Kitchen Closeup | Bell Street Bluestone by Robert Nichol & Sons

  • Robert Nichol & Sons director David Nicholson takes us through their award-winning kitchen within a heritage-listed bluestone building in Melbourne’s Fitzroy. 

    This bluestone building in Melbourne’s inner suburb of Fitzroy had lived many lives before Robert Nichol & Son’s intervention; first, as a school building in the 1850s, followed by a home in the late 1880s and finally a bed and breakfast in the 1970s. The Melbourne architects were initially engaged to oversee the bathroom renovations in early 2014, which evolved into a small extension in 2016 and the last piece of the puzzle; a new kitchen in 2020.

    Director David Nicholson reflects on the result as a ‘seven-year love affair’. “We strive for timelessness in our designs, so a project spanning over seven years certainly challenged us,” David says. The challenge was well worth it; the striking tonal kitchen recently received the ‘Best of the Best’ Award in the Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year Design Contest for 2021

    We take a closer look at some of the clever design details –  both hidden and visible – in this kitchen, learning how the Robert Nichol & Sons team mediated old and new and how the primary material of bluestone informed the ‘interesting but controlled’ colour palette.

    Produced in partnership with Gaggenau

    The client reached out to Robert Nichol & Sons to unite the former dual occupancy and reorganise the layout, with a focus on creating a new kitchen space to foster their love of cooking and entertaining guests. Director David Nicholson says the brief for the kitchen was inherently straightforward; quality, classic, practical and functional while still being ‘fabulous’. “We wanted to create a kitchen where friends can gather and interact while food is being prepared, and where the client could relax and feel comfortable entertaining in this space without having to move to the living or dining room,” David explains. 

    Working within the confines of a 175-year-old-home meant the kitchen was never necessarily going to ‘blend’ with the home’s architecture. Robert Nichol & Sons retained certain heritage qualities of the kitchen, including the timber ceiling lining, decorative stained-glass windows, exposed bluestone and concrete floor. Still, they changed the fundamental element – the open-plan layout. “By defining the rooms by function and keeping them separate, we have been able to create particular moods and styles in both zones; the living and dining rooms have a reserved nature, but the kitchen is purposefully energetic,” David says.

    The architects transformed the large central living space with French doors leading to the main courtyard for the new kitchen to act as a buffer between the relocated living and dining rooms. David says the varying ceiling heights were demanding when designing aspects of the kitchen, including the cabinetry placement and orientation. “It wasn’t possible to design a walk-in or butler’s pantry in this home; instead, the pantry is central and concealed within bi-fold doors.” Through the use of mirrors, glass shelving, sensor task lights and stone, David describes the finished pantry as ‘beautiful when open and discreet when closed.’

    The charcoal joinery is coated in a soft-touch Japanese linen finish, linking to the bluestone exterior and its tactility. The Arabescato marble island bench steals the spotlight, topping curved pillars clad in celadon glazed tiles.

    David says extraction was always going to be difficult with a traditional overhead system given the amount of ducting required to exit the four-metre-high ceilings. With this in mind, Robert Nichol & Sons opted for the Gaggenau 400 series telescopic table ventilation and Gaggenau 400 series full surface induction cooktop (frameless) for their minimal and sleek appearance. “This system answered the issue most effectively and simply, and when the button is pressed, the rising unit brings an element of drama and theatrics to the heart of the home,” David adds.

    The team also specified the Gaggenau 400 series combi-steam oven, Gaggenau 400 series oven, and 200 series warming drawer – a selection David says came naturally. “Our client was very keen to use Gaggenau cooking appliances right from the start, having used several other quality brands in previous kitchens,” David says. “This was going to be a special kitchen and a central part of home life; therefore, the appliances needed to perform and last.”

    The brushed stainless steel of the combi-steam oven, oven and warming drawer contrast the linen-finished cabinetry, making a subtle yet noticeable design statement. The Gaggenau 400 series full surface induction cooktop is set flush within the honed Arabascato backbench. It is only visible when used, creating a deep sense of symmetry with the adjacent undermount black sink.

    The Bell Street kitchen is a blueprint for working within a heritage building. Robert Nichol & Sons have successfully married different eras and styles through expressive and bold tones without detracting from the original character and charm of the 1850s home.

    “This was going to be a special kitchen and a central part to home life; therefore, the appliances needed to perform and last.”


    Robert Nichol & Sons director David Nicholson

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