An Australian Renovation Gives New Life to Midcentury Style

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By Heather Corcoran / Published by Dwell
Take a second look at Nest Architects, an Australian firm featured in our September 2016 renovation issue with this MCM update.

When a couple fell for the charms of an early 1960s house near Melbourne, they were equally excited by its history as its possibility. And so they tasked Nest Architects with a renovation that would honor its midcentury bones without being an homage to a bygone era.

The yellow hue on the front door is a detail that Nest Architects picked up from the original design. So is the block wall. 

The yellow hue on the front door is a detail that Nest Architects picked up from the original design. So is the block wall. 

Looking toward the Case Study program for inspiration, the team at Nest decided to keep as many of the original details as possible while introducing a new take on open-plan living that uses permeable dividers to separate the distinct functions of the rooms.

A new volume, clad in black aluminum, houses two bedrooms.

A new volume, clad in black aluminum, houses two bedrooms.

The midcentury reference also gave the firm a material palette that they could carry throughout the project: cork, timber, veneer, and handcrafted glazed tiles. A dose of graphic black paint and laminate is used throughout the space to crisply tie everything together.

Timber clad walls meet cork flooring in the open living room at the center of the home.

Timber clad walls meet cork flooring in the open living room at the center of the home.

To bring the outdated home into the 21st century, the architects embarked on an investigatory process they compare to that of a bird building a nest. As they develop a plan, factors like weather, orientation, history, and sustainability are given equal consideration as the residents' dreams and memories.

Two angled columns emerge from the kitchen, one of many ways Nest used geometry to divide the space without obstructing sight lines. The architects intentionally opted for oblique angles that would provide a variety of different views.

Two angled columns emerge from the kitchen, one of many ways Nest used geometry to divide the space without obstructing sight lines. The architects intentionally opted for oblique angles that would provide a variety of different views.

"The look and feel of the house changes every time you visit. It’s never boring and it’s certainly not a one-hit wonder."
—Emilio Fuscaldo, Nest Architects

Sea green details appear throughout the house, peeking out from behind the exterior screen or on interior partitions.

Sea green details appear throughout the house, peeking out from behind the exterior screen or on interior partitions.

For this project, Nest decided to balance historical references with a fresh organizing geometry that ensures no two views of the house are ever the same—inside and out. 

Open shelving lends an organizing grid without obstructing views. 

Open shelving lends an organizing grid without obstructing views. 

Hints of cool color peek out from beneath the exterior metal cladding, and interior spaces are divided in such ways that views are layered, changing depending on the angle at which they are glimpsed.

The built-in cabinetry reverses the home's usual organizational motif of a black grid against a timber frame. 

The built-in cabinetry reverses the home's usual organizational motif of a black grid against a timber frame. 

All the while, a series of built-in storage is used to divide the space without closing off rooms, creating a main living area that is logically divided while still having the bright, airy feeling of the popular open floor plan.

New black metal cladding joins cinderblock and wood-trimmed windows, two features more in line with the home's vintage. 

New black metal cladding joins cinderblock and wood-trimmed windows, two features more in line with the home's vintage. 

Just as shifting perspective provides new views, the entire project is layered with details that reveal themselves over time. On the exterior, new metal cladding adds a contemporary twist to midcentury-appropriate cinderblock, while interior materials like cork and timber are remixed and matched throughout house, always with a grounding dose of graphic black paint.

Even the stairs reflect the materials at the heart of the project with their blend of cork, timber, and black against a white backdrop.

Even the stairs reflect the materials at the heart of the project with their blend of cork, timber, and black against a white backdrop.

In addition to the materials, the architects focused on other elements that saved the house from the bulldozer.

The team kept as much of the original glazing as possible, adding new windows in a similar visual style.

The team kept as much of the original glazing as possible, adding new windows in a similar visual style.

The newly enlarged and redefined kitchen, dining, and living areas on the main floor were arranged to highlight their connection to the outdoors.

The result is a multipurpose living area that opens up to an exterior courtyard anchored by a Ross Gardam Flint table.

The result is a multipurpose living area that opens up to an exterior courtyard anchored by a Ross Gardam Flint table.

As much of the original floor-to-ceiling glazing as possible was kept, while new windows and doors were added to continue the views through the house.

The black framework separating the kitchen and dining area was meant to echo the exterior cladding. Additional black details give the space a grounding geometry. 

The black framework separating the kitchen and dining area was meant to echo the exterior cladding. Additional black details give the space a grounding geometry. 

The result is a light-filled interior with rich material details that reflect the residents within. 

The residents chose the bathroom's Pikralida Green tiles from Tilenova in Sydney. "They loved the geometry of the tiles and the patterns, which somewhat harked back to a midcentury style," architect Emilio Fuscaldo says. 

The residents chose the bathroom's Pikralida Green tiles from Tilenova in Sydney. "They loved the geometry of the tiles and the patterns, which somewhat harked back to a midcentury style," architect Emilio Fuscaldo says. 

See how Nest Architects approached the renovation of a Melbourne Edwardian in our September 2016 Renovation issue.


The backsplash tiles were imported from American manufacturer Heath Ceramics, in the Chalk-Gunmetal finish from the Classic Field line. 

The backsplash tiles were imported from American manufacturer Heath Ceramics, in the Chalk-Gunmetal finish from the Classic Field line. 

Cover photo by Lauren Bamford.