This project started as design for the subdivision of an existing residential block in East St Kilda, to be sold off as a house and land package. The clients had no intention of living in the new house, so they gave me complete design freedom. What they did not realize is that I would, by stealth, create a design that they would want to build for themselves. And they did!
The site is just 180 square metres, cut out of a back yard that had its side-boundary adjacent to a public park. The challenge was to create a design for a dual occupancy site where the experience of living in the new house was not one of being hemmed in, but to the contrary, expansive. The outlook onto the park provided the inspiration.
The project was plagued with red-tape. First, a covenant had to be removed to allow for two dwellings on the lot. There was also a Special Building Overlay relating to flood. Finally, a Heritage Overlay added complications to the usual planning permit and energy rating requirements. All these obstacles were overcome.
Before the subdivision occurred, what really caught my eye was the majestic presence of large gum trees close by, in the adjacent park. The initial concept responded to the trees and the bird life they attract. The compact site required the house to have a small footprint. To achieve space, the house is designed over three levels, with zero set-back to the park and laneway. Vertical ship-lap cladding, stained to match the gums, works to camouflage the building in its surroundings, so that despite its height, the house nestles discretely into the corner of the park.
To capture the best aspect of the trees, the living level of the house is on the first floor, within a double-height space, so that the experience is something akin to being in a tree-house. Slung within the double height space, a mezzanine accommodates the master bedroom and forms a low ceiling to the dining space below. Made of recycled timber beams with expressed cross bracing, the ceiling is interpretive of that at the Stokehouse, on St Kilda beach. This low slung ceiling creates an intimate dining area that dramatically contrasts with the expansive double- height living and kitchen areas at each end.
The first floor verandah is another St Kilda reference. This semi-enclosed verandah is interpretive of the fabulously practical built-in porches common to the Art Deco apartments along The Esplanade.
There is a distinctly 1970’s feel about many internal details of the house. Chunky timber handrails to the stairs and built-in timber elements are a testament to the exuberant 70’s culture of my clients’ youth. The house has become an instant Modern Classic as far as the City of Port Phillip is concerned, evidenced by the significant grading the site is now accorded on the City of Port Phillip Heritage Map, unless someone there has made a serious mistake!