The fan shaped motif of a palmette, which occurs throughout the Victorian era ornament of this heritage terrace informed the gentle opening up of the house to the rear garden.
Palmette is refurbishment and addition to an inner-city terrace house in Melbourne, Australia, which retained the street facing heritage facade and added a two storey extension to the rear of the house.
The alteration creates a series of distinct but interconnected rooms with dramatically different light and material qualities, to suit the different functions of this small family house.
Palmette is located in Carlton, a diverse suburb of Melbourne, immediately North of the CBD and within walking distance to the UNESCO listed Carlton Gardens and the iconic cafe strip of Lygon Street.
The original house was a Victorian era terrace constructed in 1885, which is part of an grade A heritage streetscape. The inside and rear of the house had been modified by successive renovations, which when the property was purchased by the current owners resulting in a heavily compartmentalised series of rooms with low ceilings. The house was in a general state of disrepair.
The heritage planning controls required the front of the house and the first two rooms to be retained in full and all new works to be concealed from the street to preserve the presentation of an intact series of terrace houses. Through a period of consultation with council which lasted approximately six months the allowable envelope was derived from a series of view lines, chamfering back from the parapet and the ridge line of the adjacent terrace house.
A major asset to the small site was the cut de sac laneway which runs behind the property and the mature silver ashes which were located beyond. The intention was to use the laneway as an informal extension of the garden, with filtered views to it and a large sliding gate opening onto it. The silver ashes shade the large west facing windows from the summer sun and animate the interior spaces with dappled light.
The brief was to create a home with a series of spaces which, despite the small site area, would feel generous and expansive. In contrast to the typical architectural brief to maximise the number of bedrooms, the emphasis was instead placed on creating fewer, larger spaces. These spaces were to be textured and tactile, both in their materiality and lighting qualities.
A second driving desire was to provide a series of sheltered garden space and then open the house into these spaces wherever possible, such that the house would feel part of the garden.
Design references were Scandinavian and Japanese. SUM set about translating these references to an Australian context.
The house is arranged in an ‘upside down’ configuration, with the three bedrooms and two bathrooms downstairs and the living and kitchen upstairs. This configuration allows maximum daylight access to the first floor living spaces and creates a darker, calm environment for the ground floor bedrooms.
The entry corridor leads directly to the skeletal timber staircase which invites the visitor upstairs, where the folded planes of timber juxtapose against the ornate scrolls of the Victorian archway.
The first floor is dominated by a long island bench which flows from the kitchen into the living room, becoming the dining table. A bi-folding door provides direct access from the kitchen to the timber lined first floor terrace, with its herb garden and kaffir lime tree.
The lounge sits at the west end of the first floor and is focused on the large fireplace which heats the house through a ducted heating system in winter.
A hammock floor covers the void to the master bedroom below, allowing increased daylight penetration to the bedroom and a comfortable place to relax and stay cool during Melbourne’s warm months.
The two bathrooms are located in the centre of the ground floor where daylight is most limited.
Victorian ash has been used throughout, from the exposed beams which support the upper level, to the windows and doors, the stair, the joinery and furniture which was designed specifically for the project. Victorian ash was chosen as it is readily available, locally harvested and has a beautiful, pale grain colour.
The exposed beams dominate the ground floor spaces and impose a tectonic organisation to the placement of walls and furnishings within the space.
A black Japan stain with a semi-gloss finish has been applied to the floorboards throughout the ground floor level. The dark floor and rhythmic beams create a calm, quiet atmosphere, commiserate with the more private use of the ground level as bedrooms.
The first floor is wrapped in a cocoon of American Oak. Every surface receives the same panelling, from the floor and walls to the ceiling and joinery. The boards were custom made to a 1100mm module and arranged to a stack bond configuration, bring a modular precision to the upper level. The America Oak tonally matches the Victorian ash closely.
Steel with a black patina finish is the secondary material on the upper level, offsetting the pale timber with its hard linearity. It has been used on the fireplace, the handrail, the inland bench and all joinery pulls. A series of three side and coffee tables were commissioned for the home to which the same black patina was applied.
Light, both natural and artificial, has been considered of equal importance to materiality in setting the mood of the various spaces.
Rather than striving for universal, even illumination, there has been an effort to create areas of light and shadow and to celebrate the transitions between. The black Japan floor of the ground level reflects light and creates a cool, contemplative atmosphere. The cool darkness of the ground floor naturally focuses the eye on the garden beyond.
The upper level is bright and lit from both ends, allowing morning light to fall onto the kitchen island and afternoon light to illuminate the lounge.
Indirect artificial light is preferred throughout, minimising glare and lending warmth to the space.
The existing portion of the building was re-insulated throughout and the new portion was insulated far in excess of the building code requirements. New windows and doors were all received double glazing, with argon filled cavities and a low e coating to minimise heat transfer. The timber door and window frame insulate far more effectively than all but the highest spec aluminium equivalents.
The Victorian ash used throughout was local sourced and is FSC Certified.
A 1100 litre rainwater tank, concealed below the front verandah, captures rainwater runoff for reuse as irrigation. The tank also reduces pressure on the local stormwater infrastructure by detaining water during a heavy downpour and progressively releasing it afterwards, which reduces the likelihood of flooding.