This “Upside-Down” House in Melbourne Shifts Shape to Accommodate a Family of Seven

On a narrow lot in suburban Australia, Cloud Architecture designs a family home with built-in flexibility.

When a couple with five sons between 13 and 20 approached Cloud Architecture to build a new home on a narrow site in Melbourne’s Inner North, flexibility was at the heart of the brief. "With so many growing boys at home at the time of building, the client wanted a property that would meet immediate needs, whilst offering flexibility to provide a feeling of intimacy for the couple in years to come," says Brendan Jones, the firm’s director.

In creating a home that by most standards would be considered small for seven residents, balancing public spaces with more secluded ones was also a concern. "We needed a house that could provide our sons—and us—with much needed privacy, without breaking the bank," recalls the client. "We also wanted a home which maximized the wonderful sighting adjacent to the local footy oval."

Cloud’s response echoes the Victorian terrace vernacular, but utilizes an ‘updside-down’ model—an approach that inverts the conventional arrangement of public and private spaces. The kitchen, living, and dining areas are located on the upper floor to take advantage of the views over the local football ground and neighboring rooftops, while the bedrooms are on the cooler ground level to allow for quieter and more private comings and goings. "This has worked perfectly for us as the spaces are light, bright, beautiful, and fun," says the client.

The unique arrangement also allows the primary bedroom—which features a glass-enclosed shower and a lush internal courtyard—to open directly out to the backyard through a fully glazed wall with sliding glass doors. Behind the shower, the en suite bathroom looks onto a narrow side courtyard through frosted glass louvres.

Although the relatively compact home is less than 2,000 square feet, there are "up to five bedrooms," says Jones, including a privately contained studio apartment with a kitchenette on the upper floor. The secondary ground-floor bedrooms are designed to be flexible; they can be transformed into new, usable living spaces—such as a home office—as the couple’s children move out of the home.

Fleming Park House is stretched along a narrow urban lot overlooking a football ground and dog park. Its simple box form includes extruded elements and screens that create what Jones refers to as "architectural intensity." A home should be inventive in its practicality, he argues, and even "ergonomic" amid a dense suburban setting. "The front pergola is literally pulled out from the southern facade like a drawer from a chest," says Jones.

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Inside the home, the volume of the box is broken down through the use of voids, steps, and courtyards. "A series of descending gestures create a relationship between the floors, and lead people through the house by tempting them with glimpses of what lies beyond," says Jones. The home is further connected to the outside world through the use of windows, skylights, and moving awnings that allow for a play of light across the living spaces, and views out to the ever-changing sky.

For the home to withstand the constant ware brought on by busy family life, an "off-the-shelf," affordable material palette of timber, steel sheet, concrete blocks, and plywood was used. The pastel color palette and bold patterns—such as the tiles in the bathroom—give the interiors a playful twist that suits the pace of its lively residents.

And, the resulting home fits the brief perfectly. With flexible spaces that can easily adapt to life’s paces, the residence for the family of seven can easily become a haven for an empty-nester couple. "We have multiple rooms to play with," says the client. "I’m dreaming of eventually transforming a hectic house into a peaceful home for two when the kids finally move out!"

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