This Playful Melbourne Home Embraces Its Split Personality

By Stacey McLachlan / Published by Dwell
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Heritage in the front, modern in the back—this renovation by FMD Architects is a family home with character.

From the front, this Melbourne heritage home just looks like a simple, suburban Australian cottage with a standard gable roof. But the back? Well, the back tells a whole different story.

Though the color of the original side of the home is heritage-appropriate, its all-over application is a touch unusual for the area. "In heritage-controlled areas, we have limited colors we can use, and you might use two or three," says Dunin. "We color-blocked with the red, which was quite unusual and quite modern."

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The modernist extension is a brutalism-inspired beauty, featuring a charred-wood-and-glass volume split neatly into two halves. It’s two-faced architecture, if you will—but together, the two sides tell one beautiful design story.

The canopies are made out of black steel, while the windows have oiled, black timber frames.

Though they share a roof, the heritage half is clearly marked by its saturated red, horizontal ship-board exterior. At the back, the spotted gum panelling runs vertical and is charred a carbon black.

"The homeowners loved their morning light," says FMD principal Fiona Dunin. "And all of the strategies were ultimately driven by that."

Charged with a let-the-light-in renovation and extension, FMD Architects dubbed the 1,937-square-foot home Split House to honor its beautiful dichotomy between old and new, darkness and light.

A slice through the apex creates a gap that allows for windows down the center. Light now pours into the main bedroom and living space, while the new extension’s kitchen and dining spaces make the most of northern daylight.

"It’s really beautiful, the way light moves across the space," says Dunin. "The high-level triangular window catches light in the morning and acts as a sundial."

The kitchen island is made of poured terrazzo, balanced atop a mirrored slab and two orange posts for a playful, postmodern vibe.

The original floor plan featured four bedrooms, but Dunin cleverly reconfigured the layout to squeeze in even more functionality. Now, the same square footage has four bedrooms plus two bathrooms, a new walk-in closet, and a laundry room.

The homeowners "love morning light," says Dunin, so every window in the home is positioned to make the most of the Australian sun.

The colors for all the finishing touches were workshopped on-site, and Dunin and team pieced together their palette through experimentation… even if it meant 10 samples of grout. "We drove the builder crazy," she laughs.

Inside, materials are, for the most part, simple and economical. The floors are basic polished concrete and timber. In the kitchen, simple white-laminate cabinet fronts are hung alongside Tasmanian oak veneer doors. Flat white tiles, installed vertically, create a minimalist, grid-like backsplash. 

The homeowners are both in the creative field, with connections to a slew of talented artists. What hangs on the walls is only a small portion of their collection.

A bunkette between the girls’ bedrooms offers a private space for the close-knit sisters to share. "They can crawl through, or sit and read, but if they have a fight they can close it," says Dunin.

But among these humble finishes, there are moments of playfulness, too, that embrace that "split" idea through the use of mixed materials or shapes. "It’s this idea of multiple personalities, a nod to the four distinct characters who live in this house," explains Dunin.

A cheery yellow faucet adds a pop of color to the kitchen island.

The garden is all original plantings, including a lush olive tree and natural grasses: Dunin kept as much as she could, and added a veggie patch and fruit trees out back.

The kitchen island is held up by a mirrored block on one side, and a terrazzo block on the other. In the bathroom, two distinct cabinets—one wood, one mirrored—create a whole. "We like to take that big architectural idea and bring it inside," says Dunin

In the bathroom, a mottled Japanese tile from Academy Tiles brings texture and warmth. Plywood makes for an excellent material for shelving.

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Grab a seat in the cozy sunken living room, with two oversized sofas arranged in an L shape, and get a great view of the garden. A built-in recess gives the TV a home.

When Dunin first went for measurements, the whole family was out on their tiny porch, gardening, reading, and listening to the radio—it was clear that a great outdoor space was all but necessary. A new deck with a built-in planter box is now their go-to hangout.

Related Reading:

A Backyard Eucalyptus Becomes the Muse For This Home Remodel

A Couple’s Melbourne Home Uses Geometry to Tell a Love Story

12 Mullet Homes in Melbourne That Are Modern in the Back

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: FMD Architects / @fmdarchitects

Builder/General Contractor: Dome Building / @domebuilding

Structural Engineer: Webb Consult / @webbconsult

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Koo We Rup Cabinets

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