"Wow! But shit... what to do...?"
You can hear the excitement mixed with a dash of bewilderment in architect Sam Peversi-Brooks' reaction to his eclectic client's brief: a Mexican-inspired Swiss chalet in the Aussie bush.
The client is a "Swiss (French-speaking) ex-chef, ex-toy museum owner, collector of all things amazing and bizarre, turned artist, now heavily inspired by Mexican colour, pattern and imagery", Sam explains. Hence the unusual brief.
One of the under-appreciated benefits of using an architect is the ability to weave elements of your personality and history into your home. It is, after all, the place you'll spend most of your time and a large wad of your paycheck, shouldn't your home also reflect you and your family? A client with such an eclectic mix of interests makes for an exciting, but challenging project.
The original house, built in the '70s, was an owner-built mud-brick home surrounded by garden on a semi-rural block in the quaint town of Malmsbury. The original home was dark and, being sun-lovers, the owner and his partner craved more light to keep their spirits up.
The architect's solution was a small sunroom extension, just 10 square metres. The sunroom, with its reclaimed brick floor, acts as the home's new light and heat source, designed to bring sunlight deep into the living areas and store the sun's warmth in the mass of the floor.
At its edge, the textural brick floor folds up to become a plinth-like seat; the perfect place to sit, to read, to eat breakfast and to ponder. Full-height glazing dissolves the wall to maximise light and give the impression you're sitting in the garden. Over time, pots and plants will appropriate this plinth, creating a fuzzy green edge between the home and garden.
The architect also gutted the interior of its kitchen, bathroom and two stairs to create a more free-flowing, open-plan space. A new kitchen with timber veneer fronts and stainless steel bench-tops softens the space while being robust enough to satisfy the demands of an ex-chef.
Being a collector and artist, the owner also needed more wall space to display his favourite pieces. A new spiral stair replaces the two existing stairs, freeing up valuable floor and wall space. A bridge links the two loft spaces, which were left largely intact apart from a coat of paint and some new carpet.
A large joinery unit fits the space where a staircase once stood. It acts as a robe in the second bedroom, but also has space for books, electronics and firewood for the living room. The unit is a "Cabinet of Curiosities", says Sam, "displaying some of the owner's most prized pieces; A 17th century doll, a number of candelabras, a clock, an underwater diver, and a number of toy cars". Two other display cabinets fill the space where the other stair and an old external door once stood, more space for the owner to display his unique collection.
With a fresh coat of paint to all the interior surfaces, the texture of the mud-brick, traditional brick, timber and other surfaces is highlighted, while creating a lighter, brighter and more cohesive space.
In the bathroom, a custom-designed mosaic brings Mexican-like colours to the otherwise crisp white bathroom. The pixelated octopus mural is a reference to the owner's past experience as a seafood chef.
Our homes should be an infusion of our own flavours and curiosities. While a Mexican-inspired Swiss chalet sounds like a Jalapeño hot mess, Peversi-Brooks Architects have delivered a project with all these elements which still feels at home in the bush. By combining Mexican colour and texture with Swiss precision and a chalet-like volume and weaving in subtle references to the client and his lifestyle, the architect has created something unique and wonderful.