Architect and Interior VOLVERIDGE Architects, Photos Derek Swalwell

The East Melbourne Terrace House required a contemporary face-lift of an existing Victorian heritage home that incorporated an addition at the back to mediate between old and new.

The East Melbourne Terrace presented us with a series of challenges, primarily, how to take a stunning Victorian home and create synergy between the original structure and the range of tack on structures, both internally and externally, that had found their way onto and into the renovation over the last 10 years.

The client brief was for a contemporary face-lift of all space, whilst respecting the Victorian heritage where necessary. Externally we were to consolidate the aesthetic and deal with a major issue of unprotected west facing glazing to the main living areas. 

After spending time on site and trying to achieve a solution that would streamline the original home and the older extensions without a major demolition; an alternate solution was derived—cover it all with a screen. This approach doubled as a tool to achieve solar control to the west.

Tall, steel-framed windows were punched through the south-facing external wall, creating picture windows between the skirting and cornice to frame a small bamboo garden. The existing fireplace was wrapped by tall, dark veneer joinery panels, emphasizing the height and scale of the room and referencing proportions typical of late nineteenth-century residential architecture.

Behind the vertical wall of timber, natural light is filtered through to the new guest bedroom window, while a small garden and a courtyard sit either side and soften the external edges. Incorporating garden outlooks is an important element in this built work and design philosophy.

Internally, the floor plan required reconfiguring to include the necessary spaces as well as significant cosmetic works to create a common theme throughout. 

In addition, the internal extension is markedly distinct from the existing building. Strong lines of clean plasterboard run from ceiling to floor, and any reference to high skirtings or deep cornices is dissolved in long bulkheads and striking timber and black steel joinery. 

Beyond the new glass sliding doors at the end of the house, a stepped garden is defined by the existing swimming pool and an array of daphne, magnolia, hydrangea and crepe myrtle sits beyond the back door. The existing terrace was hot and arid so the introduction of planting and greenery was important to the clients.

From the top level of the garden, looking back at the house, the rear facade is revealed. Reflecting on the numerous finishes this facade previously featured, the architect used a straightforward strategy: simplify what was there and provide shade and privacy by way of a battened timber screen. The screen sits away from the facade and is fixed to a balustrade, maintaining the balcony walkway beyond and access to a spiral staircase and roof terrace above.

Replanning the ground and first floors while reinterpreting their various functions became fundamental to the way the occupants live and work in their home. The East Melbourne Terrace also offers its owners the promise of proximity to work and an inner-urban lifestyle easily accessible on foot. While the interior and rear exterior have been transformed sensitively yet strikingly, the new elements have been born from the existing bones, referencing these heritage elements and celebrating the longevity of their nineteenth-century form.

The site also had two frontages—the primary frontage being the Victorian facade, however the rear street elevation, dominated by garaging, lacked any cohesion.

Materials and surfaces were used to achieve a cohesive series of spaces, connecting the old fabric with the new.  A natural palette of materials was combined with steel doors and windows, timber floors and timber veneer cabinetry. The joinery played an important role, particularly with the sculptural stair upon entry, referencing remnants of the past, while making a contemporary statement. The desk and banquet in the study and the feature island bench in the kitchen were also carefully curated elements, which responded directly to the clients brief.

Through repairing the old fabric and attaching new fabric, it became important to highlight these junctions. Internal courtyards carved out of the plan, not only reference the series of tack on structures that were added over the years, they create moments of threshold between spaces. The courtyards bring light into the center of the plan, while providing a sense of connection between inside and outside. The screen on the western façade works to provide solar control as well as privacy to the occupants without losing outlook and light.