Sheltered beneath a substantial Dutch-gable roof, MRTN Architects’ Good Life House gestures to the form of the surrounding Federation-era housing stock in the Melbourne suburb of Fairfield, and, in doing so, speaks to the clients’ connection to their community while also providing a generous, energy-efficient new family home.
While the new building is clearly contemporary, in its form and demeanour, the Good Life House is at once complementary to and influenced by the older homes it sits amongst. Key to this response is the roof that appears almost as though spreading its wings to protect the home below. “The house is sheltered under a pretty dominant roof form and the reason it does that is the context of the neighbourhood – when you’re walking down the street, you’ve got trees and front gardens and the form you’re most aware of is the roof form,” explains architect Antony Martin. “We were interested in taking that idea and reinterpreting the roof in this project.”
Fairfield sits to the north of Melbourne’s CBD, and while it is only 6kms from the city, the character of the neighbourhood is entirely different to the older, inner ring of suburbs that are dominated by Victorian worker’s cottages. Antony explains that these inner suburbs with their narrow sites and heritage 19th-century architecture present complex problems and challenges for architects, whereas the site in Fairfield offered a generous, flat allotment and the ability to entirely rebuild. “These particular neighbourhoods have been historically overlooked as the inner suburbs became more popular, but people’s attention is now moving out to these other areas,” he says. “A lot of the housing stock there is ready for its second generation – it’s ready for another interpretation of how to use that land.”
The clients had lived in the old house on the site for over a decade, developing strong ties to the local community. The clients’ and architects’ shared appreciation for the character and life of the neighbourhood was integral to the new design. Antony explains that “the houses that fit well into the street, which create that sense of community and which people are fond of, are those houses that are dominated by those big hip and gable roof forms.” This roof form, in turn, influenced the planning of the spaces below and means that from the street the house reads almost as a single storey, akin to the neighbouring bungalows. As one steps inside, Antony says “what is surprising when visiting the house is the variation and spatial characteristics of every room because of the way they relate to the large roof. Some of the spaces are double-height or have got sloping ceilings to them, and there’s a great entryway that creates quite a soaring entry sequence. It provides a lot of variety and delight as you move through the house as no two spaces are alike.”
Just as the roof defines the Good Life House both outside and within, the rich, natural material palette begins with the timber and brickwork of the façade and is continued throughout the interior. The clients were interested in emphasising the materiality of the interiors for several reasons, Antony explains. “They liked a durable and hardy interior – the idea of a white box was not appealing to them,” he says. They were also drawn to the raw, utilitarian materiality of a farmhouse, as well as their love of Australian architect Alistair Knox’s mid-century homes. Walls are either lined in timber or constructed of exposed brickwork, creating a robust palette that is complemented by two different tiles supplied by Artedomus.
“The INAX Yohen Border Japanese mosaic tile in the kitchen has a beautiful earthy quality that related very well to the brick but also has a slight gold to it a quality that you can only really appreciate when in the space,” Antony says. “So, it is great in that it’s really functional as a splashback but also completely harmonise with the interior.” The subtle patina and lustre of the tiles create a focal point within the kitchen and call attention to the natural variation in the grain of the timber cabinetry. “They also have this beautiful glazed character to them, no two tiles are the same, which is really important to us,” Antony says.
This handmade sensibility is carried forward into the ensuite, where a custom hand-made pottery basin is paired with Cotto Manetti Italian terracotta tiles from Artedomus, which, Antony explains, were used in the 15th century for Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence. Bringing this earthy palette into the wet area emphasises the home’s identity and the degree to which it embraces the clients’ brief. Achieving this, Antony explains, was made easier by working with Artedomus. “The advantage of Artedomus is that we’ll meet with clients in their showroom where they’ve got the materials laid out, some are installed and they’ve also got a great sample library so we can pull materials out and see them alongside each other and see how they’re going to work in the project,” he says.
Both the materials and form of the Good Life House are not only key to the home’s sense of character and resonance with its clients but also to the sustainable design principles employed throughout. The reverse brick veneer walls and burnished concrete slab contribute thermal mass that enhances the home’s comfort and reduces the need for mechanical heating and cooling. Similarly, the roof and eaves are designed to shade the interior in summer while allowing warming sun the penetrate in winter. “The house is also only powered by 100% renewable energy, there is no gas connected, low energy appliances are used and the heating system and hot water all use heat pump technology, which lowers the overall power usage for the house,” Antony says.
In this attention to sustainability, in the form that emphasises values of sociability and neighbourhood connection, the interior that offers a diversity of shared and private areas for the family, in the rich and inviting materiality of the home, and the backyard that invites the clients to spend time outdoors in the garden or playing cricket, the Good Life House exemplifies the value of architectural design. Even in the absence of the more complex challenges posed by the heritage homes and narrow sites in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, through considered design that responds to both the neighbourhood and the clients’ needs, MRTN Architects has created a true physical embodiment of ‘the good life.’
PRODUCTS INAX Yohen Border YB12, Cotto Manetti Italian Arrotato Da Crudo (Rustic) terracotta
DESIGNER MRTN Architects
PHOTOS Dave Kulesza
STYLING Bea & Co
WORDS Rose Onans
BUILD Crisp Green Homes
This article originally featured on The Local Project.