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Review: Gillian Serisier
Photography: Alicia Taylor Photography
To a large extent the role architects Owen and Vokes and Peters (OVP) played in the remodelling of this Queenslander was a righting of wrongs inherent to transplanting a house. Originally deposited on the site in the 1990s, the Queenslander faced what was then the main street, while the road behind the house was little more than a bullock trail. As the area progressed, the back street became the main thoroughfare and the house’s address switched streets. The front door, however, remained facing in what was now the wrong direction, with most finding their way into the house through the side of the kitchen.
The house moreover has gone through a social change, whereby its living areas, while adequate for a weekender, are now required to suit a more permanent tenancy punctuated by visiting family and friends. As such, OVP was tasked with creating an expanded internal hub, while maintaining the permeability of an enfilade commensurate with the core structure of the Queenslander. The repositioning of the entrance was also imperative.
While the resultant solution answers these pragmatic considerations, it is the architects’ decision to reconnect the property to the landscape and surrounding nature that breathes life into the project. Ostensibly, when a house is replanted it is simply dropped flat into place with stilts facilitating any terrain changes – in this case, a slight drop in elevation. “Although the veranda gave you this amazing view down through the valley out towards the horizon and the sea in the east, it didn’t really engage with its immediate context of the terrain or the features of the site,” says OVP director Aaron Peters.
Rather than continue the established line outwards, the architects embedded the house in the landscape to create an undulating form that echoes the terrain. Completing the room’s engagement with nature, the head of the main window has been dropped to disallow a horizon view and focus the aspect on the immediate garden. Light, however, has not been disallowed. Rather it has been curated through carefully placed windows that frame high portions of the trees, while bringing light into the whole. “As the sun makes its way around the building during the day, sunlight finds its way to come in at unexpected places. That’s another delightful thing about closing down a space: you create more solid areas for light to fall on,” says Peters.
From a foundational perspective, the structural changes to the house required an extended portion be added, while the veranda needed to be repurposed in one area and opened in another. To this end, the extension has been placed at the outer edge of one side of the veranda. In doing so, the extension effectively changes the veranda to a room, which is then opened at the street end to create an entry hall and doorway as well as an effective breezeway between the old and new portions. To visually accommodate the shift outwards, existing eave lines of the house have been extended to read as a continuum.
As a Queensland-based firm, OVP has become increasingly cognisant of the incongruity of pairing an original Queenslander interior with contemporary wall finishes. Rather, it has been the architects’ experience that a site carpenter is better equipped to create a slightly rough, but continued aesthetic as opposed to a more perfectly finished factory product. “The language of the detail is typical of our approach to adding new joinery to traditional Queenslanders, that is refined, but a little bit rude,” says Peters.
For the sunroom this has been executed as four-fifths of the walls painted black over built-in seating of the same material and tone. As a nod to the Scottish heritage of one of the owners, Charles Rennie Mackintosh is quoted in the seating’s fine exposed legs, slat lines of timber and choice of black. “The structure is designed to be expressed; for that reason you get to see the legs. We don’t make a box and take it all the way to the floor, we express the way the pieces of timber are lapped and put together. I think it results in a really lovely level of tactility; there are lots of leading edges and lots of texture, which I find personally to be quite warm and engaging,” says Peters.
Moreover, it is a sensible Queensland solution that allows free air movement, while retaining a visual lightness despite the dark tone. Thomas Bentzen’s Don’t Leave Me coffee table for Hay (Corporate Culture) provides a visual counter to the horizontal and vertical lines. The open portion of the wall reinforces these elements while providing a connectivity to the adjoining lounge room, where stained glass panels from the original front door are revisited as a decorative detail of the bookshelves.
Shifting the kitchen to occupy the extended corner, the architects took their cue from period dramas such as Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, where an exceptionally large kitchen table in the servants’ quarters allows one person to sit reading a paper and sipping tea, while another prepares dinner. “Essentially the kitchen is a room as opposed to a galley kitchen or even an open-plan kitchen, where the kitchen is still quite distinct and you don’t occupy the kitchen itself,” says Peters.
To this end, a large irregularly shaped table, overhung by Alvar Aalto’s A110 pendants (Artec) provides the fulcrum between two areas. On the practical kitchen side, the table support comprises cabinetry and utilities such as a dishwasher, while the area extending into the more social zone is supported by fine timber legs. The idea, as well as the practical aspects, has been executed through a beautiful delivery of material use beyond the marble surface of the table. The floor, for example is polished concrete on the functional side of the table, while blackbutt timber softens the flooring of the more intimate lounging area. American oak coalesces the whole through the precise cabinetry of Richard Beaumont (Cooroy Joinery & Woodworks) that makes good use of the fine elongated grain as a delicate and warm introduction of texture. Tiling adds a subtle geometric variation demarking areas such as the fireplace upper surround in grey above a hearth of concrete, while white tiles have been used for the functional kitchen areas.
There is a sensitivity to this project that permeates all levels of execution from the sustainably sourced timber to the use of ‘cool-colour’ paint technology and embrasure of the hinterland and climate. It is also a socially agile renovation that accommodates the ebb and flow of occupancy. Underlying the whole, however, is the sympathetic approach supporting the vernacular of a Queenslander that is at once charming, practical and wholly suited to its environment.