Quilts and quiltmaking. What makes one bedcover better than another?

Quilts are thought to have originated some 200 years ago in rural areas where women out of necessity turned patches of discarded cloth and clothing into bedcovers both decorative and warm. Comforting in its simplicity, the patchwork quilt embodies the best of the can-do American spirit.

Quiltmaking almost died out in the early 1900s, until a concern for preserving America’s own crafts led the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to open its American Wing in 1924. This prompted the first revival of collecting and making quilts.

The very modern American women of the 1920s rising middle class were newly able to afford ready-made clothing and dry goods and had to be persuaded. So women’s magazines promoted quiltmaking with images of smartly dressed women choosing quick projects such as patchwork pillows and ready-cut quilt kits.

In the 1930s quiltmaking surged again, this time because of the Great Depression. Making do was the order of the day, and creating quilts fit the bill. Mail-order companies and daily newspapers sold copies of hundreds of new patterns. Quilt contests attracted thousands of quilts, and not just from rural areas. Sales of thread, cloth and batting soared for a while.

Quiltmaking suffered its next decline during World War II when the domestic sale of cloth was restricted. At the same time, many women took wartime jobs out of their homes; when the war was over they weren’t enthusiastic about jumping back on the quilting bandwagon.

In fact, quilts and quiltmaking didn’t come back into vogue until the nation prepared to celebrate its bicentennial in 1976. Once again, the quilt was looked at as a way to inspire pride in America’s traditions and heritage.

That’s about the time I had my quilt awakening.

My modern mother sewed clothes for my sisters and me in the 1950s but never made a quilt. Although a modern young woman myself, living and working in a bustling, urban setting, I succumbed to the back-to- earth movement of the 1970s and learned to weave and knit. One Saturday morning in 1974 while I window-shopped, a brown-and-green North Carolina Lily quilt caught my eye and my heart. Its unconventional design and colors grabbed me.

I walked into that store, handed over $100 and walked out with a quilt under my arm. What have I done? I wondered. I’d spent a lot of money for a quilt that wasn’t even meant for my bed. I planned to hang it on the wall above my loom!

Without intending to, I had started a quilt collection that would soon grow and grow. I had also made a life discovery: I was so inspired by quilts, their makers and their stories, that I soon quit my job to research and write about quilts and quilting.

Back then I thought I was different from others because I decorated with oversized quilts, but I soon found a major quilt revival already under way, fueled by baby boomers who had discovered America’s folk heritage. In 1974 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City organized a groundbreaking exhibit of quilts made by anonymous artisans. Stores with fabrics, tools, books and classes opened to serve the special needs of quilters. Quilt magazines provided patterns and support for the quiltmaking movement, and annual quilt festivals attracted tens of thousands of people.

Quilt guilds formed, including the American Quilt Study Group in Mill Valley, Calif., a network of quilt historians who exchange and publish their quilt findings. A nationwide grassroots campaign soon launched to record stories and photograph quilts.

The late-20th-century resurgence of interest in quilting prompted a plethora of books by academics and enthusiasts, exhibits across the country and documentary films chronicling quilting’s history, artisans, designs and their meanings, and techniques.

All this attention to America’s historic quilts has led to an increase in collecting and preserving quilts and a growing interest in quiltmaking that will continue for generations. And why not? Quilts have a magnetism all their own. Maybe it’s the familiarity of their components or the excitement of seeing the larger pattern emerge as the pieces are sewn together. Maybe it’s the storytelling that goes on around a frame or the joy of seeing hard work admired and loved. Maybe it’s the recognition of women’s ingenuity and craftsmanship. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of continuing a tradition and creating a legacy.

Traditional construction techniques – Victorian terrace house

JPR’S DESIGN BRIEF WAS TO CREATE a new family home on the site of a traditional Victorian terrace house. The challenge was to construct a building that displayed the hallmarks of contemporary design while fitting in quietly with the rest of the streetscape.

The house is located in a historic McMahons Point street classed as a conservation zone. This zoning called for a design that was sympathetic with the surrounding buildings, hut the architects were determined to retain a contemporary feel. To satisfy the clients’ needs, it also had to have room for four bedrooms, a workshop, an artist’s studio, and parking for eight cars (to provide for adjacent buildings as well).

The resulting house borrows from the basic design of its older neighbours, taking the form of a verandah-fronted, pitched roof, gable-ended terrace house, From the street, the house sits comfortably beside a Victorian terrace, with the same dimensions, angles and basic features. But it’s the details that set it apart. The roof, although aligning perfectly with its neighbour, is free from Victorian ornamentation, while the solid steel balustrades and verandah supports offer a clean, contemporary alternative to the 19th century’s intricate lacework.

Externally, the house employs traditional construction techniques, with timber frames and cement-washed, painted brick cladding. The roof is corrugated zincalume.

Inside, the house diverges from the conventional Victorian style by juxtaposing formally arranged rooms with open plan living areas. On the ground floor, an informal arrangement allows the large living and dining rooms to flow into the kitchen, casual dining and family rooms at the back. Generous retractable doors open onto the rear courtyard, garden and pool area, providing a large, open entertaining area that blurs the lines between interior and exterior living.

The first floor accommodates bedrooms, bathrooms, the study and artist’s studio, arranged more formally to give a sense of private space. But even here JPR have broken with tradition, creating a suspended bridge that extends through a central void and links the bedrooms with the studio. The bedrooms continue the indoor/outdoor theme, opening onto glass-roofed verandahs. The master suite is located in the second floor loft, and has expansive views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and city skyline.

Considering all the features that are packed into it, the house maintains a wonderfully open, light-infused interior. This is partly achieved by the large atriums extending through the ground and first floors. These spaces also act as ventilation stacks: when the loft windows and basement door are opened in summer, air is drawn over the cool basement surfaces into the interior. In winter, external blinds can be opened to let in eastern and western sun, and the heated air rises through the atriums.

Light is also admitted through the tall, semi-circular glass brick windows that stretch through two storeys on both sides of the entry atrium, White walls interspersed with splashes of colour and offset by warm wood finishes amplify the brightness of the interior, and complement the original artworks that are hung throughout the house.

The naturally ventilated basement is accessed via a ramp from the street and houses the workshop and garage. Due to the previous consolidation of three sites the basement has to provide additional parking for the adjacent terrace and a commercial office. Efficient use of space is made by employing a vehicle turntable and car stackers.

These and the other modern solutions created by JPR leave no doubt that this is a wholly contemporary house. It proves that fitting in with existing structures doesn’t have to result in compromise, and that history, far from being a restrictive force, is something that is continually created.

Combination residence and office – Troppo in Esperanceco

SEVEN HUNDRED KILOMETRES southeast of Perth, lapped by the rolling sands of the Nullarbor Plain on one side and the Southern Ocean on the other, Esperance is remote indeed from the urban centres usually associated with cutting-edge architecture. But among the brick motels and old holiday beach shacks, Troppo Architects have left their mark with one of their most recent residential projects.

With offices in Darwin, Townsville, Perth and Adelaide, Troppo have gained international recognition as the designers of a ‘regional’ architecture associated with Australia’s north and west. Their award-winning designs work with the particular climates of these areas, emphasising natural lighting and ventilation, heat reduction and protection from the elements. The house at Esperance fits into this philosophy with its open spaces and protective coverings. Its pitched roof and corrugated verandahs also have connotations of the Australian shed tradition, a familiar reference point in Troppo designs.

The house was designed as a combination residence and office for the managers of the adjacent holiday apartments (also by Troppo). It needed to complement the existing apartments, while at the same time retaining a separate identity as a private residence.

The moderate climate of the region allowed for an open structure which could be shut down during inclement weather and opened up during finer weather. However, the seaside site was also exposed to strong winds, so the house had to have protective qualities as well.

The house was constructed from lightweight materials to fit in with the informal holiday atmosphere of the town. Steel construction with pine infill has allowed the frame to be kept as light as possible, while galvanising and bolted connections ensure that it is protected from the corrosive effects of the sea air. Inside the house, the steel frame is painted black and exposed in places, reinforcing the delicate nature of the structure.

Despite the lightness of its frame, the house is sturdy enough to withstand the ocean winds. Durable Shadowclad was selected for the exterior walls and painted light grey to complement the bright blues of the adjacent apartments. In keeping with the seaside tone, the colour was inspired by the hues of fading seaweed.

The building’s design and orientation has provided for alternative outdoor living areas depending on prevailing conditions. The open deck to the north is protected from winter winds, while solar access is gained through an open slatted pergola. The front verandah allows opportunity to open up the living area to the outside during calmer, warmer conditions.

The house has been constructed as two double-storey pavilions linked by a transparent zone incorporating the stairs. The front pavilion contains the living areas, with a separate flat to accommodate visitors in the lower level. It faces the sea and provides fantastic views of Esperance Bay. The rear pavilion contains bedrooms and bathrooms in the upper level and the carport, laundry and store below.

The main living areas on the upper level are contained within a long, open plan room. It has windows at each end to let a cooling breeze flow through, and opens onto a covered deck.

This commitment to using natural resources is typical of Troppo’s philosophy. Successfully working within specific climates, they continue to produce buildings which are both highly practical and uniquely beautiful.

House for maximum passive thermal performance

THE HILLTOP SITE NEAR SEYMOUR in central Victoria seemed like the perfect place for a country holiday house. ON one side the land sloped gently towards the river through a stand of red gum trees while, on the other farmland rolled away to the east. Magnificent views and open countryside gave a feeling of peace and isolation.

However, the same qualities that made the site so appealing also left it open to the harsh effects of the elements, including wind and extremes of temperature. Swaney Draper Architects had to find a way of capturing nature’s bounty while minirnising its more unpleasant characteristics.

Because of the extreme seasons that can occur in this part of Victoria, special consideration had to he given to the siting and orientation of the house. It has been positioned to one side of the hilltop, and its graded form follows the slope of the site, with a single pitch roof slanting down from rear to front. The rear of the section has been cut into the hillside, allowing the house to nestle closely against it.

The house has been oriented for maximum passive thermal performance, with large windows to enhance this effect. In winter, the central fireplace can be supplemented by gas ducted heating. The house is not mechanically cooled, relying on natural ventilation and sunshades to get through the hot dry summer Inside, the main focus of the house is a large, tall central room, where all of the family activities take place. It is surrounded by windows on three sides, with timber shades framing views of the red gum trees and river beyond. A massive fireplace in the middle of this room provides both a real and symbolic focus for the family living areas. It’s a space that can be intimate or expansive: you can imagine pulling up a chair close to the fire on a wintry afternoon, or throwing open the doors to the deck on a summer evening.

To the rear of this central space, the rest of the house is contained in a two storey block. The kitchen, laundry and garage are on the lower level, while the upper level bedrooms and bathrooms open onto a gallery which overlooks the living room.

Externally, the unhurried holiday lifestyle is reflected in an uncomplicated structure. Lightweight timber and steel framing have been used to create simple lines that eschew ornamentation. Surfaces are either glazed or clad in cedar with monochrome paint.

This is a house to escape to. Its quiet, spacious interiors are welcoming and restful, while the wide open space that surrounds the building beckons you outside to take in the restorative country air. The laid back lifestyle that it provides is the perfect antidote to the pace of city living.

Max Pritchard’s compact tower

ISING UP FROM A TREE-LINED SLOPE, Max Pritchard’s compact tower seems perfectly at home in the bush. Its simple, unobtrusive shape, natural timber features and muted colourings allow it to blend in with its surroundings, while still standing out as a fine example of elegant, original residential architecture.

Max has been working in Adelaide for fifteen years. When he first started, the local residential design scene was rather quiet — but gradually that has started to change. He believes the region is slowly becoming more conscious of good design, with more original work starting to appear. Having won an Award of Merit in the residential category, Max’s own project has his peers’ approval as a prime example of this exciting new wave of Adelaide architecture.

Max designed the house as a tower to minimise its impact on the land and reflect the form of the neighbouring tall trees. It is built around a six metre square plan, rising through three levels. Balconies, stair landings and cupboards project from the otherwise flat sides of the house, and are clad in plywood and corrugated iron to mirror the colours and textures of the bush. Max believes that what gives the house its uniqueness is its lightweight construction — even though it’s three storeys high, it appears “light and delicate among the trees”.

Because of the large number of trees, the house required a roof without gutters that could become blocked with leaves. Max designed a square roof that dips down in the middle to form a valley that conducts rain water to an adjacent tank.

The slope of the site allows access by bridge to the middle level of the house, which contains the main living area. This is a large open plan space containing the kitchen, dining and living rooms, and providing excellent views of the bush and distant hills. Most of the middle level is in fact two-storeys high, an innovation made possible by cleverly designing the top floor as a mezzanine. This upper level contains the main bedroom and ensuite, while two more bedrooms and a bathroom are housed in the lower level.

The climate in the hills is cooler than in urban Adelaide, so the house needed to be exposed to as much winter sunlight as possible. This has been achieved by placing the living areas in the upper levels of the house and lining them with banks of north-facing windows. Electrical heating provides further warmth in winter. There is no air-conditioning, but the house is naturally ventilated, with the tower form allowing hot air to escape by convection during summer.

The interior of the house continues the natural theme of the exterior, with timber used extensively in floorboards, window frames, stairs and benchtops. Vibrant blue and yellow feature walls enhance the natural brightness of the living spaces, while curved elements contrast with the square form of the building and give a soft edge to the rooms.

This is a house that achieves many things: it is elegantly constructed, yet practical; contemporary and original, but also highly inhabitable; striking in its design, yet considerate of its environment. Its recognition in the RAIA state awards shows that the house is a welcome addition to the growing body of South Australian residential architecture.

The Curtis house – textured cube

A TIGHT SITE AND SEMI-INDUSTRIAL environment contained many clues and some constraints for this new house and studio, which received an Award of Merit in this year’s Victorian Chapter RAIA Awards. Wood / Marsh looked to the large blank faces of Richmond’s warehouses when considering the street presence. Yet, although the facade is decidedly urban, decidedly non-domestic, the aspect the house/studio presents to the street is an enriched one. The blank wall is faced with split-face blockwork in three shades: off-white, pewter and bluestone. Each material occupies a particular plane, rendering the pattern as a thick, three-dimensional surface. The apparently random texture is punctuated by steel window frames, slicing through this dense surface and projecting beyond.

The complexity of this decorated surface might allude to the elaborate ironwork of small Victorian cottages (the building’s other neighbours), or to Melbourne’s polychrome brick history, but it is also reminiscent of Wood / Marsh’s rather more monumental concrete work on the Eastern Freeway. Like those walls, the textured front of the Curtis house involves perceptual tricks. Where the patterning of the freeway harriers appears to shift and change as one drives past at speed, this smaller wall in a dense urban setting plays vertical games. The block and opening patterns increase in scale as they move up the building, confounding the sense of height and perspective from the narrow street. The patterning, however, was generated from a rather more domestic source — the chunky knit of a Missoni swearer.

The confined site led to a strongly internalised cubic volume encased by apparently massive walls. The internal effect of solidity and depth is enhanced by interior blockwork and deep window reveals. The steel window frames jut into the interior, presenting the overtly framed views as additional pieces of realist art.

The “textured cube” is also pierced vertically, bringing light deep into the enclosed volume. Dappled light from the green perforated stair permeates the centre, while an internal courtyard pulls air and light into the rear, creating a second visual link through the depth of the building.

The stair acts as a major ordering element within the simple and direct plan organisation. Darker, lower level spaces are occupied by garaging, storage and a photographic darkroom, studio and office. Bedrooms are located in the middle, while the upper, lighter floor accommodates the kitchen and living spaces. The kitchen opens out to a wide timber deck with rooftop views, providing a release from the otherwise insistent interiority.

These straightforward, robust spaces and surfaces are enlivened by a wonderful collection of visual art and furniture from the 60s and 70s. These aesthetics have subtly affected the architecture. Indeed, the furnishing of tough architectural surfaces with rich interior objects is itself a characteristic of 60s domestic Brutalism. Other references appear in quotation marks. For example, level changes in the living area create a version of the 70s conversation pit — but the white shagpile is confined to a carefully centred rug.

Between Richmond’s industrial environment and the clients’ collection of Twentieth Century visual culture, Wood / Marsh have inserted a rugged cube. The skillful interpretation of these very particular circumstances has resulted in an inventive urban house.

The inter-war bungalow style

BUILDING AN ADDITION OFTEN INVOLVES considerable alteration to at least part of the existing structure. In the case of this Artarmon house, Melocco and Moore Architects chose to construct the addition as unobtrusively as possible by making it a separate pavilion connected to the existing house by a narrow hallway.

The original house is a single-storey dwelling in the inter-war bungalow style, with a single-hipped terracotta roof and brick walls. To the north is a rear yard containing several mature trees, including a large tallowood tree that’s at least 150 years old and possibly a remnant of the area’s original forest. The architects’ design concept was to build the addition into the rear yard while maintaining the envelope of the original house and working around the old tree.

A gentle slope in the site allowed the pavilion to be built on two levels, which are markedly different in their construction. The eastern upper level has a solid slab base and brickwork walls. The lower western level, where the building comes close to the tallowood tree, is made of lightweight timber with minimal footings to lessen the impact of the structure on the tree’s root system. The study, the closest room to the tree, has been set back and cantilevered. The whole pavilion is covered by a simple single-pitched roof, which contrasts with the traditional double-pitch of the original roof.

The new addition contains the kitchen, dining and living areas, arranged in an open plan style, while the bedrooms and main bathroom are contained in the original budding. The old and new sections of the house are connected by a linking element consisting of a hallway, second bathroom and laundry. This part of the addition has been kept low so that it fits in under the eaves of the old house without disturbing the roof. It is also narrow enough to allow sun to reach the northern side of the original building.

Inside the pavilion, simple shapes and understated furnishings in solid blocks of colour create an atmosphere of cool elegance, while natural wood finishes add a welcoming note. Elements are repeated to provide a strong sense of cohesiveness, such as the narrow horizontal windows which are mirrored in the shape of the bookcases. A bold central element in the form of a low granolithic wall divides the two levels, houses the fireplace and provides a focal point for the space.

On the northern side of the pavilion, the outside splendour of the garden is drawn in through large windows and glass doors. These doors fold back to open up the northern face of both levels, creating a smooth transition from the living areas to the terrace and deck.

By designing the addition as a separate element, instead of an adjunct to the existing building, Melocco and Moore have shown that contrast can be just as appealing as consistency. The old and new sections of the house fit together well, both fine examples of their respective eras.

Box shape – contemporary furniture design

Contemporary furniture design is in great shape. Box shape, to be precise. Square angles, boxy volumes, simple modules, smooth planes – uncomplicated elements for balanced, beautifully orchestrated living rooms. Timber veneers, plain upholstery fabrics, and sleek chrome and stainless steel details combine to create quietly understated classics for the new are.

* SYSTEM FOR WALLS

The Sintesi wall system from Poliform features a combinationof cool contemporary surfaces such as solid colour and timber laminated veneers, and opaque glass, with chrome details. The system is designed for flexibility, and proportioned to suit the dimensions of inner-city apartments and townhouses. Available from Poliform.

* BLUE BENCH MARK

Antwerp-born designed Maarten Van Severen introduced Blue Bench as a prototype at an exhibition in 1998. Since then it has become part of the Edra collection from Italy. Blue Bench consists of two bled-cut polyurethane blocks, coated with a specially formulated paint. The upper block can be moved about the surface of the base, to create a couch of varying proportions. The polyurethane creates a softly cushioned effect. Available from Space Furniture.

* KEY LARGO

The sleek proportions of the Largo sofa make it an ideal addition to a contemporary interior with a minimalist bent. Its simple geometry has great visual appeal. As shown here, the sofa is upholstered in Instyle ‘Feel’, with 50 mm square stainless steel legs. Available from Not Furniture

* ABSOLUTELY AARNIO

In the 1960s the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio earned an international reputation with his range of innovative chairs and tables in fibreglass, foam, acryl and chroma steel. The Screw Table is one memorable item from this classic range, now being manufactured in Finland by Adelta, Available from dedece.

* PASTIL PERFECTION

When Eero Aarnio designed the Pastil Chair in 1967 it signalled his breakthrough as an international-acclaimed designed. In the world of furniture design in became an icon and remains so to this day. The Pastil Chair is still in production, and is available from dedece along with other striking pieces from Aarnio’s innovative collection.

* UP THE LADDER

This ladder-backed chair features a spotted gum frame, a local take on the Mackintosh original. The chair is designed by Mark Wong, and is available from Designs Australia.

* YES MINISTER

With its impressive wedge arms, the aptly-named Minister’s Chair combines rich materials with business-like curves and planes. The leather back and seat is complemented by red gum veneer arms and brushed stainless steel legs. Designed by Tony Stuart, the Minister’s Chair is available from Source.

* OFF THE PLANET

The saturn coffee table, designed by Ricardo Goncalves, looks set for take-off. Tubular aluminium details and the fin-shaped central spine give it a glamourous, galactic edge. The veneer is laminated brushbox, with brushed aluminium edging. Inquiries to Ricardo Goncalves.

* THINKING GLOBALLY

Swiss-born Hannes Wettstein began designing for Cassina in 1994, This setting shows some of his more recent designs, including the Globe upholstered lounge, the Items storage unit, and the Lem small table. Available from Space Furniture.

AMAZINGLY MODULAR

The Caterpillar range of seating and tables designed by Ross Didier of Origin Didier to the lost word in modular versality chairs and tables interlock to form any number of combinations. Caterpillar is part of his new Metamorph range. Inquiries to Origin Didier.

* BUILDING BLOCKS

These storage units are designed to function as architectural elements as well as practical pieces of furniture. Designed by Tim Dean who made a career switch from architecture to furniture design a few years ago the units combine Tasmanian oak veneer with satin chrome feet. In the foreground the Box storage system features translucent opal acrylic backing All units can be arranged in modular combinations and all have finished backing so they can be placed in the middle of a room. Available from Jacaranda Industries.

* CLASSICALLY CASUAL

The light honey tones of victorian ash give this dining chair a fresh Scandinavian appeal. The incision detail in the back of the chair breaks up the horizontal grain. The Casual Chair is designed by Edward Alexander and is available from Source.

* IN THE BOX

The timelessly elegant BoxOne is from the Box range of classic contemporary furniture designed by Cornwell Hecker. The lounge base is available in stainless steel or chrome, and powdercoat options are available on request. The Box range also includes armchairs, ottomans, occasional tables and dining tables. Available from Stylecraft Australia and S.T.

* QUIRKILY KOOKI

With its groovy boxy form, the Kooki Chair captures the look of a funky cocktail lounge. Residential applications might include a bar, TV room, studio or home office. As a modular unit, the upholstered seats are joined via satin chrome steel connecting plates. Also available s a single unit. Designed by Dominique Hurley, the Kooki Chair is available from Source.

* PERFECT PERCH

A moulded ply seat, with a satin finish timber veneer, tops this stool by Nico Design. a residential setting the Otto is at home at the bare breakfast bench. The base is in stainless steel. Available from Nico Design.

Victorian rejuvenation

A fresh blue and white colour scheme has brought new zest to this victorian cottage, renovated and extended by conti architects. Colous and finishes have been used to link old to new while giving each section a distinctive style of its own.

THE QUAINT VICTORIAN COTTAGE facade to this inner Melbourne residence is the perfect foil to the contemporary dynamic operating within its walls. Inside the front door, the tone is established by the gleaming blue gum floorboards and chalk white hallway walls.

The few remaining Victorian vestiges amount to structural characteristics — high ceilings, a narrow central hallway — and original fireplaces in the front rooms. Architect Robert Conti used the hall and the existing ceiling heights to create a link between the original dwelling and the rear extension he designed for his young clients. The dominant mood in both sections is light and crisp, with bright feature colours inserted into a basically neutral background. If there was a dress code for interiors, this place would be smart casual.

The existing hallway — originally a gloomy conduit to the service wing of the cottage — is now a visual event, a space which uses perspective to draw the eye through to the extension. A pair of bold blue rendered brick pillars inserted into the glazed back wall of the open living space has been carefully positioned to align, visually, with the hallway. From the hallway, the effect is that these blue vertical elements frame both the end of the hallway and the rear garden. In the living room itself, wide aluminium strips between the glazed doors and windows have been powdercoated in a strident red, creating a vibrant rhythm of primary colours. These blue and red panels are also an exterior feature — complemented by a wall of blue tiles to the courtyard — and help tie the outdoors in with the interior.

Robert used internal finishes to further the sense of connection between the original and new sections of the house. The polished Sydney blue gum floors have a rich reddish tone which works equally well in the old and new parts of the house. The chalk white walls are also consistent, with skylights and a variety of windows used to create variations in light and shadow throughout.

The kitchen and bathrooms also share identical finishes. The blue mosaic tiles and honey-toned timber veneer cabinets make a showpiece of the kitchen, and have proved an equally successful combination in both the en suite and the main bathroom. With its high serving benches the kitchen retains a sense of being a discrete room: the benches form partial screens which shield the appliances and working spaces from the dining table and lounge setting. Above the benches, however, the cabinets and splashback’s tiles are as integral to the visual appeal of the whole interior as are the living area furnishings and accessories.

As the extension faces south, Robert had to use the internal finishes to increase light intensity to the greatest degree possible. The chalk white paint used on the walls has a soft warm quality which avoids the cold blue tones of some whites. Pale timber and glass furnishings are appropriately light and unobtrusive, and accessories have been kept to a minimum to avoid unnecessary clutter.

North-facing clerestory windows bring in some light, as does the glazed north wall looking out to the side courtyard. The high triangular windows on the east and west walls effectively lever up the roof, creating a raked ceiling to echo the lofty dimensions of the original ceiling. The roof form is a stylish reinterpretation of the lean-to roof typically found at the rear of unrenovated Victorian cottages.

Feedback from the clients has been enthusiastically in favour of the way Robert has reinterpreted their villa. They have the best of both worlds — cosy period-style bedrooms at the front and airy contemporary living at the back — with a sense of harmonious connection between both zones.

The interior as a simple, pristine container

A simple white container is perhaps the best way to describe the interior of this narrow victorian terrace. With a mere five metre width to play with, architects AIGP adopted a minimalist approach to create the illusion of generous volumes.

THE EXISTING SINGLE STOREY VICTORIAN terrace required a major overhaul to suit the needs of the current owner. The facade was largely off-limits to alterations — the building being in a conservation zone — and the original front room was sound, with a fine fireplace, and well worth keeping. But the remaining 30-year-old extension was quite dispensable, its timely removal creating space enough for an extensive revamp to the rear of the building.

The client briefed architects AIGP to design a two-storey addition incorporating two bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining/living area, bathroom, en suite and outdoor courtyard. To comply with local heritage conservation requirements, the addition had to be invisible from the street, and had to respect the scale of the surrounding terraces. On an allotment measuring 27 metres by five metres, the challenge was to fit everything in without compromising space and quality of light.

The architects describe the interior as a “simple, pristine container”. Interior elements such as the stair and much of the kitchen have been concealed or recessed to increase the sense of space and reduce visual clutter. In the living area the white walls are deliberately spartan, creating a reflective expanse broken only by vertical supports spaced at wide intervals along the north wall, and a series of full height panels along the south wall. These large pivoting screens conceal the stair when closed, and open to reveal extensive understair storage. Essentially, the doors function as a wall, a balustrade and cupboards.

Against a background of simple white painted and laminated surfaces, some carefully chosen pieces of furniture provide bursts of colour and visual focus. A bold red chaise placed in front of the glass doors in the upstairs bedroom makes a particularly striking statement. Crisp, elegant contemporary pieces of furniture demarcate the dining and living areas and innovative feature lamps add sculptural interest here and at the top of the stairs.

In this minimalist setting, lighting plays a crucial role in bringing warmth and personality to the interior scheme. Concealed in-floor and overhead lighting is placed asymmetrically through the kitchen and living area, illuminating the space in an unusual and captivating way at night. Soft shafts of light from the floor illuminate the walls and ceiling, while the down lights cast a glow on the polished floorboards.

Flooring textures are the other main element in the interior scheme. The dark-toned timber floor in the living area is free of rugs and other visual impediments, while upstairs a neutral carpet is a softer, more restful solution for the main sleeping quarters. The folded aluminium plate stair acts as a contrasting link between the two flooring styles.

This pared down interior relies on intangible, ever-evolving elements such as the intensity of natural light and the changing colour of the sky to create moments of visual drama. The success of the interior is based on the less-is-more adage: in an environment such as this, one special piece of furniture or a well-chosen lamp can have maximum impact where it would be lost in a more complicated setting.