A recycled brick garden wall is the answer to a complex inner-city block in Carlton North, helping a new home to sit comfortably among a mix of heritage buildings and gritty laneway streetscape.
"The block itself was a complex site", explains architect Sarah Kahn, "with the existing garage and studio building to one edge surrounded by laneways, a large double-storey heritage terrace house facing the principal street front to the eastern side and the remaining land an overgrown, rambling garden that was too large to be properly maintained by the owner and lacked connection to the main house."
"The owner wanted a simple, flexible and sunlit home, in which she could remain living alone happily and safely well into old-age," says Sarah. A home, "inserted into the unused garden space... A keen gardener, she also wanted to maximize connection to the outdoors and retain some of the established planting, but create a more manageable garden"
This meant there was a lot to juggle in the design: a direct entry to the new home from the laneway, access to the garage and studio, retain sunlight to the studio and incorporate plenty of outdoor garden space. And of course, all this needed to be kept to a relatively tight budget. "The project also had a very tight budget to achieve the desired areas, so we had to plan the building as efficiently as possible and keep the structure and built form very simple", Sarah notes.
"We approached the design by breaking up the site and creating a 'patchwork' of indoor and outdoor spaces, public and private zones, and small garden zones", explains Sarah. The brick wall separates public from private and the owner from her workplace, the studio next door. It's an effective (and beautiful) way to demarcate the new home's patch, creating a sanctuary within this complicated site.
The lower level is a glazed pavilion facing onto a northern garden. It enjoys plenty of natural light which helps to passively heat the home in winter. Passive heating and cooling was an important consideration, ensuring the house is future-proofed. Because the owner ultimately wants to retire here, hydronic heating, PV panels and a solar hot water system will reduce day-to-day bills for a frugal retirement.
A large pivot door separates the master bedroom from the living area. When left open, it gives the sense of one, much larger, space and reveals the full extent of northern glazing.
All the main spaces are located on the ground floor, meaning the owner can live entirely on one floor, an important consideration as she ages. The planning of the ground floor prides itself on efficiency and flexibility. A large kitchen at the centre is perfect for an owner who loves to cook and entertain, while the living and dining areas are open plan to allow for a variety of layouts.
The interior flows seamlessly into the garden. Bricks and bluestone pavers salvaged from the existing garden create a terrace to give a sense of age and continuity to the new space.
The upper level is a dark timber box which floats above the open, glazed, pavilion downstairs. A timber screen shields the north-facing bedrooms from the sun and also ensures privacy, without blocking distant views of the trees and rooftops. Towards the south, the timber box rakes down to minimise blocking the sun in the studio behind.
Sarah Kahn Architect has managed to make sense out of a complicated and challenging site. A statement garden wall creates a private and calm space for the owner to live, work and, ultimately, retire.