Breezy Courtyards Brighten Up a Dated Tasmanian Home

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By Michele Koh Morollo
A new, checkerboard plan brings the garden into this revamped residence in Tasmania, ushering in light and air for passive heating and cooling.

The owners of Willisdene House in West Hobart, Tasmania, are a young couple who were looking to renovate and extend their existing house, which was over 100 years old. They felt that the outdoor spaces of the house lacked privacy, and that the living areas were too cold and dark. The husband is a enthusiastic cyclist, so they also needed to find a way to incorporate a bike workshop to the redesign. 

Ten years ago, while sitting in the backyard of their old house, they discussed the possibility of a remodel with the directors of Melbourne– and Hobart–based studio Archier (who hadn’t yet established their practice, and were still students at the time). Since then, their brief has evolved to accommodate their young son and a pet Labrador. 

Archier maintained the old brick from the existing part of the house to clearly illustrate the relationship of old with new.   

Archier maintained the old brick from the existing part of the house to clearly illustrate the relationship of old with new.   

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The extension sits on a burnished concrete slab with exposed concrete bricks along the main wall. 

The extension sits on a burnished concrete slab with exposed concrete bricks along the main wall. 

The new design places the backyard at the heart of the project and reframes the relationship between the house and garden, embedding the landscape into the rituals of everyday family life. 

The kitchen island is topped with solid, 5 mm stainless steel. 

The kitchen island is topped with solid, 5 mm stainless steel. 

One challenge was connecting the heart of the building to the backyard on the steep slope, but avoiding making the home feel like two distinct parts.

One challenge was connecting the heart of the building to the backyard on the steep slope, but avoiding making the home feel like two distinct parts.

The layout for the house is a continuation of Archier’s checkerboard plan that they developed for their earlier project Five Yards House, where the program alternates between built form and courtyards as the user moves through the spine of the building. The new courtyards flood the interiors with sunlight, frame views of the sky and Mount Wellington, and provide solar access for heating and crossflow ventilation for cooling. 

Open stair treads keep the interior feeling light. A print of "Lady From The Orient" by Vladimir Tretchikoff catches the eye.

Open stair treads keep the interior feeling light. A print of "Lady From The Orient" by Vladimir Tretchikoff catches the eye.

Victorian ash clads the lounge room walls. Painted OSB was used for the kitchen joinery and ceiling throughout. 

Victorian ash clads the lounge room walls. Painted OSB was used for the kitchen joinery and ceiling throughout. 

"This dissolves the mass into the landscapes, while dividing functions," says Chris Haddad, product manager at Archier. "The interiors palette was largely client-driven, using robust and raw materials. The dark palette of the addition to the Willisdene house highlights the textures from the existing dwelling and focuses the eye outward towards the garden and view." 

A painting by artist Peter Stephenson hangs in the lounge room, the colors offset by the varying hues of ash wood.

A painting by artist Peter Stephenson hangs in the lounge room, the colors offset by the varying hues of ash wood.

A Les Blakebrough ceramic urn punctuates the concrete fireplace.

A Les Blakebrough ceramic urn punctuates the concrete fireplace.

An elongated, north-facing pavilion extends to the west to bring daylight into the kitchen, dining, and sitting area. At the lounge, large picture windows present views of the central courtyard on one side, and a gum tree on the other.

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Fisher & Paykel appliances outfit the kitchen, where stainless steel countertops provide a sleek counterpoint to concrete bricks and flooring. 

Fisher & Paykel appliances outfit the kitchen, where stainless steel countertops provide a sleek counterpoint to concrete bricks and flooring. 

Efficiency was optimized through basic passive principles and careful material choices. Large, north-facing windows draw in the heat of the sun in winter, while the eaves protect against excessive heat in summer.

A Nathan Grey painting carries the dark motif of the kitchen into the dining space.

A Nathan Grey painting carries the dark motif of the kitchen into the dining space.

Operable windows encourage crossflow ventilation, and additional insulation was added throughout the original dwelling to increase its performance. 

Potted plants add a sense of calm to the minimalist bathroom.

Potted plants add a sense of calm to the minimalist bathroom.

Archier chose simple and durable materials, and kept the robust and natural finishes to a minimum. A neutral color scheme provides a unique setting for the owners’ art and objects, and vintage and classical furniture. 

Hobart-based ceramic artist Lindsey Wherrett and Archier collabrated to create the round bathroom sink, whose tones take inspiration from the Mount Wellington undergrowth. 

Hobart-based ceramic artist Lindsey Wherrett and Archier collabrated to create the round bathroom sink, whose tones take inspiration from the Mount Wellington undergrowth. 

"Throughout the space we have leveraged our experience of prototyping and producing products," says Haddad. "From our locally made Ashfield towel rails to the handmade ceramic basin collaboratively created with Lindsey Wherrett—here, the products are designed for the space, not the space for the products. The tones in the custom ceramic basin were selected from the undergrowth of Mount Wellington, adding a layered response to site and context."

The checkerboard floor plan was critical to the success of this house, drawing the backyard into the everyday rituals of the dwelling. 

The checkerboard floor plan was critical to the success of this house, drawing the backyard into the everyday rituals of the dwelling. 

Willisdene House sectional drawing

Willisdene House sectional drawing

Willisdene House floor plan

Willisdene House floor plan

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Chris Haddad, Archier / @archier_

Builders: Jak Allie Constructions Pty Ltd. 

Structural engineering: Aldanmark 

Project architect: Josh FitzGerald, Archier 

Lighting design: Archier