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.

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