A Sleek, Surprising Reworking Of A Victorian Cottage

The standard process when updating an outdated lean-to is to replace the structure with a much larger, modern extension.

At one stage this might have been the course for this Brunswick property, but an existing edible garden on site inspired Blair Smith Architecture to consider other ideas. 

‘The original lean-to had a poetic utility and modesty I wanted to somehow distil,’ says Blair. ‘The site already had a detached [14m²] brick studio, and an edible garden started by the previous owner, so part of the brief was to insert something new that could retain those elements.’

Clearly the original lean-to with its lack of aspect, awkward layout, and poor thermal performance had to go, but there were other elements of this structure that spoke to Blair. 

Rather than creating a much larger extension that would see the garden destroyed, he settled on a more understated design encompassing the kitchen, dining area, and bathroom. The original lounge room within the cottage was able to be retained as a result, allowing the contemporary addition to be minimised. 

The home’s rear, northern facade now features three sliding timber screens controlling heat gain, glare, and privacy. Each has an integrated fly screen across a dedicated and lockable doorway, enabling security and passive cooling simultaneously. 

Attention to detail has been paid throughout the project, as seen particularly in the bathroom orientation, (which opens to both the interior and exterior, meaning someone at an outdoor gathering can step directly into the bathroom without trudging through the whole house!), and moody interior palette.

Another interesting detail is the lighting scheme, which has been deliberately designed to include no overhead fittings. ‘I mentioned to the clients that I always wanted to do a project where there were no ceiling lights, and they liked the idea of that as a design challenge, as well as having low lighting generally,’ Blair explains.  The only fixtures touching the ceiling are a custom range hood, and part of a pendant light in the kitchen – the rest are wall mounted. ‘The lighting scheme heightens your awareness of the garden as the sun goes down and there is a calming, primal quality to the interior in the evening,’ Blair says. The impact of the upward light from walls also brings added dimension to the ceiling with its medium-density fibreboard ribs.

Some minor, cosmetic updates have been made to the original portion (73m²) of the house in this project, but overall this remains largely untouched. ‘Even before our project, the clients had a great selection of art and artefacts within the cottage that felt homely and naturally accumulated over time… Sophisticated without pretence,’ Blair says. ‘This may have been something I was subconsciously responding to.’ 

At 51 square metres, this home’s new extension is relatively modest in size, but its impact is radical. Even the owner’s cat and dog have been thoroughly impressed with the updates, particularly the rear windows that facilitate keen observation, and the concrete floor that soaks up the sun!

Blair describes the updated home as ‘a retreat from the activity and grit’ of Brunswick. ‘It now has a palpable “slow” quality to it.’


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