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Nest Architects

May 17, 2011
  • Article by Alexa Kempton
  • Photography by Jesse Marlow
  • Designer
  • Architect Nest Architects

Tucked away in a former private detective’s office in the Nicholas Building in Melbourne’s CBD, architects Emilio Fuscaldo and Imogen Pullar have been quietly working on a stream of small projects under the name Nest Architects since Fuscaldo first began the practice in 2006. Sharing their space with a group of writers and artist Natalya Hughes (and the latest addition to the Nest team, Pepper – Pullar’s affectionate whippet), Nest has made its home amid an active community of artists, designers and craftspeople that now populate Harry Norris’ 1925 art deco building.

Melbourne locals are already familiar with some of Nest’s work, even if they don’t exactly know it. Journal Cafe is probably the best-known example of the practice’s warm and cosy approach to design. The project, a joint effort with Rabindra Naidoo, uses an aesthetic borrowed from the art deco city library within which it nestles, integrating seamlessly into its laneway surroundings.

However, given the practice’s name, it’s not surprising to see the majority of Nest’s most recent work comprises humble yet subtly outspoken residential projects. “We want to design spaces for people to feel at home in,” says Fuscaldo.

One recent residential fitout in Balwyn incorporated an extension to a 1960s home for a couple with a passion for mid-century modernism. Sitting lower than the original house, the new addition features a batten ceiling that slopes down gracefully from the main house. This subtle progression creates a dialogue between old and new, with a striking contemporary space that simultaneously respects the original home and the client’s extraordinary collection of modernist furniture pieces. Outside, a playful guest pod sits beside the main house, proffering a confident and colourful geometric facade that revitalises the brick exterior of the original home.

The recently polished Junior Common Room (JCR) fitout at the University of Melbourne’s Ormond College fosters these same values, albeit on a larger scale. A particularly grand setting – considering the precedence of Robin Boyd’s architecture – the disused space comprised four connected rooms, including a billiards room designed by Boyd, and now houses a series of distinct, yet well-connected spaces, including a bar/cafe and game room, providing a new social hub for the college.

Designing with consideration for the seasonal and academic cycles of college life, Nest has conceived a space that is adaptable to small and large groups, catering for study sessions, casual social gatherings and rowdy college functions all at once. The expansive JCR is broken down into a sequence of smaller areas that remain connected to each other, as well as to the landscape outside. Bringing the sanctuary of the home into this larger space, Nest has successfully adapted its considered approach to residential design and applied it to a larger community, all the while acknowledging the history and character of the existing building.

Honest, natural material choices give the fitout that ‘sense of always having been there’, ensuring the interior doesn’t jar with the age of the building. A set of old lecture theatre tables, discovered in one of the college sheds, have been thoughtfully introduced to the JCR to provide a narrative with the history of the college. Carved with the names of former students, the tables provide a physical link between past and present. “Feeling the texture of the grooves provides that connection,” Fuscaldo explains. Elsewhere in the space, copper table lamps and pendant lights suspended from timber beams – designed in collaboration with Volker Haug – are simple and considered.

In the more domestic of environments, there is a recurring sophistication apparent in Nest’s residential designs. A duality between old and new appears in the George Street residence from 2009, in which the new, timber-clad addition peers out from behind the original volume of the Fitzroy home. While not competing with the original facade, the extension looms slightly taller than the original, the slatted timber fence to the front of the property alluding to the architectural gem that hides beyond. But there are no grand gestures here; the old and the new coexist neatly. “We’re not out to design spaceships,” explains Fuscaldo. “We want to challenge you to use the space, but without it being confronting.”

Layers of timber abound in Nest’s work. In another project, a collection of hardwood furniture pieces and small additions to an apartment in Elwood are transformed into sculptural objects protruding from the walls, engaging with the home and adding complexity. “I don’t think either of us likes walls very much,” muses Fuscaldo.

Fuscaldo and Pullar’s attitude is quietly self-assured. Casting aside the need for overt displays, their work is sophisticated in a blend of humble materials – in particular, the profusion of timber – producing elegantly restrained spaces. Despite professing to no one particular style, their work is identifiable by its gentle integration into the existing fabric and landscape, and a sequence of warm, embracing interiors that envelop the user – giving us all somewhere in which to feel at home.

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