A Melbourne Victorian Is Lovingly Renovated to Extend its Life Story
It's not always obvious to think of a home as having a story of its own. It's often considered as the setting of our experiences, an inanimate backdrop that surrounds the details of our lives. But the owners of a historic Victorian in the northern suburbs of Melbourne didn't see it this way. To them, the property had a distinct past and probable future—their present occupancy with a teenage son would simply be the chapter they'd remember.
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So they referred to the house as the "Old Lady," and called themselves its caretakers. And when they contacted Fiona Dunin, the director of FMD Architects, to do some renovations on the Old Lady, it was important to them that any changes would be in her best interest.
"The original kitchen was on the north side of the house, blocking any north light to the living spaces," she said. "This also meant that the garden had no connection to the living spaces. The original terrace house, however, was aging beautifully, and we wanted to maintain its texture."
Fiona and the owners decided to build a back addition that contained a new kitchen and living space. These rooms would be connected to a freshly landscaped garden, and would transition seamlessly into the traditional layout. In other words, the renovation wouldn't be a complete rewrite, but a modern change to the Old Lady that even comes with a clever name.
"The house is called the Bustle House, with our new extension being the 'bustle' to the existing Victorian," Fiona says. "The curves represent the curves in fabric bustles, like a ruffle. The timber is our representation of fabric, the wrought iron is the lacework, and the planting between the ruffled fence is our embroidery."
Parallels aside, Fiona worked to form a distinction between the old and new structures without creating a stark contrast. She accomplished this with a "subtle layering of elements," she notes, which include concrete, timber, terracotta, and bronze. All are classic materials, but they can be made to look trendy, too. And, Fiona notes, "they can age over time."
The patina will come eventually, of course, as the family continues to make the place their own. Fiona installed their everyday appliances, like a coffee machine and toaster, behind a concealing cupboard—a detail she says makes it "a very hardworking kitchen that's just presented in a very sculptural manner"—and incorporated pencil pines and olive trees into the garden as a reference to the owners' Greek heritage.
The family is still the Old Lady's caretakers, but their contribution to her story will still be from their perspective.
"Don't be afraid to be yourself in your house," Fiona says.