Tom Ormonde’s dwelling design: Upstairs downstairs

Designed around a central core – a nine metric high atrium and stair – this compact dwelling achieves a lot on a very small site squeezed in between victorian cottages up a laneway in melbourne’s albert park, the box-like building reveals dynamic internal spaces and fascinating juxtapositions of materials over three levels.

THE ATRIUM AND STAIR FORMING THE CORE of the building have been designed to provide the main visual focus and also so serve as a spatial demarcation between the two upstairs living zones. The moment one steps into the downstairs entrance foyer, the atrium reveals itself to be a dynamic structural element which sets the pace for the rest of the house.

Architect Ian Browne collaborated with client Tom Ormonde to design a dwelling that would play out energetic rhythms of colour, texture, light and space over three levels. Tom initially drew his own rough floor plan, incorporating the bedrooms and bathroom downstairs, open living on the first level and a terrace up on the roof, positioned to take full advantage of sweeping city skyline views. Ian broadly adhered to this concept, and set about designing the house in detail.

While Tom had initially envisaged the stair section as a square, Ian proposed a far more dramatic and angular resolution — a wedge, capped by a raked glass roof, driven boldly between the building’s two wings — which the client accepted with enthusiasm. It meant sacrificing some floor space, but the resulting sense of drama and space was deemed well worth it. In view of the secluded laneway location, the local council had agreed to relax some of the restrictions pertaining to this heritage conservation precinct — an invitation to creativity neither the client nor architect could resist.

With its raw cement-rendered walls, steel construction and steel mesh landings, the stair has been designed to convey an industrial feel. Downstairs, a polished concrete floor — ground hack to create a speckled black and white terrazzo effect — and stainless steel bathroom surfaces continue the industrial theme. This mood evolves into a warmer, more homely environment on the upper floor where bagged brick off-white walls, timber floors, and Victorian ash veneer cabinets combine with contemporary furnishings to create two distinct living areas.

The external finishes assert the building’s status as a local landmark, rising above a cluster of century-old weather board cottages, rear fences and sheds. The combination of raw cement render, bagged brickwork painted off-white, and anodised aluminium cladding is repeated inside, where most of the internal wails have been matched identically to their corresponding exterior wall. The front entrance is emblematic of the building’s dialectic between edgy industrialism and a relaxed Japanese-inspired aesthetic: here, a brushed aluminium door contrasts with the fish pond lapping gently at the edge of the door, flanked by a bridge of timber slats. The presence of water sets the scene for the Zen-like calm which pervades the entire house.

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