A Melbourne Home Decreases in Size to Amp Up Its Outdoor Connection

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By Michele Koh Morollo
By reducing the overall floor area, local architects transform the space into a lighter, brighter, more functional modern home.

After a young family of four purchased a historic brick bungalow in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn East, they suddenly noticed one drawback: the rear extension. 

While the existing home was in great condition, the extension, which was added to the property in the 1970s, had an awkward layout and poor connection to the garden. So, they tapped MODO Architecture (Michael Ong Design Office) for help.

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The owners wanted to improve the connection between the interiors and the outdoor garden.

The owners wanted to improve the connection between the interiors and the outdoor garden.

"Once in the garden, the constraint of the site geometry became apparent. The triangular block compressed toward the back formed a rather narrow garden, which was made tighter with a large stand-alone shed," says architect Michael Ong, the founder of the firm.

To make the home look and feel larger, the MODO team ironically made the new house smaller in size.

To make the home look and feel larger, the MODO team ironically made the new house smaller in size.

The team demolished the old extension and transformed the property into a bright and open 2,690-square-foot residence. 

"We immediately knew the best method to bring value through design would be to remove the lean-to," says Ong. His solution was to pull open the rear façade and alter the relationship between the existing spaces with the garden outdoors. 

"We immediately knew the best method to bring value through design would be to remove the lean-to," says Ong. His solution was to pull open the rear façade and alter the relationship between the existing spaces with the garden outdoors. 

"A common misconception in real estate is ‘bigger is better.’ Here, we challenge this notion by designing a house that’s smaller than the original dwelling, but that provides more function and vitality," notes Ong.

"Through a thoughtful and analytical design process, we were able to make every space work efficiently and effectively, while maintaining flexibility for the growing needs of a young family of four." 

The original extension blocked airflow and sunlight into the house, which resulted in dark, cramped living spaces. By adding three massive sliding doors to open up the garden-facing wall of the house, Ong has made the interiors look and feel brighter and more spacious. 

The original extension blocked airflow and sunlight into the house, which resulted in dark, cramped living spaces. By adding three massive sliding doors to open up the garden-facing wall of the house, Ong has made the interiors look and feel brighter and more spacious. 

Ong and his team pared back the building form and materials so the proportions of the house became more distinct. 

Ong and his team pared back the building form and materials so the proportions of the house became more distinct. 

After removing the extension and opening up the northern facade, the architects have been able to flood the existing interior spaces with much more air and natural light, making the living areas feel more expansive and functional. They also focused on the finer details, such as material selection, construction method, integrated joinery, and lighting.

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The expansive sliding glass doors in the main living area frame panoramic garden views. The deep timber extensions around the windows can now be used as bench-style seating to bring the family out into the garden, while the top eaves serve as shades to reduce heat from the strong sun exposure.

The expansive sliding glass doors in the main living area frame panoramic garden views. The deep timber extensions around the windows can now be used as bench-style seating to bring the family out into the garden, while the top eaves serve as shades to reduce heat from the strong sun exposure.

"Rather then simply adding more to the original house, we looked at what we could do within the original and asked ourselves, ‘how much space is actually needed to fulfill the functions of the brief?’ Ultimately we were able to reduce the overall floor area of the house, while adding in more light, air, function and live-ability," says Ong. 

"This long rectangular view was carefully detailed to widen the perspective of the garden, creating an optical illusion of making the garden itself feel wider then it actually is," says Ong.  

"This long rectangular view was carefully detailed to widen the perspective of the garden, creating an optical illusion of making the garden itself feel wider then it actually is," says Ong.  

Project Credits: 

Architecture: MODO Architecture 

Builder: Seventy7 Projects 

Structural engineer: Structural Bureau 

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