by Jincy IypeAug 13, 2022
A sweet, double-fronted Victorian cottage sits in the midst of converted warehouses, new apartment buildings and car parks on a narrow street in the inner-city suburb of Northcote, Melbourne in Australia. “A bit of a paradox!” exclaims Melbourne-based architect Lisa Breeze who bought the period home in 2019 with her husband. An expert at transforming old structures into beautiful, light-filled homes, her design philosophy with renovations is to honour the site’s heritage and setting. Instead of completely gutting the old to make way for the new, Breeze creates a gentle dialogue between the two. The end result is a home that straddles two eras – rooted in its history yet updated to suit contemporary life.
When she embarked on the project, this time for herself and her family, the home was liveable but unremarkable. Yet Breeze could see the beauty in the rundown house. “It’s always fun designing for yourself. My husband was enthusiastic about the whole project, but impartial to the details, leaving things open for me to test and explore design ideas,” she explains. As someone who thrives on the collaborative aspect of working with clients, she continues, “The downside to this was that there was no real feedback, the upside is that the process could unfold quite a bit faster than usual.”
The original cottage is built along the site’s borders, leaving no room for expansion on either side, only at the back of the home. The architect retained and neatened up the period façade and original rooms at the front of the home, but renovated the existing extension at the back into a more contemporary design with light-filled space housing the kitchen, dining, and living areas with high, sloped ceilings and an opening out onto the newly-created back garden. “To maintain the integrity of the old cottage all of the areas under the old roof remain. The front two rooms were updated and kept as bedrooms – one functioning as the Lisa Breeze Architect studio,” she explains.
“The next space was previously one open area for meals and living, which was dark and felt like a cave without a strong connection to the outside. This area was divided up as part of the renovation,” she continues. Breeze turned the old dining area into a third bedroom and the original living space into a bathroom, powder room, and laundry area while an extension to the original hallway was reinstated. “I sought to reference the charming heritage details in the front of the house. The extension is unabashedly contemporary in form and layout and has references to the old home and surrounding areas with the use of brick, weatherboard and stainless steel. Some of the internal finishes are used in both the old and new area, such as the terrazzo tiles and calm blue grey tones throughout,” she tells us.
The airy and soothing interior design, sees terrazzo, stainless steel, and natural wood expertly paired with soft blue-grey and creamy white. The furniture, lighting, artwork, and decorative elements have been pared back to complement the interiors. “The furniture and artwork consist of some pieces we had already and some that we bought to suit the spaces. All of our homes have been small (by Australian standards), this being no exception. That requires smart use of furniture to balance needs and the limitations on the size of the space,” Breeze explains.
With this muted palette chosen for the rest of the home, the master bedroom seems like a slight departure. “That’s true, it's blue but it is also different to the rest of the home,” she exclaims, “This room was a bit of an experiment. It has a small window and sits in the southwest corner of the house, so it was never going to be a bright space. I thought it might be interesting to go with the dark natural tones of the room and use dark paint for the walls and cabinetry, which makes a wonderful room at night – it’s very easy to sleep in a dark blue room!”
The renovation sought to update the cottage to make it comfortable for a post-pandemic family lifestyle. While the extra bedroom and open-plan extension work well to suit the needs of the human residents, her family also includes four-legged members. Breeze factored in a few elements into the design to make her pets comfortable as well. “Our dog will fit in anywhere so he can make himself a home anywhere. Our cat is the same to a degree, but we made him a cat ensuite to hide his litter tray. It has been a huge success; he enjoys the privacy and I enjoy not having to see it. They both also love sunbaking and fossicking around in the backyard,” she says.
The design of the new backyard was conceived by landscape design and garden making company Amanda Oliver Gardens. They gave the small shambolic outdoor space an overhaul with informal paving and fresh landscaping, with all of the services tucked out of sight. “I love the way Amanda pairs interesting plant combinations, so our brief to her was to design a lush and leafy, creative and colourful garden. But it’s a small space and we had to also work around room for the car, entertaining and barbequing, plus practical elements such as bin storage and a clothes-drying area. It’s currently experiencing its second spring and the plants are now well established and really taking off. It’s looking beautiful,” Breeze concludes.
Name: Northcote House
Location: Northcote, Melbourne, Australia
Architecture and interior design: Lisa Breeze Architect
Builders: Never Stop Group
Landscape design: Amanda Oliver Gardens
Styling: Natalie James