When clients in possession of a 1930s, 1,291-square-foot bungalow on a small city lot in Melbourne approached Steffen Welsch Architects, their primary need was to create enough space for their growing family. They also wanted to be able to host guests and family for extended visits. "We added low-cost operation, current and future functionality, evolving privacy needs, and future accessibility to the brief," said Welsch.
The design plan prioritizes sustainability and flexible interior spaces via the addition of a rammed earth wing that sweeps off the back of the house and curves along the edge of the lot.
"The original Californian bungalow was advertised as ‘quiet at the end of a cul-de-sac.’ We wanted to change that," said Welsch. The new home is divided into four zones, with the existing bungalow now dedicated to children and guests with two bedrooms, a playroom, and bathrooms. "Every zone has its own outdoor space," said Welsch; the front room opens onto the front yard.
A 1,259-square-foot rammed earth addition now arcs off the back of the original house. A transitional corridor connects the bedrooms, including the parents’ new master suite, with the shared living areas. A plethora of glass doors overlook the communal courtyard created by the unique shape of the addition.
"A well-performing house extension facing south on a small inner-city block built in rammed earth is not easy to achieve," said Welsch. "However, in this challenge was our opportunity: We decided that our extension will curl around to capture the sun, creating a communal courtyard and allowing the occupants to look at their own house rather than a paling fence."
"To be sustainable, a building needs to minimize embodied and operational energy over its lifetime," said Welsch. To that end, the design prioritized passive solar principles through the orientation of the building, the installation of high-performance windows and doors, and the use of rammed earth, which has a low embodied energy, said Welsch.
The firm placed an entry hall at the nexus where the addition meets the original house, with the door to the master suite on the left. Built-in storage, here clad in charred wood, is designed for flexibility of use and accessibility to children and adults alike.
A view down the connecting corridor of the addition, with the shared living spaces at the end. The floors throughout are polished concrete screed with standard mix and sealed with a water-based polyurethane. The high clerestory windows atop the rammed earth walls bring in plenty of light.
The firm nestled a study into the corridor with a door to the exterior.
An interior window allows occupants in the kitchen to see into the study and down the hall.
"Our project reflects my idea of a home: Spaces as a background driver for family activities—functional, interconnected, and well-proportioned," said Welsch.
A curved wall of glass opens the shared living spaces to the communal courtyard.
In the kitchen, flat-front cabinetry from MTR joins Inax' round Pom Ponette backsplash tile with a slightly transparent pastel glaze.
"Materials and details were chosen and developed for what they can offer: solar heat radiating from walls, natural ventilation to feel the breeze, timber posts you can lean against, and benches you can jump on," said Welsch.
In the bathroom, wood-paneled walls mimic the striations in the rammed earth walls. The wood is wormy chestnut from Urban Salvage in Melbourne, and the counter is recycled blackbutt.
Signorino wall tiles in opal white meet Lapege’s Colombino RB36 porcelain floor tiles.
The playroom, located in the original house, looks into the courtyard.
"The addition is oriented towards the sun and faces the original Californian bungalow, allowing you to look at the heritage house from the new part and vice versa," said Welsch. "It combines two unlikely architectural expressions—the casualness and generosity of a lightweight timber-clad building with the heaviness of earth construction."
A diagram of the Down to Earth House's passive solar principles.
Down to Earth House floor plan