A Central Courtyard Fills an Australian Home With Light and Lush Greenery

The renovated family home in Queensland has a modest footprint—both in its physical build and its approach to sustainability.

For an Australian couple, the search for a new home led them right back to where they started—their modest Queenslander home in the quiet Brisbane suburb of Paddington. "The clients loved their location, and had been looking for another house in the area that could grow with them as their children started high school," says Matt Kennedy, architect and founder of local practice Arcke. "Underwhelmed with their options, but happy with the size of their house, they felt they should re-renovate."

"Our overarching brief to Arcke was to have a family house that would suit our needs for the next stage in our lives," say the clients. "We were happy with the overall size of the house, and we were looking for improvements to its layout and functionality, rather than an extension."

The home sits on a long, narrow site in Paddington, a city-fringe suburb characterized by a consistent streetscape of Queenslander-style houses built between 1900 and 1940. These timber-framed constructions with timber cladding, open verandas, and steep-pitched metal sheet roofs were a response to the area’s subtropical climate.

"Our practice seeks to derive a rich and detailed understanding of the original dwellings, through research and analysis," says Kennedy. "Preserving the character of the original building, whilst respectfully reinterpreting contemporary interventions is a delicate balance."

The clients were keen to maintain the home’s small footprint, but wanted to introduce more light, ventilation, and visual intrigue. The solution was to create a lush, green central courtyard. The idea of "small footprint living" also applies to the sustainable ethos of the home. "By building less but better and reinterpreting the existing condition, we were able to significantly reduce waste and maximize the available yard space," says Kennedy. "We reused significant components of the original structure, including reinterpreted retaining walls for the courtyard."

The renovated home has a new "procession of entry" from the street: The front stairs lead to the open veranda and front door on the upper level of the home. The existing roof form and raked veranda profile define a new circulation route that wraps playfully around the eastern perimeter of the home and the central courtyard, respecting the integrity of the original Queenslander.

The entry route circumvents the living room, following the path of the old veranda and passing a study nook before arriving at the kitchen and dining area, which opens to a brick deck in the rear garden.

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The master suite is tucked away behind the living room, and the lower level features the two children’s bedrooms, a white-tiled bathroom, a utility room and a large "courtyard room" with a built-in desk. Here, an angular concrete window seat extends from the built-in cabinetry and opens out to the courtyard via a large, timber-framed sliding window.

"The addition of an internal courtyard assisted in taking advantage of natural breezes to cool the house in summer, and encouraging more natural light into the back part of the house, whilst still sheltering it from the western sun," say the clients. "The layout, functionality, and storage of the house are all greatly improved, with the added bonus of a green aspect from nearly every corner of the house—which is not what you would expect living this close to the city!"

Throughout, the material palette takes inspiration from the traditional Queensland "timber and tin" tradition. "Materials were chosen for their tactile and sensual qualities, as well as their appropriateness for the climate," says Kennedy. Blackbutt timber is featured as flooring, decking, and shiplap cladding, and is also used for key built-in cabinetry to complement more cost-effective plywood.

Arcke also worked closely with landscape architect Dan Young to blur the distinction between interior and exterior. "This was an important consideration, given how the courtyard is seen from both levels," says Kennedy.

"Creating open, transparent spaces in a relatively compact footprint challenges a collective expectation that increasing floor area solves inherent design problems," says Kennedy. "The modest footprint and budget belies the significantly improved livability for the client. It could also be described as quality of space, rather than quantity of space." 

Lower level floor plan of Paddington Courtyard House by Arcke

Upper level floor plan of Paddington Courtyard House by Arcke

Section of Paddington Courtyard House by Arcke

South elevation of Paddington Courtyard House by Arcke

Related Reading:

A Sydney Architect Deftly Revamps a 1920s Cottage to Embrace the Garden

A Grand Victorian Glows Like a Lantern After a Luminous Retrofit

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Arcke / @matt_arcke

Builder: Corbin Constructions

Structural Engineer: AD.STRUCTURE

Landscape Designer: Dan Young Landscape Architect / @danyoungla

Cabinetry Design: Juro Design

Photography: Andy Macpherson / @andymacpherson.studio

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