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.
Daniel Aulsebrook, except where noted; courtesy of Apparte Studio. 1. Use utilities as decor. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.