Honouring Longevity in a Heritage Conversion

  • Penny Kinsella Architects invite est inside their Melbourne terrace revival that sees an ode to the old through a long-lasting design resolution.

    It’s hard for architect Penny Kinsella to pinpoint one feature she loved about the grand terrace in Melbourne’s South Yarra she was asked to transform. That’s because she says there were so many, such as the “quirky little staircase to the attic”, the “widow’s walk” – a rooftop viewing platform – and the rustic basement with its coal chute still intact. 

    These original details reflect the Victorian building fabric Penny was approached to restore while carrying out a modern-day intervention, unlike any the home had seen in the 20th century. Through a contemporary interpretation that honours what came before, the architect took some of the home’s biggest challenges – such as the need for natural light – and turned them into some of its biggest successes. We caught up with Penny to uncover what influenced her design response, the materials she favoured, and why she believes investing in quality fixtures goes beyond aesthetics and function.

    Produced in partnership with Rogerseller

    Original Baltic Pine floors feature a new limed finish. Honed Carrara marble, as seen in the bathrooms, was selected for the benchtops and splashbacks in the kitchen. A Normann Copenhagen Bell pendant taps into the softness of the tall joinery in Dulux Grey Pail. 

    Central to Penny Kinsella Architects’ design process was the desire to honour the home’s heritage. When the architect was first introduced, the Victorian-era spaces were disconnected from the iterations that came afterwards. “I didn’t love the aesthetic and functional disconnect between the front and back halves of the house and between the main living areas and basement,” Penny says. So she set out to open up and reorganise the internal spaces while introducing common design threads.

    A lack of natural light isn’t an unexpected challenge when it comes to a historic Melbourne terrace. But Penny says they were further tested by the east-west orientation of the home and the overshadowing of north-facing windows. “It was one of the fundamental elements of the clients’ brief to overcome this,” Penny says. “We removed rooms that blocked east and west light from filtering through the house, creating and enlarging openings and raising ceilings.” A neutral material palette reflects light, while solar skylights were a unique solution for the basement area.

    The living room takes shape around the bay window, featuring the Neverending Glory pendant by La Scala and Zanotta William sofa. A Geoffrey Ricardo elephant sculpture becomes the focal point, reflecting the client’s passion for art collecting.

     Penny Kinsella Architects elevated the downstairs basement with Dinesen Douglas Fir boards and custom features such as the steel shelving.

    Muted natural materials are the foundation of the home’s palette, sympathetic to the Victorian architecture. “For the upper levels, we introduced refined materials that might have been used when the home was originally built, such as white marble, and applied them in a quietly contemporary way,” Penny says. In the basement, warmth and texture were key, creating more cosy and casual spaces. “The Dinesen Douglas Fir floorboards created a sense of much-needed sophistication and were a nod to the original Baltic Pine flooring on the upper levels.”

    When specifying bathroom and kitchen fixtures in the home, Penny maintains that those built to last are the most sustainable – and ultimately cost-effective option beyond their aesthetic and practical demands. “Specifying the best products your client can afford is the most responsible approach to authentic, sustainable design,” she says. 

    Penny selected Rogerseller Eccentric mixers and outlets in Brushed Nickel, designed and made in Australia for the home’s two ensuites and powder rooms. The architect also hand-picked the Falper Quattro Zero bath and Ciotola round vanity basins, exclusive to Rogerseller, that express the synergy between quality design and sustainability. “The Rogerseller fixtures epitomise the overall design philosophy behind the renovation; quality, refined design, timelessness and understated decoration,” Penny adds. 

    Internal steel frame doors create access to natural light between spaces on the basement level.

    Penny selected bathroom fixtures to reflect quality, sustainable design, including the Rogerseller Eccentric mixer and outlet in Brushed Nickel, Rogerseller Strata shower rose, Eon shower shelf, towel rail and paper holder.

    The downstairs ensuite is sympathetic to the Victorian era through a classic material palette of honed Carrara marble and ceramic wall tiles in grey. 

    The interiors were designed as a backdrop for the clients’ shared passion for art. Their collection includes artists Graham Fransella, Nick Goodwolf, Beatrice Terra, Alyce Bailey, Geoffrey Ricardo, Peter McListy and Joanna Logue. Notable design fittings such as the Bell pendant by Normann Copenhagen and Porcelain Bear Cloche wall light, and furniture including the Zanotta William sofa, alongside Penny Kinsella’s custom pieces, further elevate and personalise each space. 

    Penny says that through their understated and timeless renovation, they’ve ultimately created newfound cohesion across spaces, uses and levels. While it may have been easier to re-build the rear half of the building, she believes that so much of the home’s accumulated history and character would have been lost. “In finding a solution to some of the greatest challenges and working with them rather than against them, we’ve achieved a richer and more beautiful outcome.” 

    Rogerseller Eccentric mixer and outlet, Eon soap shelf in Brushed Nickel, custom-designed round mirror by Penny Kinsella and cobble blue Tape wall and floor tiles by Mutina.

    Penny Kinsella Architects restored the original Carrara marble fireplace with cast iron insert in the master bedroom.

    “The Rogerseller fixtures epitomise the overall design philosophy behind the renovation; quality, refined design, timelessness and understated decoration.”


    – Penny Kinsella

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