Interiors

Chatswood House

March 27, 2009

Designed by Marsh Cashman Koolloos Architects, the Chatswood House realigns a house’s aspect without shaking its foundations.

A 2008 recipient of the Royal Australian Institute of Architecture’s Architecture Award for Alterations and Additions, Chatswood House embodies the ideals of spatial experience with which Marsh Cashman Koolloos Architects has become associated. For this project it has transformed a lovely Californian bungalow home into a modernist dream of clean lines, sharp corners and precision detailing. The addition extends the house unapologetically, stepping from a world of dark polished floorboards to the sleek modernity of polished concrete without creating that abrupt feeling of two houses glued uneasily together.

Australian houses of the Federation and Californian bungalow varieties have an unflagging disregard for aspect and light. Faithfully aligned to the road and period style, the interiors are often dark and gloomy, compounded by a flow of small rooms, with a separating corridor followed by more small rooms. What makes this addition so tremendously successful is the fact of light, which floods through both the addition and the existing house. So, while the external front of the house remains true to the original architecture the internal experience is entirely changed.

The architects have used several strategies to redefine this house’s alignment. First the functionality of the house has been reversed making the formal front all but redundant. With the main living area now exposed and open to the west, the sun’s interplay is controlled through blinds and the roof line of the main house. The raised pavilion of garage and study offers further control by effectively blocking the late westerly sun while allowing the house to be bathed in afternoon light. Adding to this abundance of light is the high placement of windows within the new ceiling. Louvered windows allow air circulation, while their north and east placement provides a northerly orientation to the house in terms of catching light.

The play of light reverberates throughout the additional space via wall and carpentry surfaces of semi gloss and matte white that has been extended from the original interior with a consistent use of Dulux White on White. The paintwork is completely devoid of ornamentation and eschews trim accent of any kind. This in itself sets the stage and allows the expansive sweep of the addition a sense of continuum.

The remodelling of a bathroom and bedroom within the existing structure generates an expectation of modernity by virtue of the simple solutions applied in overcoming their spatial limitations. For the en suite the architects have used a wall of mirrors to extend the perspective indefinitely while the slightly recessed shower compounds the illusion. Adding to this is the strong vertical of the shower glass, which extends beyond our upward peripheral sightline, likewise exploding the dimensions. The ‘girls’ bedroom’ is a tribute to an extraordinary sense of scale. Three beds have been arranged in a perfect Lego world of cupboards, hidey-hole shelves, ladders and geometrical manipulations. The room is absolutely charming, quirky and very, very ‘little-girl-wonderland’ without the tizz.

The addition itself starts with two remodelled rooms and the beginning of the pale concrete floor that is used throughout. A bathroom (once the kitchen) provides colour via pale silvery blue flowers on white by Bisazza (Winter Flowers – Blue). It is a bold statement that works for a couple of reasons. The design is large and simple with a limited palette that has been offset by the use of oversized matte white tiles on the remaining walls. The whole is lit by large white Euroluce lights, with the added emphasis of opaque glass in the northerly window. Again the smallish space has been liberated through clever solutions such as a cut-out in the fold-back shower glass, which allows the showerhead to slide through when not in use.

The main room of the addition is reached via a short set of stairs. And it is here that the engagement of an architect for an addition is rewarded. The lines of the original house have been carried through and extended. To the left the wall moves up and out with a low-sitting, geometrical detail that replicates the zigzag of the steps. To the right the creation of a floating cupboard not only provides the functionality of storage, but also harmonises with existing lines. Again the side is detailed with the geometry of the stairs. The cupboard is centrally hinged, with the illusion of bird mouth joinery at the outer edge, and is opened via a partial groove, which creates a visual motif that is continued through various utilities.

The room is in itself a large open space, which faces out to a lawn and the brick-framed, glass-faced garage. The scale of the room does not, however, overwhelm. The recessed ceiling void (together with the visual movement created by the high windows) generates a sense of proportional layers. Cabinetry in semi-gloss white and the central island of opaque white Laminex Freestyle Surfaces (Glacier) are used to produce strong, clear horizontal lines that impose scale and contain the focus to human dimension. The architects’ attention to detail is finessed in the alignment of a five-way corner, which draws the whole together.

Beyond the benchtops, windows frame a wooden fence and a narrow space, which plants are beginning to occupy. This is important in the domestic realisation of the house as it prevents the components of house, lawn and garage from functioning singularly and integrates the whole as a continuum of internal and external spaces. Full-sized glass doors, which slide back into a recess (completely in the house and partially in the garage/playroom/ study), allow the spatial dimension to be manipulated according to need.

The garage is perhaps the most startling component of this design. Rather than hide the vehicle it is on grand display and, though contrary to convention, this works a treat. The glass extends the space exponentially as does the framing device of dark brickwork (Federation Black by Naomi Valley Brickworks). The use of a strong red vertical with grey horizontals (the brickwork and timber sleeper steps) draws the eye across the façade quite forcibly, so that depth is perceived rapidly, while content is somewhat negated. This is not to say the car isn’t visible, it most assuredly is, but the design affords it an intrinsically resolved habitat. This is compounded by the architects’ consideration of the project as a family home. The solutions make provision for a multiplicity of functions that allow fun and work in equal measure. This is most apparent when the garage becomes a roller-skating stage for the girls and their friends during parties, a study with a play area at other times and an unusual but perfectly functional garage at others.

Chatswood House is a delight of line, light and space and deserving of all accolades coming its way.

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