Single-fronted Victorian terraces have strong street appeal. Their wrought iron verandahs and often hawthorn brickwork have instant charm. Many of these homes are found in inner-city areas, such as Albert Park, Melbourne. And as the price of these dwellings head north, architects transfer these abodes into slick contemporary townhouses. Stephen Crafti came across two similar Victorian terraces, both in Albert Park. While the width of the frontages is comparable, the results between the two are quite different.
Architect Nick Harding, director of Ha Architecture, was commissioned to rework a Victorian terrace with a 4.5-metre-wide frontage. Although the depth of the block is relatively modest at 17 metres, it benefits from being unencumbered on three sides (the third is a pedestrian pathway). “The house occupies the entire footprint but benefits from having from natural light on three sides,” says Harding, who preserved the front room of the heritage-listed weatherboard and virtually removed everything else.
The original front room was transformed into a study with the built-in joinery forming a balustrade to the new open plan kitchen, dining and living areas. Two additional bedrooms and a bathroom were added upstairs, clad in timber to complement the original Victorian terrace. Ha Architecture also included a roof garden to compensate for the lack of garden at ground level. “One of the main challenges was ensuring the upper level was angled at 18 degrees to prevent it from overshadowing the main street,” says Harding, who also excavated one metre below ground level to ensure the extension was recessive.
As the terrace is still relatively modest in scale, the architects used birch plywood cladding throughout the interiors and kept the circulation spine to the east. “We removed most of the internal walls at ground level and made each space work ‘hard’,” says Harding, who customised the dining table to nestle under the kitchen’s island bench. “With single-fronted terraces, there are generally compromises that need to be made. But these shouldn’t feel obvious,” he adds.
Architect Tim Hill, co-director of Tandem Design Studio, also reworked a Victorian single-fronted terrace in Albert Park. The terrace he renovated and extended was only an additional half-metre in width. Fortunately, there was a little more depth to this site, approximately 30 metres. As with Ha Architecture’s terrace, this home also came with a number of 1970s lean-tos. It was also heritage-listed, as are many terraces in this bayside suburb.
The 1970s additions were removed and Tandem Design Studio added a new two-storey tower-like form, made from concrete, steel and timber. As the plot is significantly longer, the architects were able to create two gardens, a courtyard-style garden that separates the old from the new, together with a small rear garden. “Having this separation between the two forms allows for greater natural light and ventilation, something that’s often missing in Victorian terraces,” says Hill.
The terrace reworked by Tamden Design Studio now comprises a study, kitchen and dining area (under the original roofline) together with a new garden-style living area framed by plants. The three bedrooms, including the main bedroom, are now located on the first floor, as are the two bathrooms. And to increase the natural light, skylights were added above the stairwell and also in both of the bathrooms.
Although this house has been completely reworked into a fine contemporary home, according to Hill Victorian terraces come with their own ‘baggage’. “You often don’t know what you will find when you knock out walls between rooms. In this case, we lost the bracing and had to create new structural portals,” says Hill, who also recalls the rising damp that was initially encountered. “We had to excavate to remove the damp and allow the house to ‘breathe’. Of course, there was also the need for restumping,” he adds.
While terraces such as these can’t change their ‘stripes’, they can be reworked with some effort, talent and a reasonable budget into something considerably more. And as people prefer the convenience of living near the city, plot sizes and room sizes will continue to be transformed, with some compromise needed.