The rebirth of Courtyard House is imperceptible from without — but true transformation comes from within. Carved from the original footprint, the Japanese-inspired courtyard becomes the open heart of a more connected home. Harmonious natural interfaces and sensory experiences inspire an authentic, ritualistic life of mindfulness and simplicity.
The clients, a professional couple, aspired to an idyllic, minimalist sanctuary — with abundant natural light on the south-facing site. Although the property deserved substantial improvement, their brief was for a modest three bedroom home on a similar footprint to the existing house. This was not an extension, but a reconfiguration.
The clients’ sincere belief in zen principles called for an east-facing yoga studio/ study— and an onsen/ ensuite connected to nature. Two designated working spaces were also required.
A property-specific covenant dictated an external material palette consistent with the existing house of bricks and terracotta roof tiles. An added complexity was the long driveway down the western side of the house: this increased the “frontage” visible from the street. These constraints ultimately drove our design solution: to maintain the existing roof line while carving out a large courtyard from the eastern side of the house.
Upon arrival, the tranquil mood is set by the timber lined entry, itself inspired by the original deco interior features of the home. Hidden doorways lead to the existing two bedrooms (one of which has been restored to honour the original house). A lightwell draws you towards a convoluted entry — then the central courtyard is revealed.
From the very conception of the project, the Japanese maple tree became the spiritual and aesthetic centre of the house. But it is the sensory experiences of the courtyard that best exemplify the actualisation of the clients’ vision: the sound of bamboo in the breeze; the trickling of running water; the evolving shadowplay as sunlight passes through the courtyard’s timber screens.
This subtle layer of experiences both inspires and elevates the clients’ daily rituals of yoga, meditation and bathing. To one side of the courtyard, an openable gate allows for either a secluded experience in the private onsen, or the holistic view. Operable timber screens and cladding provide relief to the heavy materials of the existing house — and allow the inhabitants to adjust for changing light and climatic conditions.
Beyond the courtyard, a dramatic new double height pavilion serves as the house's main living area. The south yard has been minimised, and now serves as backdrop to the living spaces. Throughout the house, framed views to a sequence of garden spaces further evoke the clients’ desired ambience of tranquillity.
The landscape was a sincere collaboration between clients, landscape contractor and architect.
From the outset, the Japanese maple tree was the spiritual and aesthetic centre of the house. A key Ha_Arc contribution was the private garden off the onsen, whereby an openable gate allows for either a secluded bathing experience, or the holistic courtyard view.
Kihara executed the landscape with traditional Japanese expertise unique to Australia. The Dry Garden requires minimal watering, and extensive rainwater storage is provided. A sustainable outcome is further supported by external sun shading; thermally broken windows; hydronic heating (with electric heat pump), and a 6kW solar array.
Distilled down to its most earnest and functional construction, Courtyard House benefits from the clients’ investment in design for longevity. Reflecting their travel history and personal philosophy, it is a harmonious and peaceful refuge — nestled discreetly amidst the leafy streets of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.