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Before/After: 11 Ideas to Steal from a Tiny Melbourne Worker’s Cottage

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Before/After: 11 Ideas to Steal from a Tiny Melbourne Worker’s Cottage

September 21, 2017

In 2012, architect Otto Henkell bought a Victorian-era workers’ cottage in Melbourne, Australia, with a total floor area of 60 square meters (about 645 square feet). The architect, of Apparte Studio in Melbourne’s Fitzroy neighborhood, acquired it as an investment and set about rehabbing it in his spare time—and doing the labor himself—taking almost five years to complete.

Henkell’s client was a speculative one—likely a young couple or family—so he designed their future home with a few imaginary requirements in mind: They would want a minimalist home with subtle reminders of its provenance, he thought, full of light, flexible storage, and energy efficiency (read: low operating costs). Here’s how he did it.

Photography by Daniel Aulsebrook, except where noted; courtesy of Apparte Studio.

1. Use utilities as decor.

sitting area sofa rafters melbourne cottage
Above: A copper pipeline carries gas to power the hot water heater, stove, and radiators. When Henkell discovered it during demolition, he liked the metallic sheen against the museum-like white surroundings. “We polished it up and thought it was quite a nice unexpected touch,” he said.

2. Use a curtain as an ad hoc wall.

living room open floor melbourne remodel
Above: In its original form, the cottage was one long hallway with rooms coming off it, and Henkell nixed the first bedroom in favor of a generous, inviting living room. In the event that a second bedroom is required, occupants can drag a curtain across a simple track system installed overhead. Photograph by Christopher Alexander.

3. Choose the whitest white possible.

hallway white painted melbourne cottage remodel rafters
Above: The architect used “a particularly bright and intense white,” Dulux White on White, “to make the inside as light as possible.”

4. Then, warm it up.

remodel cottage melbourne white artwork hallway exposed rafters
Above: Henkell used uplighting throughout the house: on the exposed ceiling joists, at the top of the bedroom walls, and inside the custom light fixtures. Their warm temperature—around 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin—makes the cottage feel homier at night.

5. Let a single original detail shine.

melbourne cottage remodel kitchen brick exposed rafters
Above: Henkell retained several original details, painted to match the newer house additions: He removed the ceiling and left original joists exposed, and he kept the period trim on windows, doorways, baseboards, and some original doors. The one original detail that doesn’t blend in? The Victorian-era brick wall in the kitchen, which contrasts smartly against the new bright white, sharp-edged walls.

6. In a tiny room, make it match.

melbourne cottage remodel kitchen island dining room pendant light
Above: In the narrow, open-plan kitchen and dining, there’s no room for transitions in decor. Henkell kept the look as consistent as possible by designing custom furnishings: a dining table and benches, a wall-mounted storage cabinet, plus a pendant light overhead, all linear in form and made of matching plywood.

7. Can’t install it behind walls? Hide it in plain sight.

kitchen dining modern melbourne cottage remodel white brick
Above: The house required extensive new electrical wiring, but the budget wouldn’t cover installing it behind the walls. The solution: Henkell turned a galvanized steel cable tray into a design motif used throughout. “It covers cabling going up the walls and provides a fixing point for switches, fuse boxes, and heating control panels,” said the architect.

8. Borrow light from nature.

dining room plywood table indoor outdoor melbourne cottage
Above: Henkell installed a light well in the bathroom and giant polycarbonate skylights above the dining room and kitchen. Located on the south end of the cottage, the skylights spare occupants hours of artificial lighting each day. Photograph by Christopher Alexander.

9. Embrace flexible storage.

storage bedroom bookcase built in white cottage melbourne 2
Above: Not every bedroom needs a closet and chest of drawers. Henkell installed a wall of white MDF cubbies to give the eventual owner flexible storage space for “office type” things like books and magazines in addition to clothes and shoes. “The room is very small so a conventional deep robe would have been too clunky; instead we opted for this ‘thin’ storage approach.”

10. Use fresh air as contrast.

melbourne cottage remodel wood panel patio backyard
Above: The character and color palette of the interior shifts completely at the back door. Henkell used spotted gum wood and a wall of greenery to give the small back courtyard a grounded feeling.

11. Honor a history without frills.

white melbourne cottage brick facade tile floor
Above: When Henkell arrived, the petite front patio was made of poured concrete from an interim renovation. Wanting to up the cottage’s curb appeal while staying within budget, he replaced it with a simple black-and-white checkerboard tile. The pattern is “in line with the basic, low-budget original, which was built in austere Victorian times,” he said. The facade is painted in a light gray: Snow Season by Dulux. Photograph by Christopher Alexander.

Before

curtain cottage melbourne before front hallway
Above: Before, occupants entered the cottage into one long hallway.
curtain cottage melbourne before front room
Above: What’s now the living room was an enclosed bedroom with plush red carpet.
curtain cottage melbourne before kitchen
Above: Henkell retained only the brickwork from the previous kitchen, dining, and living area.

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