Making Every Centimetre Count

Dec 15, 2017 Architecture

As the price of land heads ‘north’, the size of plots heads ‘south’, with families alongside singles and professional couples competing at auction for inner-city properties. Frontages of five metres become the norm and what was originally a two-bedroom Victorian cottage is transformed to accommodate a family.

“When spaces are small, it’s important not to overfill them with furniture and household stuff. You really need to ‘de-clutter’,” says architect and interior designer Fiona Dunin, director of FMD Architects. Other ways of creating a sense of space according to Dunin are providing unimpeded sight lines and using reflective surfaces.

FMD Architects incorporated a number of strategies to increase the sense of space in a single-fronted late Victorian house in Clifton Hill, Melbourne. Barely five metres in width, the entire site is just over 150 square metres in area. “The house was fairly run-down when my client purchased it,” says Dunin, recalling the inappropriate position of the bathroom to the rear. “There was no connection to the garden, however small it was. Your eyes ended at a blank wall,” she adds.

FMD Architects incorporated reflective surfaces into the design to create the illusions of increased space. Photo Credit: Peter Bennetts

Dunin reworked the two-bedroom Clifton Hill house and relocated the main bedroom and bathroom at the centre of the floor plan. The owner, a single woman, has unimpeded sight lines whether she is standing in the bathroom or the bedroom, with the space in between featuring a lightwell/garden nook. A spacious open plan kitchen, dining and living area was also added to the house. Featuring raked ceilings that reach a peak of four metres, this informal living area now also benefits from full glazing to the rear garden. “The walls on both sides had to be fairly low (two metres) to prevent overshadowing neighbouring properties,” says Dunin. FMD Architects also extended the exposed chunky timber beams in the living area out to the western rear garden, creating a pergola in the process. “It’s important to ‘blur the lines’ when spaces are constrained, giving you a ‘foot in both camps’,” says Dunin.

Other techniques used by Dunin to amplify the space included mirrored surfaces on the undercroft of the kitchen’s island bench to create a sense of ‘floating’. A floor-to-ceiling mirror can also be found in the bathroom to both reflect light and magnify the space. Even the relatively narrow hallway was lightly touched, with a glass shelf and wall mirror creating what Dunin describes as a ‘small gesture’. “Just a few things on the shelf suggests something much larger,” says Dunin.

Mirrored undercrofts in the interior of Cross Stitch house, create a sense of floating. Photo Credit: Peter Bennetts

Multiplicity worked with a slightly, but not much, larger home in Brunswick. The single-fronted timber Victorian worker’s cottage was renovated and only slightly extended for a couple with two young children. “Most of the neighbours in the street have extended these modest homes to include almost the entire back garden. But our clients wanted their children to enjoy the garden. They also were not prepared to lose the established jacaranda tree,” says architect Tim O’Sullivan, who worked closely with co-director, interior designer Sioux Clark.

While the modest backyard of the Brunswick house was saved by Multiplicity, the owners presented the couple with a fairly extensive program of what was required: a study/music room for the children for example, was just one criterion.

Multiplicity found unused space in the pitched roof and converted this area into a music room/play area and also a study area. Accessed by a steel ladder, it’s used by the children on the weekend and the parents on some evenings. The other request was to provide a bathroom that could be supervised by parents from the kitchen bench. A large sliding wall/door between the kitchen and bathroom allows for this supervision. Multiplicity also found 300 millimetres of land adjacent to the house that was either a walkway, or a place to sit. Multiplicity extended the corridor by using this slither of land to create a built-in cupboard for storage and a seat to put school bags on. “This way you don’t have to drag things through the entire house,” says O’Sullivan.

Multiplicity used the pitched roof to create bespoke rooms for the family, accessed by a steel ladder. Image Courtesy of Green Magazine’s Tamsin O’Neill.

Architect Tim O’Sullivan made sure no space was lost in the design of this Brunswick family home. Photo Credit: Tim O’Sullivan

According to O’Sullivan, small houses can still feel relatively spacious if materials are kept to a constant, storage is considered rather than as an afterthought and ‘dead’ spaces repurposed. “It’s still a modest house for a family, but the spaces now tie together. The backyard can still be enjoyed in a small plot. It just needs to be planned efficiently and enjoy unimpeded access,” adds O’ Sullivan.

FMD Architects can be contacted on 9670 9671 or at fmdarchitects.com.au
Multiplicity can be contacted on 9388 0790 or at multiplicity.com.au

About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.