In December 2009 we moved into No. 18 Little Howard St. We bought the house with the intention to rebuild and the bones of the old house were old, tired and falling apart. It had plenty of character though having started life as the stable cottage for the bakery across the street. The old house was added onto in an ad hoc way every couple of decades and nothing was level or at a right angle. We spent two years working with Mike Richardson, our architect, to design our new home.
The design process started with Mike asking us what our ‘problems’ were – the idea being that rather than coming to him with forgone ‘solutions’ about what the design should look like, we should present him with a design brief that contained some dot points. Our main aim was to compliment the history of the street, not fight against it, by building something that took its inspiration from the stables and warehouses that Freo is famous for.
A simple aim perhaps but we had already put a lot of thought into this and ended up presenting Mike with a 56 point design brief. I won’t put it all in here but some of the key points included:
- The space inside the building must give a feeling of openness but also have the feel of being in a 1900’s warehouse, wool shed or large horse stable.
- Open plan. A feeling of outdoor living when inside the house. Seamless transition between indoor and outdoor areas.
- A well defined separation between communal/entertaining areas and private/ quiet areas.
- Reduce the apparent height of neighbouring building located to the north.
- North “open” end with maximum glass to catch winter sun. Maximum winter sun to flow onto thermal masses and naturally light living/working areas. Give a sense of space.
- Main area floor. Adequate thermal mass for winter warming plus a floor that is a feature in itself/with features e.g., polished concrete, possibly with red brick rubble and/or feature timber.
- Shell design with the ability to add and remove partitions to form rooms.
- To create a welcoming entrance that is space efficient.
- Area at the front of the house to accommodate a small area for “street socialising”.
- Would prefer to house car in a garage, set back from street in order to keep garage as inconspicuous from the street as possible and provide a second parking space in driveway. Had imagined garage at front on the east side of block with quoined brickwork (similar to bakehouse).
- Minimise number of lost car bays on street.
- Bedrooms filled with natural light.
- Master bedroom to have access to small balcony (e.g., small balcony (stone) at front (behind parapet wall). Able to have small garden, private table and chairs (parent’s retreat), able to look over street and check direction of breeze, provide possible solution for setting back second storey roof line)
- Option to hook up for grey water recycling in the future
- Don’t want to do the dishes facing a wall.
- Pantry; a large walk in space (or similar) to store all the kitchen needs.
- Cellar beneath kitchen. Storage for preserves, large pots and wine with a maintained cool climate. OR In close proximity to kitchen.
You get the idea. Mike said that our brief was ‘uncommonly well resolved’.
The first iteration of the design, when it came back, looked nothing like the sketches that we had done ourselves. We both looked at it and said ‘no, that’s not what we want’ but it actually took a few days and a fair bit of effort to pick out exactly what we didn’t like with the first design and why.
One of the main things for us was to keep the outback brick dunny and to incorporate it in a bathroom, keeping it in use as a toilet (as it had been, non-stop for the previous eighty to one hundred odd years). The image below is iteration number 4 – getting there but still not quite.
It took eight different iterations of the design in the end until we were happy with every detail. The main structure was in place by iteration 2 but apparently there’s a lot to think about when you’re designing a house! I’m not sure if eight iterations is a few, average or a lot compared with a ‘normal’ design process but credit goes to Mike for letting us put all of our ideas on the table and either incorporating them or having a good reason why it wouldn’t work or what else it would affect.
All in all we are really pleased with the design we ended up with and we think it will be a house that we can happily live in for the next fifty years. There is flexibility in the spaces proposed and the ability to change rooms within the shell. But above all we hope that this design will enhance the street and continue the welcoming nature that Little Howard St is so famous for.