Warehouse Living

Jul 27, 2018 Architecture

Warehouse living was first introduced to Melbourne in the mid-1970s, when architects Graeme Gunn and Leonard Hayball, converted a furniture warehouse in South Yarra into apartments.

When the signboard went up to sell this warehouse, known as The Maples (after the furniture company), few could see its potential. Since then, warehouses located in prime suburbs, are as rare as ‘hens teeth’. However, when these come onto the market, they are quickly transformed into luxurious homes for those looking to be closer to the city.

Many of these red brick piles, built in the early 20th century, offer generous spaces with high ceilings. Many are accessed from narrow laneways and others, such as one converted by architect Andrew Simpson, enjoys a full street frontage. Approximately 450 square metres in area, this warehouse, located in North Fitzroy, ticked most of the boxes for the owners, a couple downsizing from their large family home in the suburbs. One of the main hiccups was the 450-millimetre change in level between the laneway and rear elevation. “My client’s concern was that he wouldn’t be able to convert what was once used for offices to include a garage/workshop (the owner restores vintage cars),” says Simpson.

The challenge with reworking warehouses: Nothing is built squared

Fortunately, lowering the ground level at the rear was not a major problem, nor was creating a 14-metre void through the two-storey warehouse to create a shaft for both light and ventilation. Fortunately, there were more than sufficient original features, such as chunky timber beams and columns to allow the past to be clearly read. “One of the challenges with reworking these warehouses are the things you don’t expect. Nothing is built squared,” says Simpson.

Simpson approached the fit-out as ‘houses within a house’. There’s the adult child’s domain, a self-contained apartment at ground level. Featuring a bedroom, a central living area, kitchen and bathroom, the only division in the space is a steel fabricated wall between bedroom and living room. In addition to the self-contained apartment, almost one third of the ground floor is taken up with the owner’s garage/workshop. On the first floor is the parent’s domain, including a generous open plan kitchen, dining and living area, together with a main bedroom and ensuite.

One of the main features of the warehouse conversion is a void, cutting a swathe through the two levels. This creates sky views and importantly, natural light into the building’s core. Rather than segment the warehouse with fixed walls, Simpson designed a series of sliding doors/walls on the first level. Another feature is the kitchen island bench that extends to the western-orientated terrace. Simpson was mindful of the family’s love for outdoor entertaining so he designed part of the kitchen bench on wheels so it could easily be moved out onto the terrace.

In order not to detract from the charm of the warehouse form, Simpson used a limited palette of materials, including limed hoop pine plywood for walls and ceilings. “We wanted to work with the existing roof form, making each ‘house’ fit into the entire scheme,” says Simpson.

A warehouse that demonstrates ‘less is considerably more’

Adrian Amore Architects also created a truly unique home within an early 20th century warehouse. Located in West Melbourne, this project received numerous awards, including an award from the Design Institute of Australia and also a Premier’s Award.

Photo credit: Fraser Marsden

Appearing relatively unremarkable from Dudley Street, the front door, located on the first level of the building (originally a butter factory), reveals a dramatic pristine white interior. A circular staircase, with curvaceous plaster balustrades, connects the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas on the lower level to the bedrooms above. “We were fortunate to extend the building’s envelope,” says architect Adrian Amore, who lifted the original steel roof to allow for a 9 metre-high void. There was also sufficient room to create a roof terrace.

Photo credit: Fraser Marsden

This warehouse-style home, approximately 230 square metres in area, is an example of ‘less is considerably more’. The streamlined kitchen, for example, featuring stainless steel benches and marble splashbacks, is simply framed by two-pack white painted joinery.

Photo credit: Fraser Marsden

Although appearing as an effortless conversion, the challenges for Amore came from getting the materials for the renovation up to the first floor and often having to crane these in through windows due to the lack of space in the stairwell. Being on Dudley Street, a major thoroughfare, also required strategic planning to minimise construction time. “Once you’re inside, you really could be anywhere,” says Amore, pointing out the fluid spaces and the natural light spilling in from above.

Andrew Simpson Architects can be contacted on 9416 4814
Adrian Amore Architects can be contacted on 9939 0454

About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990’s 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.

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