Six fab reno ideas from a small period house in St Kilda East

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Open wide, come inside: the light, spacious, renovated home. Pictures: Greg Elms (gregelms.com/built)

Creating more space in a house on a small inner-city block is never easy.

In the case of this period home in St Kilda East, there was the added issue of a narrow, sloping block, a heritage overlay on the streetscape and considerable council constraints on what could be built on the block.

Chris Jeffery of Ply Architecture was called in for the job.

“The owners loved the area and didn’t want to move, but needed more space,” he explained.

He added two bedrooms and a retreat in a new upstairs section and extended the downstairs living area.

In the original part of the house, the front two bedrooms were kept intact and a study was transformed into a modern bathroom.

A feature staircase with integrated joinery is the star of the new sunken living room.

“The owners love the house now and we managed to squeeze pretty much everything they wanted into the brief while staying within the council guidelines,” Mr Jeffery said.

Below are six highlights from the renovation.

The renovated home with its new extension out the back.

1. A new level

The site slopes towards the rear of the home, which Mr Jeffery decided to turn into a positive rather than a negative.

“There is that noticeable slope, so to get the maximum volume down the back of the house, we actually dropped the new floor down a level,” he said.

“So, you actually step down into the new area. It helped create flow, as well as a defined break between the old part of the house and what is new.”

The floor drops down a level.

2. Linear wall light

A long, linear LED light was added above the staircase, which illuminates not only the timber stairs, but the brick wall.

“Because we wanted to express that old fabric of the rustic brick wall, we added a long light,” Mr Jeffery said.

“The staircase is this crisp, modern insertion and it plays off against that rustic look. The LED light really washes down the wall and picks up all that texture.”

During the daytime, skylights also reflect light against the wall and make the staircase pop.

A long light illuminates the stairs and the wall.


The staircase is lit up by a skylight.



3. White brick wall

The exposed-brick wall was previously plastered over, so Mr Jeffery stripped it back to allow the bricks to become a dominant feature.

The only problem was they were “old-school red bricks”, which might look charming as a fireplace but made the living room rather dark.

“Just by painting them white, we were able to preserve that texture, but make it a little bit more crisp and clean,” Mr Jeffery said. “They really fit the space now.”

Exposed bricks painted white have become a feature.

4. Bi-fold doors

The bi-fold doors were already part of the original house and were integrated into the new addition.

“The owners were keen to use bi-fold doors to open up the living space to the back garden, so we just removed the old doors and reinserted them once the back part was rebuilt,” Mr Jeffery explained.

The decision to keep the doors was about more than just saving money.

“The doors were not exactly the style of bi-fold (the owners) wanted for their new extension, but, from an environmental perspective, they didn’t want to waste them,” Mr Jeffery said.

“In the end, the cedar of the trim on the doors tied in tonally with the above timber, anyway.”

Bi-fold doors integrate the living space and garden.

5. Built-in seating

As a way of avoiding clunky furniture, built-in bench seats were added into the small upstairs retreat area.

“It was a great way to save space,” Mr Jeffery said. “Creating something that is purpose-built is much better for these kinds of spaces as it saves the owners having to take up furniture that is never going to be exactly the right size. The seating was about making it look like it was part of the fabric of the design.”

The bench seat also doubles as storage. “You can take those cushions off and the seats open up,” Mr Jeffery said.

Space saving: the built-in bench seats.

6. Well-placed windows

As the block was small, and neighbours are quite close by, Mr Jeffery had to put a lot of thought into how the windows would be placed.

Rather than opting for standard high narrow windows through the entire house, he placed the windows off-centre in rooms to ensure a view was maintained but neighbours were not overlooked.

“The main window in the south-facing bedroom is quite large, but we added external shutters that allow a view of the surrounding St Kilda area that blocked the view to neighbours’ properties,” he said.

External shutters allow a view of the St Kilda area.

But they also block views to neighbouring homes.

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