I look out for interesting and quality craftsmanship when re-using old materials. And I incorporate new, quality craftsmanship detailing, I love showing off the character and materiality of a product.
New post-modern housing is often too dry, without enough symbol or colour or flourish for my taste. I like to add a bit of quirk.
An old 8m long fascia board with shamrock cutouts came off the side of an old house when the roof was being replaced with new zincalume. The board was so long and so quirky with the cutouts that I wondered out loud where to put it. Moss and Louis humoured me and had a think about it. It was perfect for the old street front gable end as a new barge board.
I love honest materiality and use recycled materials in a very clean way, often set against new pieces.
Vision to Concept Drawings on the spot along with a glass of wine or a coffee.
Hand drawings, sketching, visualising, digital drawings, drafting, documentation, detailing, structural, trades, cabinetry, wet areas, electrical, plumbing setout, dimensioning, tiling, ceilings, roof and floor framing...
Measuring existing buildings for a base to develop architectural drawings for submission to local authorities and then documentation drawings for a building contract and a building permit.
An options report is useful if you are unsure of where to go with your property.
See Design & Drafting Services for an idea of what I can offer.
The character of light from a south-facing window is radiant, even and bright cool white. It never casts a harsh shadow or direct sun. East light is fresh, bright, light white-yellow and makes long patches on the ground in the morning. North light is extremely variable, easy to exploit, can vary from light and moody, to ambient and fresh, to harsh and orange. West light is often bold yellow or orange, makes long and hot patches deep into a room in the afternoon and catches dust mites. Each aspect calls for different treatment, proportion and shading.
An individual and site specific approach to aspect, orientation, sun path and neighbours is important. I love to include more than two directions of light into a room. Windows and light give opportunities to make beautiful compositions.
Recycled windows take a bit of work (salvage yard trawling) and design skill to articulate them into an elevation, but are well worth it.
Otherwise, I love to design new custom windows with some rhythm.
Trees go with buildings. Old suburbs have old trees and old houses. Old houses sit graciously on their land. They need complementary space. There are floor systems that can allow a root system to grow and remain healthy with soil aeration and water infiltration. You would be surprised how willing some builders are to work around trees – don’t accept that you need a blank slate to build. A building can be very close to a tree, workers can respect and understand what it needs for protection during works. Let your garden be an ecosystem rather than an image. This project started out with a large expanse of grass and the design was marked out to allow two very close trees to remain, from the beginning. You see works in progress around the trees. One is a young pomegranate very close to the framing - and you see it again four years later after the extension is well established. The other tree relevant (because it was kept not cut down though right near the site) is a Rottnest Island tea tree near the end wall. They helped shape the design. Designing to suit a site is more akin to custodianship than market-based feasibility. This includes consideration to suit of local indigenous rock, soil, plants, cultural memory and local history. This is what I mean by site sensitivity or site specificity (inspired by George Seddon). It is great to find a building company who has a deep sensibility about this.
When it comes to a larger development at the mercy of the market, I have a tale of despair to tell. Click here to read my essay on a sustainable, passive solar custom development versus a project builder development.
majority of photo credits to bedroom Spencer Parks maekerstudio.com
This small project was a delight. Photos show parts of a cottage which, over a 3 year period we set about remodelling, including dealing with various trades and builders and gaining approvals including a retrospective reinstatement. The remodelling included bedrooms, laundry, new garage, new paint exterior, kitchen, bathroom, new floors, repair to heritage weatherboards, dealing with lath and plaster walls, installing solid timber bookshelves, reinstating a fire place. The old girl got a full new lease of life. I worked from start to finish in a variety of roles, on an ad hoc basis as needed.
The project started out with an urgent need for more bedrooms - so the remodelling of an upstairs zone came first. A 'jewel in the crown' - two delightfully composed and finished kids bedrooms. Essential to creating a treasure in a small space is quality craftsmanship and detailing.
A medium-sized single upstairs open space, with stair void was to be separated into two childrens bedrooms. The clients and I pored over one concept plan after another, and enjoyed the laughs and the process with wine. The rooms were too small no matter which way we looked. The breakthrough came when we looked at the stair void in section and included the volume at a raised height (to allow head clearance to stair below) as a bunk bed. The fitout had to be quirky to follow suit. It had to be custom made, due to the unconventional height and structure. One of my trusty carpenters Louis came and built me some stud walls and a bed frame, put down some bamboo flooring and a handrail to the stair - and lined the soffit to the stairwell in oiled, recycled wandoo (a native Western Australian timber), which the client cleverly offset with a funky dangling oversized globe. We also chose to line the face of the three quarter wall beneath the bunk with oiled, recycled wandoo. In the other bedroom a daybed was built in to the level beneath another more conventional custom made bunk bed to provide both storage and sitting space or extra bed for friends. Again, the client herself cleverly styled the daybed with some custom flat futon cushions. It helps that she is a stylist. The entire project was pushed to a very cool finish with her input and eye.
The reinterpreted-stair-void-cantilevered-bed was crafted to suit the room in ply, three quarters high with a stunning minimalist desk below. This gave more floor space. Spencer Parks from Maeker Studio did a spectacular job with the ply throughout this project which also included in this room a set of classic modern drawers with perfect modernist circular pull holes and a matching tallboy. To the other room, for a girl teen, he built a stylish long desk and shelving combination, and two sweet hanging rails with elegant wall divider to a miniature walk-in-robe.
You must select your craftsman with utter care. Spencer has a capacity to think on the spot, to draw, to communicate, to deliver. To fine-finish well and to know products inside-out, to have a gallery of pictures and physical examples of workmanship. He was able to discuss colour, quality, softness, sheen, edges, joins, cuts, backs, fronts and sides of one piece of material, and to be able to enjoy listening to what I wanted in the space and play with delivering that for the client. He produced a finished product that is practical and exquisite at the same time. The two rooms are a showcase of ply butt joints and mitred joints, faces and cuts, stripy, smooth. A favourite detail in this project is the window surround – a simple fin of ply surrounding the entire rectangle to create a sill and reveal some depth all round – the existing cheap aluminium window had no gravitas - or shading to soften north light. I accentuated modern thinness with a craftsman materiality in timber like a full stop on a sentence. The clients installed white Luxaflex plantation blinds just inside the ply reveal. The contrast between sunny intense white, and stripy ply cut edge is great.
Carpenters listen to AM radio and are gentle, philosophical people with rhythm and time for a chat. Carpenters are a major reason for my infatuation with timber. Good carpenters are good dads and understand children. Good carpenters and trades with an eye for design and a willingness to communicate to resolve junctions on site together are essential when the whole intent is to juxtapose heritage with materiality and light in new spaces. Really they need to have a disposition leaning towards artisan or craftsman. When an enticing composition draws attention, it is essential that the details are clean and well done; that cut edges show the material inside, and that old material surfaces are retained or adapted to suit an overall calm and grounded ambience.
My favourite carpenters work with me. Contact us here.
December 21, 2015
I’m so interested in retaining character, retaining patina, showcasing a site memory or a weathered material. Recently I enjoyed the luxury of designing for my folks. Luxury because it is a real opportunity to experience the role of artist for patron… as opposed to agent for client. Artist to patron as a relationship rarely happens in everyday life except for the cult architect with global fans. Even so, the stereotypical architect is the commissioned artist and so architects are misunderstood and under-utilised.
Being the recipient of outright unabashed nepotism meant I had a chance to really be myself, and discovered just how far into my own theory practice can go. A very positive experience in risk taking.
The little house for my folks is an expose on Residential Adaptive Reuse. The block was spotted by dad and he liked the look of it because the run-down timber cottage on a tiny block very near the beach and cafes in urbane South Fremantle, Western Australia, exemplified worst house on the best street. Read my tips about that by clicking here.
Mum didn’t give it a second glance. Her criteria, far harder to meet, are self-contradictory, unachievable and confusing – like ‘I could live in a dog box’ and ‘I would like a custom splashback made to look like this cut through a Mandurah truffle'.
Her needs, I have found, are best met by ignoring her spoken criteria, and taking the well-educated guesses a daughter can take. All in all, being an enthusiastic, emotional and ebullient sort I worked with her to narrow every key intention down to a word which stood for her needs and would help us stay on target. We decided on VAST.
We talked about how she needed either a vast outlook or a vast amount of space. Having come from living at the vineyard in the Swan Valley for so long, she would feel quite hemmed in if there were no respite from form by way of nature. That narrowed the broadest criteria, being site selection, down to choices of either desert, or farm, or ocean.
She was surprised when I encouraged them to buy the run down cottage, retain the original rambling character, demolish the dilapidated rear half under a slumped skillion roof, and build a fresh new rear part with a lot of recycled materials and memory of what had been before. Confident that I could meet her functional and comfort essentials by way of brief (wish list) and material selection; location close to the beach with vast sky and horizon really became a key motivating aspect of the design process which helped locate windows, orient walls and ceilings and inform planning methodology.
Working for my own folks has shown me the importance of knowing your client deeply.
My favourite aspect of this project is that the new part is textured already, despite being brand new. So much of what is shaped into new forms is informed by the heritage that was there before.
I am fascinated by recordings on the land. The original and only survey available was a hand sketch on linen referencing markers no longer standing, from well over one hundred years ago. Our surveyor enjoyed the task of taking a virgin site and being the man to convert it into digital format. It happened to be the first site on the street to require surveying beyond the original sketch – and yet, with all that extant housing stock, the street is not heritage listed.
The old dunny well and truly crossed a boundary. Literally – it protruded more than two feet into the neighbour’s yard. Quaint and iconic, we took photos. I recorded its location and requested that we keep it on site as a folly. Dad, wanting his money’s worth and pragmatic at the same time, wondered why on earth I wanted to keep it. He could see the romance but not the point of letting romance get in the way of maximising internal space.
We didn’t argue, he is a pacifist even when I am evangelical. We just tossed ideas around for a while. The block is quite small and I conceded the demolition of the dunny in return for a fixed record of its location on site by way of painstakingly cleaning the bricks and reinstating them in the exact same spot. The outside edge of the original south dunny wall is now the outside edge of the new south living room wall. The wall is reverse brick veneer, meaning it is clad on the outside (in our case with weatherboards, also recycled from similarly old property in the same suburb) and on the inside is the leaf of brickwork; between the two materials is an air gap providing a good thermal barrier. I looked forward to working with the bricklayer to satisfy my eye with regard to mortar finish and colour – and was keen to lay the bricks such that they recorded the height and pattern of the original decorative holes in the arch - but no, nothing fancy, just a plain and truly recycled brick wall now stands there. The bricks have now been on site for at least one hundred years and will last at least another half century after the investment gone in this year.
The project is full of reuse and material recycling. The original zincalume from the old roof was removed and used to clad a long west-facing side wall. It is the side entry wall and bridges the still-standing original cottage front wall with the brand new rear part of the house. I like the way it does that – a continuous element, stripy, familiar, down-to-earth and Australian. Walking up that side entry feels comfortable and not showy, yet it is clean and interesting and decidedly smart against the brand new Western Red Cedar windows with recycled jarrah architraves.
The timber floor which was pulled up from the dilapidated half was gently separated and the 5 and a quarter inch tongue and groove old jarrah floorboards were reused in a part of the old house which needed a new floor. The project is still in construction and the floors are protected at the moment. I can’t wait to see random patchy pieces of Baltic pine amongst the old jarrah which I have kept entirely intact. The Baltic pine used in the cheaper old workers’ cottage floors came from ballast in the cargo ships which came to Fremantle harbour. Imperfect, cheaper and softer, the patchy baltic pine boards, testament to the story, remain.
The very old ceiling rose to the loungeroom in the front (retained) part of the house was dropped and kept in a corner in clamps. After a new ceiling went in the rose was reinstated and restored, the junction between new and old plaster a fine finisher's job. Carl was impressive standing on stilts and willing to take dust in his eyebrows and nostrils.
A blue canoe has hung from the verandah rafters throughout the works since before the project started.
The intention is to showcase custodianship of history, heritage and materiality.
In designing spaces I pull from two of my talents: artistic vision, and communication. (I can draw, and I talk a lot).
I am constantly trying to satisfy my thirst for art by creating spaces which are a pleasure to be in. I started with art, I learned to draw and oil paint as a child and was well inspired, very early, by the extraordinarily evocative paintings by Latvian West Australian artist Gunter Parups, and others which surrounded me in all the rooms of our house. I take great pleasure in colour, light and texture. Art is my most platonic and immediate form of satisfying private expression. Architecture: secondary. More drawn out, more rewarding, more difficult and more shared.
A capacity to draw on this artistic aspect by way of architectural vocation is difficult to describe. I experience a vision of a real space in response to a need. Using what I have learned training to be an architect, I translate this right brain experience using left brain processes of logic and conversion into conventional drawings of different types. Clients benefit from the rapid transfer of idea to drawing because it makes for the product they are really seeking: the drawings which will get their building happening. I’m always grateful for my clients’ willingness to understand a lot of charades and messy scribbles. I meet with my clients a lot and get to know them well. We walk through areas, I use my hands and talk with a lot of descriptive imagery. And of course when we are together I demonstrate views by way of drawing; those sorts of scribbles are very conversational.
Most rewarding is walking through later in the process as built form is coming together, and the pleasurable jolt of remembering the space that I had already experienced in vision form earlier. Belonging and gratitude. I am graced to experience walking the art of my consciousness. I am blessed to do this as work and vocation.
Artwork in this gallery is my own. Not to be copied without permission.
This is a record of a straight forward rectangular timber frame extension to an old worker’s cottage in Nedlands, in keeping with the old style.
I know this week will include site preparation, marking out levels, delivery of timbers, digging holes for soleplates and stumps, then building the floor frame with first joists then bearers.
We had hired a turf cutter two weekends previous. The turf cutting was interrupted two weekends in a row by the AFL grand final after the first game came out a draw. The lawn was lovely and we said goodbye. Gladly it was only a rectangle of lawn – a blank canvas, really.
Some timbers got delivered on Tuesday. A happy bloke (Sam) with a plumber’s van rocked up and stood smiling at me. He strolled around the rear of the block. I showed him the dunny in the outhouse.
Each time we talked he smiled and listened. He was pleasantly surprised by the fabulous rear gate access, the very mature trees on the eastern boundary making a lot of shade. The mulched set down area delineated from the grassed area.
Sam set to work stripping cleaning the old floorboards. What struck me was patience and tolerance for the old boards, respect and gentleness. The day was spent doing quiet work, cleaning them up and re-stacking into his order. The site looked so organised.
On the Wednesday Louis rocked up. I remember David and Moss telling me, independently, that Louis is really good at stumps joists and bearers. That he is finicky about levels and timber selection. Louis and Sam spent that day setting up the corners and marking out the levels with string lines. That evening Faron and I enjoyed seeing the delineation of the site.
On the Thursday they actually started digging holes. By the end of the day all the sole plates and stumps were in. A rectangle of finished work.
On the Friday all the joists and bearers were in. We all had a laugh that it was very good closure; I like closure. Another day, another rectangle of a finished set of work. What’s more, the next delivery of required timbers was only due for delivery on the Tuesday, so they gladly decided they could have the Monday off. This is what I love about Wandoo Design and Construction. They are real people.
All the floorboards went down in two days. This was a pleasure to watch. These guys don’t talk themselves up but I got them talking because the clamps looked so curious. It turns out that the clamps they use have been collected over time and found in antique shops. Honestly, to find people that can find, select, supply and install quality pieces of recycled original old jarrah in the exact same way they would have been laid more than a hundred years ago blows my mind and makes me very happy. The tiny marks made by the clamps are evident in the old part of the house now that I know what I am looking for. People don’t lay them like that these days. Our new floor is lovely. At this point it is patchy and looks a bit of a mess – because each piece has been laid in a different order to its original neighbour. So we can see carpet underlay, then varnish, then sump oiled finishes in a quirky pattern.
A large part of the wall framing got done. Louis got a nail through his thumb on the Thursday afternoon. He took Friday off.
Louis is back on Monday. Lots of jokes about the thumb. I reckon it is bad but he is pushing through. Plumbers dug trench under pavers to north for sewerage and put risers in for drains to wet areas. The boys finished wall framing and moved onto roof framing. Ridge beams and rafters went up. Strapping and noggings to the wall framing went on.
Week four was more bitsy. Carpentry for internal walls to bathroom in time for plumbers.
Plumbers in (hot and cold water and spuds for taps). Framing out the box gutter between the old verandah and the new gable roof happened. Recycled windows went in, as well as flashing. Now this is an exciting stage, seeing the windows in location. They took a lot of thought as they are recycled – I had to fit them to the rooms and it took a lot of salvage yard trawling and also a bit of risk but it is great to have Moss help me with checking them over. He is very generous with his time.
On Monday weatherboards went on to the East wall, flashing to south windows. Tuesday was Melbourne cup, no work. Wednesday weatherboards went on to North wall. Verbal conversation with Moss to make a variation. Louis, Sam and I all decided to take the weatherboards full height to the north wall rather than half height below fibre cement with battens as per drawings. I love seeing the weatherboards.
I am so impressed with the five weeks it takes to get the stumps, joists, bearers, floor, wall framing and roof framing up, weatherboards on and windows in. Gone is the patch of grass, we now have a built envelope. Next up will be insulation and electrical then wall and ceiling lining. It has been great to see the very efficient way this team works together to create a timber framed custom designed space, using only one trade – being carpentry. When there are fewer workers and fewer trades a project can move really very quickly, under the eye of an effective site supervisor.
Communication with good people produces wonderful outcomes. When a good craftsman is on the job and there is respect for the trade, we often get fantastic suggestions for changes to detail on the spot.