This Melbourne Family Home Wraps Around a 125-Year-Old Dairy

This Melbourne Family Home Wraps Around a 125-Year-Old Dairy

By Mandi Keighran
White tile, concrete, and steel accents connect a contemporary home with the industrial heritage of its site.

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.’"

The dairy is juxtaposed against the "modern industrial" extension, which is clad in Cemintel Barestone panels. The original facade and windows of the dairy bring a unique character to the project.  

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."

Determining the structural integrity of the original brick dairy was paramount to the design of the new addition perched above. The existing brick walls, footings, and roof structure were all assessed, and steel features prominently in the extension to ensure stability.

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.

Custom steel shelving suspended above the kitchen island brings an industrial aesthetic to the interior that compliments the facade of the dairy, which is symbolic of an industrious era. 

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 dairy’s northern facade sits toward the rear the residence, where the dining room, kitchen, and casual meals area are located. An original window, now with acoustic glazing, connects the music studio located within the dairy with the casual meals area.

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.

A strategically placed skylight brings natural light into the dining booth, which adjoins the kitchen and the outdoor terrace.

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."

The kitchen cabinets are partly finished in Formica laminate in a royal dark blue color that contrasts with the white ceramic backsplash tiles, the oak laminate cabinets, and the Victorian ash timber floor. The countertop is crafted from Stone Ambassador Beton engineered stone, which echoes the burnished concrete floor in the meals alcove.

The richly textured facade of the dairy is juxtaposed against a carefully crafted contemporary material palette, which includes burnished concrete and ceramic tiles.

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."

The study nook is tucked away beneath the stair, making clever use of otherwise dead space. The glass No.10 pendant lights are by local lighting brand Lumil in a custom purple color that echoes the purple upholstery in the retreat.

The study nook features a long desk that provides access to the home’s side entrance when partially folded up.

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 is open to the stair void, giving it a mezzanine-like quality. "In terms of spatial layout, the sequencing was really important, because it allows for easy movement between the rooms, which are all somehow connected yet still quite self-contained," says architect Dan Gayfer.

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 bespoke sofa in the retreat features rich purple upholstery that contrasts with the more neutral white and timber finishes, creating an element of sophisticated drama.

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.

The custom steel mesh balustrade extends beyond the stair to form a climbing frame for the planter in the retreat.

The bathrooms feature a clean, minimal blue-and-white palette, with a focus on durable, functional materials.

"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."

A sequence of steel beams and columns supporting the first-floor addition extend 1.5 meters from the home, creating an outdoor terrace beneath. Clear polycarbonate sheeting is installed between two of the beams, protecting the terrace from rain and sun.

Elevations of Dairy House by Dan Gayfer Design showing how the extension wraps around the original building.

Ground-floor and first-floor plans of the Dairy House by Dan Gayfer Design.

More from Dan Gayfer Design:

Skype Lets a Family Renovate Their Kitchen 3,700 Miles Away

It Looks Like a Playland, but This Home Works Hard

Project Credits:

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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