Celebrated for their clever and playful subversion of norms, Austin Maynard Architects has once again raised the bar for bold design with the Union House: a multifunctional home that reflects the dynamic personalities of owners Heidi and Craig, and their three energetic teenage boys.
Heidi and Craig approached the Melbourne-based firm after realizing that their beloved but very narrow Brunswick home was becoming impractical for their growing family. "Rather than sell up and move elsewhere, we decided to engage the services of an architect who understood the challenges of building in the inner city, with limited space, restricted access, and proximity of neighboring residences," explain the couple, who sought a renovation and expansion that would provide a robust forever home for their family.
To make the most of the small 18-foot-wide plot, the architects created a fluid and flexible design across four floors that include the basement and the roof terrace. While the interior of the four-bedroom, three-bath home is entirely new, the existing street-facing Dutch gable was preserved in remembrance of the home’s former life—even though there were no heritage overlays or council requirements to keep the facade intact.
Despite preserving the cottage’s quaint facade, the architects didn’t hesitate to make a bold statement with the addition of a new cross-laminated timber box that adds a third level to the home. In addition to using cross-laminated timber as framing, the architects chose to keep the high-performance material exposed throughout the interior for a cohesive look.
Inside, Union House eschews traditional hallways and room layouts, instead embracing fluid and multifunctional spaces. Elements like split levels and hidden steps are meticulously planned to maximize efficiency; the arrangement of gathering spaces, study areas, and retreats are a response to the family’s needs. "Despite being narrow and stacked, the home never feels cramped as spaces are designed to merge in various and sometimes surprising configurations," say the architects. "It’s an example of people literally living on top of each other and making that part of the joy of the house."
While the heart of the home is centered around a black steel staircase that connects all four floors, the family also wanted a fun "backup plan" to transition from the basement to the roof. The answer came in the form of a kind of escape route: It begins in the basement with a scramble up a wooden ramp through a glazed trapdoor, and ends with a clamber up a series of climbing wall holds and nets to access the roof deck above—all without interacting with a single stair. "It’s a thoroughly unconventional way to move through the home, and a wonderful way to distract active boys," note the architects.
For Heidi and Craig, Union House is functional, harmonious, and engaging. "It continues to delight our family and friends, almost as though it has its own sense of humor—it is beautiful without taking itself too seriously," say the couple. Between work, study, and leisure activities, its cross functionality continues to amaze them. Even with radical changes both aesthetic and structural, the home’s essence remains in tact. "As many have pointed out to us," they say, "this is a house that still possesses the essential character of our first Melbourne home."
More from Austin Maynard Architects:
Builder/ General Contractor: CBD Contracting
Structural Engineer/Civil Engineer: Vistek
Landscape Design Company: Bush Projects
Cabinetry Installation: Grange Joinery
Net Engineers: Tensys
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