Strengthening the Neighborhood: Toowong Renovation | ArchitectureAU

In the hands Qualified architects transform the challenges of home renovation into experiences that delight and enrich home life. A design can celebrate valuable elements and at the same time bring out beautiful qualities of a place that was previously unavailable. Having access to this imaginative insight is a major benefit of working with an architect. The fuel for this potential, however, arguably comes from customers who embrace the process and bring their valuable knowledge and experience of a place and how they want to fully live in it.

Such is the case with this house on a quiet alley in Toowong, Brisbane, designed by Marjorie Dixon and Leah Gallagher of Kin Architects in collaboration with their clients Alice and James. After living in the old house for a decade and a half, Alice and James desperately needed more family space than their little house contained. But they also wanted to keep the small hut qualities that were an integral part of the size and neighborhood of the alley where children play and easy socializing is encouraged in the community. In addition, with a sloping terrain, they complained about the lack of connection to the back garden and did not like having to “pack a picnic” to spend time there. As Alice explains, her other goal was to “see the green in every window”.

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Blackbutt wooden furniture unites the kitchen and living room and creates a feeling of warmth.

Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

Kin Architects set out to work out the imperfections of the home, making more space for the growing family, and maintaining a real connection with their place that allowed them to enjoy it all while at the same time maintaining the home’s neighborly relationship with the alley celebrated at the front. It was decided to dig and excavate under the existing cottage to create a new sub-street level with living, kitchen and dining areas that open directly onto the garden.

With living quarters on the lower level, Kin was able to turn the partitioned rooms of the original cottage into a private retreat of bedroom, family room, and study. “There was no need to use a sledgehammer to check the floor plans of the rooms in the cabin,” says Leah. “It would be a good dormitory, of course,” she explains when it had to take on all the functions of a house.

While maintaining street level access to the cottage, Kin redesigned the kickback crossing as a combination of hard and soft landscapes to incorporate a new access with a gate leading directly to the lower level. This was complemented by friendly gestures towards the street, including a small seat on the roadway and green painted circles on the concrete slab.

A concrete frame surrounds a green inner courtyard and also serves as a hanging garden.  Artwork: Raelene Stevens.

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A concrete frame surrounds a green inner courtyard and also serves as a hanging garden. Artwork: Raelene Stevens.

Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

The new interior space on the lower level opens wide to a green inner courtyard and a hard terrace embedded in the concrete frame of a hanging garden. The use of concrete sets the grounded sensibility of the basement apart from the lightweight construction of the upper floors, which nestle under the original gable roof. The best vantage point to enjoy this contrast is at the end of the garden looking back at the house. The hanging garden’s deep concrete beam extends from the northeast corner of the timber house and then turns south to cradle the shape of Alice and James’ private retreat. The retreat, basking in a favorable aspect, overlooks the landscape below, which is veiled by a tailor-made umbrella made of angled slats.

Leah said the control of lighting and ventilation on the lower level was also critical to the success of the project. While garden-side edges can be opened wide, two key tactics have greatly improved the quality of the interior space. First of all, the design team placed a window above the kitchen bench, which at first may seem inconspicuous. However, the opening was only permitted in connection with a fire curtain, as the south wall was directly on the border. Although the window is expensive, it is valued not only for ventilation, but also for making the interior look wider. Second, the architects cut away the floor of the former dining room in the northeast corner of the cottage to create a cavity above the sunken lounge. This void creates more than just a fun connection back to the cottage level; It balances out the edge light and animates the rich palette of dark tones and natural textures that describe the interior: misshapen concrete walls and a sanded concrete floor, the warmth of blackbutt and rosewood paneling, cabinets and soffits, the iridescent glaze of structured tile and the fascinating Cross-section made from satined Machiavelli granite. A second color palette of white and green is used in the bathrooms and utility rooms, reminiscent of both the garden and the traditional green glass of the original cottage windows. Inside, the house never feels oppressive. Carpentry and built-in seating keep the inner horizon low, while the sunken lounge feels great beneath the bright void.

This renovation is characterized by the clarity and persuasiveness of its composition. Kin has maximized the good natural qualities its location has to offer while maintaining the size and improving the neighborhood of the original cottage in its context. It is robust and compact, but still expansive and flexible, and takes every step to ensure that the young family can grow together in the coming decades.

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