Balmforth Residence

March 27, 2009

The family residence and the factory converge in the Hobart home of Terroir’s Scott Balmforth.

Driving down a quaint Hobart street of neat brick houses and mixed development, we pause as a roller door opens in the face of an otherwise ordinary factory, complete with painted plumbers sign. Scott Balmforth’s suitably scuffed BMW glides into his home, narrowly missing the children’s bikes and prams. The view through the windscreen is also through the windscreen of the house – the garage serving as the building’s foyer.

The obvious advantage of such a devise is to immediately increase the size of habitation, but it also appropriately acknowledges the architectural rights of the car. The car is, after all, a significant part of the built fabric of our lives, and its mute presence within the home serves as an interesting reminder of this condition.

We enter the Balmforth family home and factory conversion via the dark expanding wedge shaped corridors of the ground floor. The predominant colour is black, primarily dictated by the use of form-ply as a wall surface – but black is not black. Whether in the case of the form-ply, tiles, or cabinetry within the kitchen, the various types of black reveal reflections and colour trapped within. Upstairs, in a creamy contrast, limed plywood takes you to the light.

Upon entry, views instantly unfold through to the garden at the other end of the house and a huge, rust red wall that frames the outdoor space, rendering some reflections pink. The central ground wedge holds toilets, kitchen, cellar storage and living retreat, all of which enjoy views of the yard.

The space then opens to full height beneath industrial sawtooth skylights and a huge block wall, complete with paint stains and scars. Unlike many such conversions the factory toughness remains. Materials used are precisely drawn, but also ready to be scarred with family memories. The huge kitchen bench in timber is testament to this potential.

The design doesn’t feel too finished – a trap that most architects fall into with homes. Terroir are well known for their continuous design lines and labyrinthine spaces. Originally inspired by the works of such luminaries as Enric Miralles, their work now reflects an understanding of the flow of spaces from inside to outside, particularly in relation to the landscape of Tasmania. Their mastery is evidenced here, especially when one moves upstairs and along a double wedge shaped corridor that culminates in a future study overlooking the lounge. Skylights illuminate the limed plywood, which opens to four bedrooms and bathrooms. The mezzanine is cleverly screened from the double height space with expanded mesh gently opening and closing views as one walks along its length. I only worried about the size of the master bedroom, perhaps shortened by the needs of three children.

Simple materials are also given weight and style through attention to detail. The main central blade wall upstairs culminates in a laminated plywood edge of 150-millimetres of end-grain. The plywood stairs leading upstairs feature gill-like folded cuts to allow light through to the darker spaces below.

A second stair also leads you from the lounge to a generous space above the garage which forms the children’s play area. It also employs a folding triangular panel to reveal or conceal the contents to the main space of the house.

As if in conversation with the building’s front roller-door access, the lounge has retained the factory’s original door. Slots have been cut within its galvanised steel panel cladding to give glimpses of the view, replete with the cut and folded remnants of steel plate acting as fixed shutters.

However, the entire wall can be moved over to open half the house to the elements. This is truly dramatic, especially when it reveals a tough outdoor space, not only held by a neighbouring rust coloured concrete wall but also the division between Scott and his brother’s half of the factory, using basalt filled gabions as a mountainous barrier.

The final landscaping and decks are yet to be completed. This work will feature a sea of basalt rocks between timber decks and planting. The current environment features the usual toys, seats, dog enclosure and bits and pieces of family life. Gravel and bits of asphalt mixed with patches of turf make up a barren children’s adventure playground, which looks like fun. Complete or not this environment is full of the potential that any family needs in order to be adaptable to the ongoing flux of life. It’s not overdone.

None of these realities takes away from the success of this adaptive re-use of a factory shell. Everything that could be re-used inventively has been harnessed. The rear elevation is the best example of this. The original folded Gal plate panels have been retained but sliced open for slot windows. The skylights are intact except for new windows to the bedrooms. It is possible to look through the entire house from the yard and see the car in the garage and even the street itself if the roller door is open.

This project undoubtedly shows mastery and confidence of interpretation. Terroir and Balmforth have come of age.

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