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Photography by Toby Scott, written by Michelle Bailey.
Ranley Grove House is the second project designed for a young family of five by architect, Paul Owen. The family’s previous residence, in Bardon, was transformed by Owen about a decade earlier with an outdoor room added to the rear of an existing cottage. Those changes improved connections between house, pool and garden, and influenced a new life where more time was spent together, outside. “He created a lifestyle for us there,” says the client, so they didn’t hesitate to commission him again when young daughters were approaching their teenage years and the decision to move closer to the city seemed more in tune with their maturing family dynamic.
The vacant site was chosen for its proximity to the city and Paddington High Street as well as its location in a vibrant neighbourhood characterised by vernacular housing. Stringent planning codes proved restrictive to the scale, form and material fabric of the building, but the corner site with rear access made it possible to position garden and pool between the house and carport. This intelligent arrangement results in a garden bound interior and a neighbourly street frontage unimpeded by driveway or garage.
The dilemma of arranging many rooms within a narrow site is solved by a central corridor dividing the house neatly between public (western) and private (eastern) zones at ground level. Upstairs, the central corridor separates bedrooms and emphasises the moment where hallway becomes a balcony overlooking the animated scenes of the dining room below. Where this axis is expressed externally, in the form of a centrally located front door, the reference to neighbouring workers’ cottages and their traditional symmetrical plan is echoed in a gentle rhythm that continues up and down the street.
Embracing the street and garden as a way of making visible and physical connections to the outdoors is key to the success of the interior realm. The enfilade of ‘public’ rooms saturating the long western edge ensures interior spaces can engage with the adjacent laneway through operable, vertical shutter windows. As each room is open to the next, long views through the house are also possible, south toward the front street and north toward the back garden. In the sitting room at the front of the house, neighbourhood musings are framed by the large window that doubles as a seat, just metres from the footpath. At the northern and opposite end of the house, sliding doors are positioned a step below the concrete floor to emphasise the immediacy of the lawn lapping at the tiled edge of the building concourse.
The sitting room, kitchen, dining room and library form a collective string of spaces designed to promote family gathering in a variety of settings. The rise and fall of the ceiling ensures a spatial fluidity punctuated by archways and thresholds that amplify a sense of visual depth. The expression of ceiling joists in the kitchen and library create a rhythm that reflects the ‘pace of occupation’ of these rooms in contrast to other spaces. The deep concrete plinth made between the kitchen and dining room is treated as a room-within-a-room and place of pause where a low, flat ceiling invites occupation.
The most spatial drama is reserved for the dining room (which doubles as a living space). Inside this double-height volume, sunlight and sculptural form combine in a kind of baroque exposé. Vaulted ceilings and a continuous datum struck by the clean edge of pistachio coloured wall tiles are some of the devices used to effect an overarching spatial ‘order’. The ‘layering’ of contrasting materials and textures is employed to generate visual interest through inexpensive means. Simple, white paintwork embellishes a muted palette. Where the raw concrete surface of staircase and floor are partially rendered, they appear like shadows cast and frozen in time. The fluid line of the handrail captures the still animation of descent, brought to life by the simple contrast of white paint on naturally finished timber. Gestures like these are described by the architect as ‘whimsical’, yet generate a deliberate and beautiful sense of ‘DIY’ craftsmanship.
The most treasured spaces of this intriguing home are those intimate places designed to encourage family members to coalesce – with one another, guests, neighbours and passers-by. By the fireplace or window, among the bustle of the kitchen or seclusion of the library, the many interesting spaces promote the simple delights of being together and allow this special family to grow in a way that is organic, enlightened and entirely sophisticated.
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