Extending An Alleyway House To Its Limit

A Victorian house with little room to move in Melbourne gets extended to its limits in this adventurous renovation. Take a look at the inspiring result.

ARTICLE Sharon Stephenson IMAGES Fraser Marsden

How do you drag an 1860s two-storey Victorian terraced house with no connection to its outdoor environment into the 21st century? You not only graft a sleek new extension onto the 5.5m block, you also take the audacious step of building right to the edge of the laneway at the rear of the property, thereby maximising space.
Co-director Mark Austin, says the client at this Fitzroy North property, one of a cluster of suburbs in Melbourne’s inner city, had admired a previous renovation project of their company. “They liked the fact that we’d incorporated a central courtyard and created a separation between the old and the new in that project,” says Mark.
This time around, though, the budget was less than half that of the previous project. Which meant getting creative with materials such as wood and aluminium instead of steel and opting for a more cost effective cladding solution.
The facade of the existing terraced house, which faces a park, was kept much the same, as was the front third of the house which contains two bedrooms, a study and a bathroom (although this space was slightly reconfigured to open it up). Rather, the focus was on demolishing a series of shoddy lean-tos and replacing them with the 57sqm addition which now houses an internal garden, a kitchen, laundry, living/dining room, bathroom, mezzanine office and compact garage.
With so many additions, the old is merely stuck onto the new, a concept Mark wasn’t interested in replicating. Instead, a thin vestibule connects the old and new, the more public and private spaces. This sun-splashed area contains a laundry and seven metres of glass sliding doors that open to the courtyard. On the other side, a gallery kitchen hugs the wall, which then expands out to incorporate a dining space, a bright yellow bathroom and a small sitting area which opens straight out onto the laneway.
Which is where the fun started, says Mark. “We were able to push this design concept further because of the house’s relationship to the laneway. So many people hide from these communal spaces but our approach was to embrace them as cool, fun spaces to be played with and used. By building to the boundary and internalising the rear garden, the clients have utilised an area which was previously unused.”
In order to adhere to local height regulations, and so as not to overshadow or overlook the neighbouring properties, the floor level of the rear addition is sunk to a depth of 600mm from the height of the laneway. This ensures a generous internal height and uncompromising internal volume, while reducing the height of the building externally. Glass panels slide directly onto the laneway, adjacent to what Mark calls the world’s tiniest garage, with just enough space for the owner’s beloved motorbike.
Internally, this house is a treasure-trove of discoveries, from the small bathroom sitting just prior to the laneway which bedazzles with its canary yellow tiling and paint, to the uninterrupted view from the front of the house all the way through to the laneway opening.
Go up the open tread white stair, which is more like a ladder, and the mezzanine reveals itself as another unexpected surprise. Here the room rises to a narrow gantry with just enough room for two people to work under the slanted roof, while the perforated steel floor lets in light, along with the long boxed window. In fact, Mark says the entire build, from the shape of the building to the white-washed space is about light gain. “We needed to bounce light around as much as possible.”
Externally, the surprises continue with the street art which adorns the rear brick wall of the old terraced house. Keen to beautify a brick wall scarred by the demolition of the former lean-tos, the owners commissioned muralist Seb Humphreys to paint the double-height mural which appears as though it’s ‘exploding’ from the wall.
Sustainability was key in this build, from the north-facing glass and perforated metal awning which enable passive solar gain, to the double-glazed windows with thermal separated frames, buried water tank and hydronic heated concrete slab which provides a large area of thermal mass. “We’ve also used high performance insulation and active management of shade, along with passive ventilation, which reduces the demands on mechanical cooling.”
It’s probably no surprise that the owners enjoy living in their reconfigured/extended Victorian terraced house, says Mark. “This building was a real exercise in fine-tuning, from the budget to every detail. But it has been a pleasure to see it come together, particularly in the way it has utilised the communal zone of the laneway."

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