When a young family, including a professional musician, outgrew their home in a 125-year-old dairy building, they approached Dan Gayfer Design to renovate the residence to suit their lifestyle.
"Footscray is one of Melbourne’s most iconic inner west suburbs, and it’s solidifying itself as a cultural hub. Seeing the existing brick dairy at the rear of the residence, one can’t help conjuring up idyllic fields of dairy cattle prior to the land being subdivided into residential blocks," says Gayfer. "While the historical character of the dairy has been preserved, the overall outcome is what we would call ‘modern industrious.’"
From the very beginning of the design process, it was non-negotiable that the historic dairy—which was built circa 1894—would be retained. The design team quickly realized that this structure had the capacity to fulfill a key component of the brief.
"One of the owners is a professional double bass player who plays jazz gigs at bars, pubs, and jazz clubs, and also teaches double bass from home," says Gayfer. "With double brick walls on all sides absorbing sound and its location at the rear of the property, the dairy was the perfect location for the music studio."
An existing addition that adjoined the dairy at the front was demolished, and a new addition containing the kitchen, dining, and living area was built in its place. A first-floor addition—housing the master bedroom, ensuite, and retreat—is literally perched on top of the dairy, on structural steel supports that extend beyond the building to define an outdoor terrace below.
Dan Gayfer Design retained the dairy’s original doors and windows on all facades, including the northern facade that faces into the kitchen, emphasizing the concept of the old meeting the new. "Although this concept is far from unique in itself, the method in which it has been implemented—and the resulting building and its spaces—is unquestionably, a one-off," says Gayfer.
The meals alcove, located between the dairy and the kitchen and defined by a burnished concrete floor, has an internal courtyard to one side and windows to the outdoor terrace on the other that flood the space with natural light throughout the day.
To completely separate the studio from the rest of the home, the design team installed insulation in the ceiling and placed an acoustically glazed window facing the kitchen. "What I find so satisfying about the final outcome of this project is what the dairy brings to the interior," says Gayfer. "It perhaps even surpasses what it brings to the exterior."
As both owners regularly work from home, it was essential that there were other separated areas throughout. The centrally located stair leads to various private spaces—including a living room, study nook, dining room, and the upstairs retreat.
"To accommodate family members finding their own place of solace, the concept of separating the everyday living spaces evolved throughout the design process," says Gayfer. "It was a departure from the open-plan scenario that is often requested in a project brief."
Carefully positioned windows above the staircase bring natural light into the interior. Dramatically different volumes and angles in the nearly 20-foot-tall void constantly change the quality of light as the stair is ascended. "The home is a space of solace for recharging," says Gayfer. "Sunlight is integral to fulfilling that function."
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The retreat—a small, private living space—has a raked ceiling that strikingly contrasts with the angles in the stair void, emphasizing the distinction between the two spaces. All the furniture in the open room is bespoke, built-in joinery—including storage, shelving, and a sofa with an adjoining planter. "The ability to design custom furniture and slot the pieces in like pieces of puzzle enabled us to eliminate dead or wasted space that compromised function, flow, and interaction," says Gayfer.
The material palette throughout is hardworking and cost-effective, and reflects both the personalities of the owners and the fabric of Melbourne’s densely urban inner west. Bold details, such as rich purple upholstery and royal blue joinery, contrast with the lighter tones of timber veneer, concrete, and white tiles. "The darker elements bring a sophisticated or edgy character to the space, while the lighter tones don’t allow it to take itself too seriously," says Gayfer.
"It’s not every day you find an aging dairy in the kitchen or the dining room," says Gayfer. "This home celebrates its presence. Natural light bounces off its weathered walls, and it forms an unmistakable backdrop that is calming yet strong and lifelike. There is a unique ambience present in these spaces that only a building of this age can bring—the dairy provides a permanent glimpse to not only the history of the property but also to the suburb of Footscray."
More from Dan Gayfer Design:
Architect of Record: Dan Gayfer Design
Builder: Topp Constructs Pty Ltd
Structural Engineer: Clive Steele Partners Pty Ltd
Landscape Design: Dan Gayfer Design
Lighting Design: Dan Gayfer Design
Interior Design: Dan Gayfer Design
Cabinetry Installation: Kohde
Photography: Dean Bradley Photography
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