the topography of the site, Aspect Architecture was also able to use space created under the outdoor entertaining area to house a pool shower room, steam room and large storage area.

“For us, climatic response is generally our primary consideration when designing a building — which way windows face, their size and relationship to other openings. This allows us to create passive breeze paths throughout the building,” says Matt. “This project was no different; even though we had to retain parts of the original skin and window openings, we spent a good deal of time making sure the existing didn’t hinder the performance of the new.

“We were also aware of the aesthetic relationship between the old and the new and aimed — through the use of positive/negative forms, opening sizes and positions, as well as light and material selection — to achieve a seamless blend of the two styles.

The clients were very keen to reduce their environmental impact in terms of mainsconnected utility consumption (such as water and electricity) and from the outset wished to lower utility bills where possible and reduce reliance on the grid. To this end, the building has extensive insulation throughout the roof, ceilings and walls for thermal efficiency; a huge rainwater collection system and grey water recycling; bore water for gardens; carefully designed passive airflow paths; instantaneous gas hot water; and full service provision for future solar power generation.

It was this quest to be green that proved challenging and expensive. “We had quite a few challenges, but perhaps the most memorable was trying to sink three 27,000-litre water tanks into the ground in close proximity to a large council sewer main,” says Matt.

Countless phone calls and several site visits by Brisbane City Council plumbing engineers resulted in a successful outcome, but at quite a large expense because of the need to install multiple concrete piers under the tanks to ensure weight was not pushed down on the council pipe. “We knew about this early in the process but I think the number and depth of the concrete piers shocked pretty much everyone,” says Matt. “I imagine the water tanks will take quite a few years to pay themselves back!”

The builder also reused as much of the demolition materials as possible. Attention to detail and the use of quality materials also means that the embedded energy usage of materials on the project should work out quite low due to an envisaged long lifespan of the building.

A fantastic home automation and security system was installed by Electronic Living. It isn’t a cheap inclusion but makes the house so much more liveable.

“This building now has a new lease on life and is capable of lasting another 100 years or more,” says Matt. “We were able to respect and pay attention to the history of the building and that particular Queensland vernacular so the established streetscape isn’t affected in a negative way. At the same time, we have updated the building for a contemporary family with current-day needs and an aesthetic style that makes sense for not only for them but for our day and age in general.” was also able to use space created under the outdoor entertaining area to house a pool shower room, steam room and large storage area.

Photography by John Mills 

This project was designed by

PO Box 1873, Kingscliff NSW 2487
Tel 02 6674 5418

This project was built by
Tel 07 3262 3744

Kitchen/laundry/living/outdoor: Honed basalt on concrete
Dining/entry: New polished tongue-andgroove — grey gum
Bedroom: Recycled tongue-and-groove from demolition, new polished tongue-and-groove — grey gum
Stairs: Grey gum

Kitchen/casual dining/living/bedroom/ stair: Painted plasterboard
Dining: Painted plasterboard/glass/ cabinetry wall
Outdoor: Painted timber chamferboard
Other: Custom Orb Zincalume roof sheeting, stained hardwood exposed structural framing

Benchtop: Quarella marble composite Perlato Appia
Splashback: White colour-backed Starphire Glass
Cabinetry: White satin two-pack
Other: Laminex Gunmetal shadowlines and kickboard, Franke kitchen sink and specialist fittings

Bathroom fittings
Parisi WCs, Grohe tapware, Argent basins, Dorf tapware and wet area fittings, Hansa tapware and spouts, Caroma basins

Combination of fitting types supplied by Lumen 8

Pool: Onedec Steps and pool deck: Blackbutt timber
Pool tiles: Granite
Specially designed feature: Jetmaster Kemlan fireplace