What happens when an architect puts pencil to blueprint to design his own abode? Sleek, fashionable design that will call you to this industrial warehouse home.
Entering through a rusted steel gate, you notice this house is like no other around it. Where most houses in Paddington embrace their historic features – peeling paint, hipped roofs, timber all around – this home finds its roots firmly in modern times. Designed by Ellivo Architects’ principal, Mason Cowle, the home was to be a minimalist haven for the architect, his wife Jen, and their daughter Kelsey. Where their previous family home had been designed in artful wood tones with a ‘beachhouse’ feel, Mason knew he wanted something entirely different for their new residence. “A relaxed, low maintenance family retreat in the city,” he explains, “open to the breezes and views.”
Different to any of the larger, multi-residential projects they’d worked on before, Mason and Jen were excited about the opportunity to design and experiment for their own needs, within their own budget restraints. The block of land was purchased in December 2011, small by most standards at 400 square metres. The Cowle family wasn’t the only occupant on this site, either. A century-old fig tree had put down firm roots, and its heritage protection meant it wasn’t getting moved any time soon. The block was also on quite a steep slope, with heritage listed neighbours either side. Over Christmas that same year, the initial design came together – rather quickly, Mason says – and continued being tweaked until October 2012, when construction by JBS Builders began. Mason describes the home as a ‘procession of five distinct spaces’, allowing the family to live in different spaces according to their different moods, or changing seasons throughout the year. An industrial, New York-esque feel permeates the entire design, driven by the burnished concrete work throughout the home. It’s divided design that’s also completely harmonious, and it’s what truly carries the space as a whole. Underneath the fig tree’s wide canopy lies an entertaining area, which leads into the kitchen through wide bifold doors.
The kitchen is seamless in its design, with all appliances hidden behind sleek, dark cabinetry. The family can sit at the wide island bench to enjoy a casual meal, or move into the adjoining dining room for more formal affairs. The dining room is double-height, linking both vertically to the master suite, and horizontally to the home’s entertaining areas, or ‘meeting point’. Lights sourced from a warehouse in Gympie hang over the dining table, in an invigorating shade of bright jade. While the living room’s wide glass doors provide sweeping views across the city and Paddington, they also offer another purpose. When pushed back, breezes are let in, and the area transitions from being indoors to being a luxurious outdoor area, connected to a balcony and additional outdoor space, overlooking the pool below. With 16 metres of glass across the expanse, Mason recalls it was difficult to get anyone to install the pieces, though the end result would have to be utterly worth it. Custom fabricated folded steel staircases (one of Mason’s favourite features, he tells us, and even more striking when viewed from underneath) lead upstairs to the master sanctuary. The stairs were welded inhouse, rusted artfully to add character to the home.
The master bedroom is as open plan as the living spaces below; only a shower steam room is behind closed doors, tucked into a little nook away from the rest of the living space. One design feature that’s particularly eye-catching is the steel headboard, curving gently around the bedhead to add softness to the industrial design. Contrasting with the plethora of pillows and the cosiness on the bed, the printed steel also features a unique touch that just had to be showcased – stamped numbers that correspond with the home’s street number, a purely coincidental touch. The bathtub hides behind this bedhead, luxuriously deep with overhead lighting that dims to be as ambient as having candles scattered around. This loft-style space overlooks the living areas below, yet also created a void in the home that needed to be filled.
Deciding what should be placed in this prime position – which would have to be both functional yet as aesthetically appealing as the rest of the home – was an easy decision, Jen says. “We wanted to incorporate a library somewhere. Placing the books at a height and with a ladder made good use of this space.” It’s hard not to fall in love with this modern take on a classic library, and hard not to admire this ingenious use of space. And the ladder chosen to connect the avid reader with their books just finishes the look, with recycled timber and cracking, flaking paint feeling both industrial and historic. Downstairs, more bedrooms are revealed, plus an additional living room and study for Kelsey. Minimally decorated, Mason points out the ceilings of the space as we walk through – the burnished concrete, which makes its feature on the floors above, becomes ceiling in these lower spaces. Everything is hidden away, out of sight so electronics and pumps (the unsightly ingredients to keeping the home running) don’t spoil the overall effect. The downstairs living and private spaces connect to the outdoors, where a small pool lies at the end of a rock-strewn path. The family might not be big swimmers, but in the midst of Brisbane’s summer humidity it will certainly be a welcome addition.
Down those steel steps once more, and the final part of the home is unearthed – ample storage (or another bedroom if need be) and the garage. Tucking the garage away from the front of the home was only possible due to an existing laneway at the side of the house, letting the home be set back from the road and allow its heritage neighbours to shine. Bathrooms, too, are styled to perfection. To keep with the warehouse feel, lights are kept deliberately low, and basins are formed from brass.
The powder room is particularly stunning, a jaw-dropping room which incites considerable envy when seen. As it exists in its own space, the room became an experiment. Dim lights hang over the brass sink, while a fireman’s tap finds its new home providing water here. Mason was fully involved in sourcing materials for the home (“though the builder was very helpful in providing useful alternatives,” he says); determined to use steel wherever wood was normally used, it was important the materials used be ‘raw’, allowed to age and weather as they would if exposed to the elements. The resulting handmade steel handrails and features around the home look industrial, yet appropriately historic for Paddington.
In many cases, Jen says, the structural materials became the aesthetic finish – just look at the heavy beam below the bookcase as an example of how well it works. And in keeping with the history of Paddington while being modern? Black stained vertical cladding lets the home rest comfortably in the background, while weatherboards, tin and fine detailing complements the existing homes without resorting to mimicry. It’s minimalist design, yet with all the warmth of the houses that have graced these streets for decades.
Words by Natasha Pavez. Photography by Scott Burrows.
As seen in Queensland Homes summer 2014.