Making the worst house in the street an entertainer's dream | Kanebridge News
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Making the worst house in the street an entertainer’s dream

Even a railway line and a horse racing track couldn’t sideline this exuberant project

By Robyn Willis
Mon, Apr 17, 2023 11:00amGrey Clock 4 min

I f you asked your architect for their opinion on a property you were thinking of buying, you would take their advice, wouldn’t you? Apparently not.

When the owner of this property in Caulfield asked director of Melbourne-based firm, EAT Architects, Albert Mo, what he thought, his verdict was clear.

“We advised him against it,” Mo says. “It was a pretty bad site, squeezed between Caulfield Racecourse and the train lines, which run along in front of the house. It was really rough in terms of the contextual relationship.”

But the owner bought it anyway, settling on the Edwardian house that Mo describes as almost derelict.

“When I walked into the house for the first time, it was in a shocking state,” he says. “The tin ceiling was in patches and the loft area looked like it had been done by a handyman.”

The original house was in a poor state when the architect first saw it but has been transformed into a welcoming entertaining space, complete with pool. Picture: Derek Swalwell

This slightly contrary behaviour could be attributed in part to the attractive sale price but also to the longstanding relationship the owner has enjoyed with EAT Architects. 

“This is the third place we have done with him. He trusts me and there is not much constraint in terms of materials but I do feel that it needs to be better than the last one so there’s that pressure to continually impress him,” Mo says.

The same builder the client hired on two previous projects also signed up to work on this one, which speaks well of the relationship.  

“He is a great client, although he was tight on the budget and we really worked hard for it,” Mo says. “But sometimes when you have constraints, you become more intuitive.”

The brief from the owner was simple. He wanted a place where he and his family could feel comfortable on a day-to-day basis, as well as creating an inviting space for entertaining.

“He loves entertaining,” Mo says. “He wanted the house back in time for (AFL) Grand Final day because it was all about the barbecue and the outdoor space.”

Despite the poor state of the original house, Mo says he was happy to have an existing structure as a starting point. However, with the train and power lines just beyond the front gate, Mo says providing a sense of comfort and sanctuary proved challenging.

“We had to provide a buffer between the train lines and the new extension,” Mo says. “If you see the exterior of the house, there’s the garden and the swimming pool before you get to the house. Then the long plain side becomes the living, kitchen and open plan area.”

The addition, which also includes the master bedroom suite and guest room, wraps around the original house in the shape of an L-shaped carpenter’s square, which has given the house its name.The new shape lends the family home a sense of structure and permanence. The original house was also restored, including the tin ceiling and brickwork.  

Upstairs, the ‘handyman’s’ loft was demolished and rebuilt to create the two kids’ bedrooms, offering an unexpected opportunity.

“Sometimes you can design everything but things happen because you are on site,” says Mo. “I saw the builder shaping out the roofline and it was just there. I call it the Darth Vader window because of its shape.”

Fitted out with an upholstered seat, underseat storage and casement windows, the dormer window is now a favourite reading nook for the kids.

The ‘Darth Vader’ window has proven popular with the kids. Picture: Derek Swalwell

Because budget was a strong driver, Mo extended the expression of the materials as much as possible. Brick has been used in the addition on the internal floors, as well as the walls, in a variety of patterns, elevating it into a true design element. 

In practical terms, it also creates spaces in this house that are thermally comfortable all year round, as well as providing easy-to-maintain floors ideal for entertaining and creating a sense of indoor/outdoor flow. 

Brick has been used for the walls and floors for practicality, as well as thermal comfort. Timber battens on the ceiling provide some acoustic insulation. Picture: Derek Swalwell

“We were trying to bring the outdoors in and create that sense that it was not just an interior space,” Mo says. “They are a family that likes to have parties and in a high use area in the kitchen and bathroom, you want to be able to mop the floor. They are sealed but it also hides the dirt quite well, and the visual appeal is very high because they are natural materials.”

Timber has also been used in unexpected places, with battens placed in a curved line across the ceiling, echoing the tin ceiling in the original part of the house.

“It helps acoustically when it is not in party mode and it gives the house a human scale,” Mo says. 

Noise from outside has also been mitigated, as much as it can be when your neighbours are passing trains.

“We double glazed everything.”



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