Hopetoun house

March 27, 2009

The Hopetoun house, designed by Jesse Judd of JLM Architects, had a diverse brief, an enthusiastic creative client and a heritage overlay as its essential ingredients.

A philosophical divide plagues Australian urban and suburban environments. It is a familiar and tiresome stand-off between town planners who look for consistency in form, and architects who are often attracted to house-based projects because of the individual relationship with an owner/occupier that such projects can afford.

Although Robert Venturi was contemplating the difference between modernist and postmodernist design practices this line is equally applicable to what divides council town planning departments from many architectural practices: “When I was young, a sure way to distinguish great architects was through the consistency and originality of their work… This should no longer be the case. Where the modern masters’ strength lay in consistency, ours should lie in diversity.” (From the essay ‘A View from the Campidoglio’.)

The path through town planning can make or break the realisation of a dream home. Going back to the drawing board can be an expensive process. Having an architect who can fulfil the client and their own aesthetic sensibilities whilst simultaneously appeasing the town planning requirement for consistency is probably the most sensible option.

The Hopetoun house, by Jesse Judd of JLM Architects, clearly marks the young practice as being focused on diversity while capable of waving cordially at the bureaucratic insistence on consistency.

Prior to commencing the renovation, Hopetoun House was a six-room, red brick Edwardian with side entry, a picturesque wrap-around verandah and a tacked-on kitchen out the back. According to Judd, “Everything was peeling and drooping. This didn’t bother the clients who had recently moved from Europe and were uncomfortable with moving into a completely modern space.”

The clients came across JLM’s work when trying to buy a church conversion in Pakington Street, St Kilda that Judd had undertaken. Although their bid failed, the quality of the church conversion left a lasting impression and they engaged JLM when they finally secured a property.

The Hopetoun Street block is 1100 square metres. The original Edwardian house occupied 25 square metres. The extension literally doubled the size of the house. The idea behind having the extension stretch right across the girth of the property was to enclose the backyard and provide real privacy.

The clients were keen for the existing house to be restored to its former beauty in a simple, not aggressively interventionist, fashion. Judd was faithful to this and other determinations, such as the complete dislike for white rooms.

Although Judd has made the side of the extension consistent in form with the existing Edwardian peaked roof (which is visible from the front), there is little else that pays homage to the former structure. From the back it is clear that a flat roof runs right along the extension. The skillion structure slams into the Edwardian structure sitting just under the old form.

The house runs east/west, so the new addition was swung around to maximise the northern aspect. The studio space acts as a visor, covering the living room from the sun, which, at its lowest point, can be blinding. The orientation of the extension is also put to good use in the kitchen where a window runs the entire length of the kitchen bench, ensuring natural light illuminates the workspace for much of the day.

The program for the back extension is reasonably complex. It provides the main lounging area, access to the backyard and kitchen. Yet it is also houses the gallery and workspace for the client’s sculpture practice. The access to this studio space needed to have a separate entrance for clients, but internally connect to the domestic program.

The creation of a fine art space made Judd consider the process of packing and shipping art. He devised a form generation system that could flatten and extrude like a rough packing crate. This simple form was therefore appropriately covered in rough sawn spotted gum (you get splinters when you touch it). Judd feels that it is perfectly acceptable for a luxurious house to be raw, and sees this as a small rebellion against the sleekness that seemed to define luxury in the 1990s.

With an artist as a client Judd was able to engage in design conversations that focused around textures, atmosphere and colours. The clients accepted the first response to the brief and then engaged seriously in the specification process. Judd was given a swatch of pinstripe fabric as a colour scheme suggestion and this was mimicked in the bathroom via a glass mosaic.

Many decisions were made to ensure the extension delivered good sustainability outcomes: rainwater feeds irrigation, toilets and the washing machine. A solar hot water system was installed and there are the commonsense specifications that ensure good thermal mass: right orientation, insulation, doubling-glazing and a concrete floor providing a good heat sink.

JLM is only two-years-old and already has four completed houses to its credit. The three partners all graduated around the turn of the century. The years spent working in larger firms ensures there is wisdom guiding their creativity.

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