Creating the Foundations of Family Living with Clare Cousins

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    Clare Cousins Architects design a nonconformist addition while altering a double-fronted Victorian in Melbourne’s hip and happening North-side.

    As one of our top ten Australian designers in 2018, Melbourne-based architect Clare Cousins has a firm grasp on how spaces influence our lives. Off the back of the architect’s top spot on est we were keen to explore one of their most recent residential projects.

    The Garden Room House is the beloved abode of a family of four, located in Melbourne’s sought-after North Fitzroy neighbourhood. Here Clare Cousins introduced a thoroughly inviting addition, single level and smaller than its poorly built predecessor, underpinned by the revival of the home’s period features. The extension may seem an explicit deviation from the Victorian-era trimmings, but it keeps the existing foundations front of mind by sticking with quality bricks. These bricks (just as those 150 years earlier) are the crux of an idyllic garden retreat for a young family, in an inner-city locale.

    Produced in partnership with Brickworks.

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    It wasn’t the first time a family had outgrown the confines of this Victorian-era abode. A poorly built 1980s two-storey extension was stitched onto the back, imitating the period features and overshadowing the original structure. An oversized backyard pool was also cramping the home’s style and like the shoddy extension, amassing space that could be put to far better use. So first on Clare Cousins’ list was to remove the old extension, followed by ‘remapping’ the backyard and reorientating the living areas to better connect with the outdoors. This also meant resizing the pool, which led to the other half becoming an underground water tank.

    Those who pass by the period façade may not be aware of the contemporary intervention that discretely unravels at the rear – but this is truly where the magic happened. Replacing the old addition is a smaller, more efficient design. This new part of the home is aptly called the garden room – a double-glazed façade framed by refreshingly light and robust brickwork and designed to require little maintenance over time. Here sliding doors welcome courtyard ventilation and cooling, while eaves and leafy foliage offer shade to temper the summer sun. Inside, this garden room outlook is best appreciated in the owner’s purpose-built writing room. As the garden grows it will further enclose the outdoor rooms and offer added privacy.

    The new may appear nothing quite like the old, but it abides by a typically linear Victorian plan, where rooms are entered off either side of a central hallway. The front part has been left largely intact, except for the hyper blue bathroom – one of two in the four-bedroom home. What Clare and her team didn’t carry through from the old was the ceiling height, intentionally lowered to ‘enhance the horizontal spatial experience’.

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    “We source beautiful, quality bricks to ensure they endure for generations to come.”

    – Clare Cousins

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    Selecting bricks for the extension was almost a given for the Garden Room House – being Clare Cousins’ favourite building material and used prominently in her own home. When we sat down for a chat with the architect, she said they favoured bricks for their variety of colours, textures and shapes, long lasting and low maintenance qualities and the array of patterns they can be laid in. “We like to use robust, versatile materials that can be used internally, externally and for walls and floors – bricks are perfect for this,” Clare said.

    The choice of two shades of Bowral Bricks – the Dry Pressed Chillingham White and Nubrik Acland Cream Pressed Bricks – is a nod to the home’s ‘polychromatic brick heritage frontage’ in a non-traditional stack bond pattern. Clare said the bricks were also key to linking indoor and outdoor spaces, addressing level changes with “the curated brick ground plane that is stepped and terraced to form various resting places within the garden and living rooms,” she said. Visually, this comes together as a series of brick plinths, stairs and paving in the outdoor space that Clare introduced in collaboration with Eckersley Garden Architecture. Another clever detail is the raised brick ledge that borders the exterior, doubling as seating around the brick barbecue space.

    Timeless materials to join the mix of bricks are Carrara marble for the kitchen benchtop, glazed wall tiles, as well as Terrazzo and polished concrete flooring. Timber and leather furnishings soften the exposed brick and concrete elements.

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    Just as the project title suggests, Clare Cousins has let the outdoor space feel as much apart of the home as the living room – promoting meaningful relationships with the garden and each other. With thanks to the bricks, this intervention cleverly responds to its context and surroundings while laying the foundations to many happy years of family living.

    This project is the fourth in a featured series on how leading contemporary architects and design figures use bricks, in partnership with Brickworks. See the est favourites here or take a look at Brickworks on the est product library.

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