The Secrets Behind the Facade: Blending Old and New

52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern.

When it comes to renovated period homes, sometimes you don’t get what you initially see. Step through the doors and it clicks: you’re entering something special. There’s a lightness that isn’t present in your average Victorian or Edwardian. Sure, the first rooms may have the detailed cornices, high ceilings and fireplaces. But then, wham, you’re in the future. It’s goodbye 1800s, and hello tomorrow. A traditional facade coupled with a modern extension is almost a “must do”. But how do architects and interior designers successfully link the two?

For Robson Rak, the architects and interior designers of 52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern, the links between Victorian heritage and the modern extension were about tonality, subtle detailing and materiality.

“With Elizabeth Street, we replaced all the timber flooring in the existing part of the house,” explains Chris Rak, principal interior architect. “Then the flooring wrapped down the stairs into the new part of the house, but then it wrapped around the wall, so it was like this ribbon of material that linked the old and the new,” he says.

But there’s more to just carrying a material though a property. It’s carrying an expression. “Big Victorian houses are quite grand,” says Rak. “It’s Victorian times: Melbourne was rich. It had the mouldings, the high ceilings, and the back reflects that as well, it’s got grandiosity as well,” he explains.

The feature fireplace – in brown brick similar to the home’s facade – gives a nod to the original without replicating it. “It wasn’t a match, just trying to get the tonal characteristic, instead of a complete match,” says Rak.

“Buyers are looking for what’s new and innovative in the marketplace.” John Bongiorno

Robson Rak principal architect Kathryn Robson says the home’s new kitchen and living space impressed her. “The ceiling heights there are almost four metres high, so they’ve got a really grand proportion about them and I think that was just a really pleasant surprise, just how amazing the proportions of that space are,” she says.

A nearby property, at  21 Kerferd Street, Malvern, which sold last May for $5 million, gave a similar “wow” feeling. The Edwardian’s north-facing extension used greys, stone and timber to great effect, adding a grandiosity to its ultra-high glass doors that leda to an outdoor kitchen and pool.

Marshall White auctioneer John Bongiorno auctioned it. “That house was basically the next level of a renovation. Buyers are looking for what’s new and innovative in the marketplace. It provided a blend of the old and new that gave it character and charm as well as that wow factor from the contemporary factor,” he says.

The blend of old and new is not limited to the leafy ‘burbs. Adam Welling, of Seddon’s Village Real Estate, says renovations there are getting better and better. “Of the good ones, when you’re walking down the street you don’t even know what’s going on behind the facade. Once you look down the side you see the amazing stuff people are doing,” says Welling. “The perfect mesh is keeping the period features like fretwork, arches and fireplaces, but buyers want that super-modern liveability and the super-modern aesthetic,” he says.

Not just a pretty face

Ask Rachel Rankin what she’s going to miss about the Victorian at 32 Regent Street, Yarraville, that she’s basically designed and rebuilt, and she’s clear: “Pulling up out front and seeing how pretty it is. It’s just really pretty. I’ll miss how it feels,” she says.

Rankin has designed an almost brand-new house that, while maintaining a Victorian facade and period features throughout, features all the mod cons within.

Almost the only things left from the original single-fronted Victorian are the front window, the fretwork – which Rankin had re-dipped into a black colour – and the original brick fireplace.

“The fireplace was painted over in thick cream paint, with another layer of bricks over the bottom of it,” says Rankin. “I got it sandblasted – the guy said to me ‘look, it could be good, it could be terrible, we don’t know!’ We didn’t end up repointing the bricks, I really wanted to keep that rustic look.” It’s now very much a working feature of the lounge.

New wormy chestnut timber floors are also a highlight, stretching from the still single-fronted front to the much wider rear of the house, even climbing up to meet the stone kitchen bench.

What’s it been like to live in? “It just feels lovely,” says Rankin. “We’ve got 3.3-metre ceilings; the original house had 3.3-metre ceilings so we carried that right through. All our windows are really high. It gives a nice sense of space. It flows, and Victorians are just really pretty homes any way. I just fell in love with it.”

52 Elizabeth Street, Malvern
$6 million-plus

Architect Robson Rak and landscaper Franklin Landscape and Design worked together to turn this double-fronted Victorian into a two-storey, five-bedroom family home with modern essentials including a glass-walled pool, outdoor dining space, and bathroom with a zen-like pond outlook. Several types of timber create great contrasts – from reclaimed sleepers encasing an outdoor gas fireplace, to the floorboards that begin at the entrance and flow down the stairs, along the walls and even form drawers and cupboards. A huge skylight looks down from the transition space between the old and the new. “It’s a very gentle reminder that you’re entering into a part of the building that was designed in the 2000s and not the 1800s,” says Chris Rak, principal interior architect. Techwise, the house “functions like a Ferrari”, according to the architects, with inbuilt technology that is designed to be up to date and discreet.

Or try these …

12 Lennox Street, Northcote
$1.28-$1.39 million

This four-bedroom, two-bathroom single-fronted period home boasts a super modern extension with a second storey.

172 Liardet Street, Port Melbourne
$1.6 million+

Looking like it probably did in the 1860s from the front, Coleman Architects has completely re-imagined the rear.

32 Regent Street, Yarraville
$1.8 million+

A classic four-bedroom Victorian rebuilt by local builders with two living areas.


~ Article by Jayne D’Arcy / Domain