With four growing girls, this Melbourne couple called on architectural expertise to create a contemporary family home…
Who lives here: James and Gabrielle, a professional couple and their four daughters; aged 9, 7 and 4 (the four-year-olds are twins).
Style of home: Built in the 1890s, this four-bedroom freestanding home in Melbourne’s prized eastern suburbs has been updated a number of times in its lifespan, most recently in 2015 by the current owners.
Timeline: The family moved out for the renovations in November 2014 and returned 12 months later.
Something that I’ve always wanted is a window seat where the sun comes in that I can lie on to read the paper,” says owner Gabrielle of this Melbourne home. “The day we moved in, the kids were straight up on the window seat, using it as a stage and setting up their dolls’ house. It was really interesting to have had our own ideas about how we’d use different parts of the house then have the kids adapt those ideas for themselves.”
That the window seat is located in what is considered the grown ups’ sitting room doesn’t matter. “We had a really clear idea of what we wanted in terms of space and how we wanted the house to feel,” says Gabrielle. “We knew we didn’t want a big barn of a room out the back that was all white and gleaming. We wanted it to feel cosy and to make sure we created spaces that we could all grow into.”
Gabrielle and her husband James began having concepts drawn up and costed while they were expecting their twins five years ago. They then decided, having never undertaken a renovation project before, to look at other homes to ensure they were making the right decision. In the end, with the house’s location within walking distance of schools, shops and the park, they decided it was worth investing in such a huge project.
Through friends who were undergoing a similar upgrade, they found Nathanael Preston of architectural firm Preston Lane. “We’re not really creative, design-y type people, so through the whole process we thought, ‘Let’s just see what they come up with’,” says Gabrielle. “We didn’t have any clear idea of what we wanted to do, but that’s what we went to an architect for: to come up with something a bit different. They took us to another job they’d done and said, ‘This is what we were thinking with the concrete, brick and timber.’” It was enough to convince the couple to take the firm – and the project – on, with the team from Filippone Constructions taking on the building work.
A year after moving out, the family returned to their perfect home. Traditional features, such as the ceiling roses, cornices and fireplaces, have been retained and restored, although the pine floors – too worn to save – were replaced with wormy chestnut.
A walk-in robe and all-slate ensuite were added, and a new central bathroom created. The shower has no screen, which makes the entire room feel spacious, while the deep vanity with an abundance of drawers will cater for a growing family. “It needed to have enough storage for four girls, and to be big enough for them all to be in here at the same time,” says Gabrielle.
The back half of the house is where the skill and creativity of the architects comes into play. “As a family house, it was important that the renovation wasn’t just a big box on the back and that the spaces were really well defined,” says Nathanael. “That’s been done in a couple of different ways. Responding to the site, we’ve designed the step-down kids’ space, but it’s really important where that’s located. Mum and Dad can be in the kitchen and look in there to see the kids doing their homework, but there’s also a sliding door in that brick wall that allows it to be closed off if they’re having a dinner party and the kids want to watch a movie.”
Set in the middle of the space, the dining area has a higher ceiling and a row of high-level windows – some clear and others frosted –that provide visual interest, extra light and, since some of them open, an escape hatch for hot air. The adults’ living area is defined by a curved timber-panelled wall that promotes privacy from the deck and also focuses attention into the backyard.
From the day they moved back in, it’s not just the immediate family who’s enjoyed the new spaces. “We had people here all weekend,” says Gabrielle. “The whole summer we had friends around here swimming in the pool and enjoying themselves.”
Go to prestonlane.com.au to see more of Nathanael’s work. Get in
touch with the builder, Filippone Constructions on 0418 320 774.