Fixer Upper a new lease of life for a small house


Rear Yard - Before

Treasa had a clear idea about what she wanted to achieve – plenty of light and a sense of space. To begin with we started looking at a two-storey extension, using a central stairs to bring daylight down from the roof. But the city council planners had other ideas so it was back to the drawing board. The second time around we started with the same requirement – how to get light into the centre of the house, and make it seem bigger than it really was. Because the plot was so narrow we were always going to have to build full width behind the house – but this could have blocked off all light and made the house into a dark and monotonous tunnel. The solution in this case was to put a small courtyard just behind the house and move the extension further back. This put a piece of outdoor space at the heart of the house – looked into from all the key rooms and also from the newly located stairs. Although this courtyard is quite small, we made sure it was as big as we could possibly make it, and its effects on the house are far greater than its size suggests. Because it is right in the centre, it is looked into from all the living and circulation spaces in the house – including nice “space expanding” views down into it from the stairs. So as you move through the house you are always looking into it and getting a sense of the outdoors. And because the living spaces are all closely crowded around the courtyard, each gets a good share of sun and light (the courtyard is south-west facing). The result is that the house feels bigger than it should, because the spaces are loosely divided and there are long views from one area to the next, with pools of daylight to draw your eye.

I first met Treasa the (now) owner this (then) very run-down property at the 2010 Simon Open Door weekend. As we walked into what was a really run down and tiny house, Treasa informed me that she’d just put an offer on the place, despite having a nagging feeling that she was mad to do so. But as we talked over what might be possible, and why it was Treasa had been attracted to the house in the first place, I think we both convinced each other that we weren’t daunted, or if we were we could see (just about) beyond it to a new life for this old house. 

The before photos tell a story in themselves. This is a house that had a lot of character, but needed a lot of work. And with a plot just 4m wide there was not a lot of space to work with. 

Sitting Room - Before

Sitting Room and Original Stairs

Sitting Room - After

Stairs & Courtyard

Kitchen & Courtyard

The layout wasn’t the only improvement of course – with a house left in this state there was always going to be a long list of things to be fixed to create a warm, comfortable, good-looking and long lasting house. Treasa and I were greatly aided by an excellent builder, Mick Ennis, and Treasa’s resident carpenter Brendan, in finding the best ways to do all these things and also for a number of very good design ideas that built on what we were trying to achieve.  

I was back to visit the house a little while ago (I tend to leave it a while before going back to take any photos, so the house is properly lived in) and was delighted to see how well Treasa had settled into the house and how much work she had put into making it her own. I reminded her of the more painful parts of the process (living in a dingy 1-bed flat while the job was going on) and was very pleased to hear that they had faded into a hazy memory. And it’s really nice to have a client tell you that they get a lift every time they open the front door and go into their house!