TCM Building Group - Brickface

Brickface the brave

Old bricks meet new in this bold corner build that easily fits a garage, pool, studio apartment and roof deck onto a laneway location in inner-city Melbourne.

Photo courtesy Tess Kelly


Cass Proudfoot

Being asked to demolish a recent build isn’t usually a vote of confidence. But for Vince Sainato of TCM Building Group the demolition job was a positive, because it meant the client wanted to work with him again on the same site.

In fact they wanted to replace the simple studio TCM built for them in 2010 with a more substantial backyard build. And the result is a glamorous apartment fit for an aristocrat, or in this case, ready for adult children to move into, when they spread their wings.

‘It was a great build to be part of,’ Vince says. ‘It’s quite striking, it’s in a laneway, but it is well known in the area, so it is a nice feather in our cap.’

The main walls of the Brickface build are constructed using recycled red brick interspersed with contrasting red and blue glazed bricks to add colour, pattern and moving shadows. Recycled brick is often required in heritage overlays, but in this case it was a deliberate choice.

‘That was a design feature from the architect Mark Austin,’ Vince says. ‘Using the recycled brick was [intended] to make the build look like it’s been there for a while,’ he explains.

And it does. Brickface fits into its modest laneway location like it was always there. Although the large round windows provide a clue that this is no ordinary back shed.

TCM Building Group - Brickface

BUILDER: TCM Building Group

LOCATION: Richmond, Melbourne

TIME: 7 months

COST: Around $650,000

The view is even more intriguing from the background swimming pool around the corner, where the brightly glazed PGH bricks, arched doorway and spiral stairs can be seen softening the hard corners of the solid brick wall.

Inside these walls this studio home remains bold and bright, with blue walls and ceiling, and round porthole windows. The effect is striking, but for HIA member Vince Sainato this was just another build, albeit using various custom and recycled elements.

‘It was fairly straightforward, the main challenge was access, and the tight space within the area,’ he says.

The laneway access presented some difficulties with getting equipment and materials in, and the backyard area that Vince and TCM Building Group worked in eight years ago is now taken up with the new swimming pool.

‘The pool came during the build,’ explains Vince.

‘We had to basically do our slab first, and then the pool. We had to get the pool shell in prior to us building from the slab up, so the build process was interlinked.’

It turns out that one of the hardest tasks on this build was removing the original small studio.

‘The biggest concern was demolishing – I knew how well we built it, and we had a large excavator on site breaking up the old slab and it took a lot longer than we’d anticipated. The demolished concrete was sent away for recycling into crushed concrete – and there was plenty of it.

TCM Building Group - Brickface
The main challenge was access, and the tight space
Photo courtesy Tess Kelly
TCM Building Group - Brickface
Bold colours and interesting textures
Photo courtesy Tess Kelly

 ‘It was quite an arduous task to be honest. We did put a lot of concrete into that, and it bore out in the demolishing of it, that it did take a bit to get it down.’

But the hard work has paid off, with a stunning result and added space into the bargain. Even Vince is impressed, and he has been a project manager on house builds for more than 20 years.

‘It has a great feel about it, and they’ve got the roof terrace now as well, with city views. So they’ve increased the area and it is a better use of the space than what was there originally.’

The rooftop doubles as a productive garden, and is accessed via an external spiral staircase, offset from the wall, with a gangplank leading to the terrace.

The staircase looks sensational, but it went together easily.

‘Each tread is one component, and it basically bolts together like a meccano set and is built onsite,’ says Vince. ‘Each section is quite light, so it was relatively easy for the stair builder to put together.’

The terrace itself is made from modwood, a recycled plastic decking product. This was chosen by the architect, after some consultation with the client and the builders.

The large round windows provide a clue that this is no ordinary back shed

 ‘It was discussed a bit, because they did have some decking work originally, and it did deteriorate over the eight years it was there. And being three storeys up they wanted something that was long lasting, and no maintenance, so that was the theory behind using the modwood up there.

‘It has a wood feel and a wood grain to it. It’s not as heavy as a solid timber, and it’s pretty stable. It doesn’t swell or move and crack like timber would. It’s easy to work with – you can cut it with a power saw, drill it with a screw, and it has clips on the side of it so that the fixings are concealed.’

Consultation between the builder, architect and client is a hallmark of this build.

‘Tony Marraffa and myself at TCM have done a few jobs with Austin Maynard Architects over the years, we’ve worked with this client on a few builds, and the client has worked with the architect, so we have a harmonious relationship.’

The good working relationship, and the trust built up over time helped the Brickface clients to be open to brave design choices. The bold colours and interesting textures contribute strongly to the success of this project.

The colours, material choices and detailing were all specified by architect Mark Austin, right down to the pattern of the bricks and the interior paint colour and as the project manager Vince pulled it all together. He contracted an experienced bricklayer who could manage this precise custom brickwork and made decisions on the spot, or with the clients when unexpected issues cropped up.

TCM Building Group - Brickface
Bold colours & interesting textures contribute strongly to the success of this project
Photo courtesy Tess Kelly
TCM Building Group - Brickface
Brickface fits into its modest laneway location like it was always there
Photo courtesy Tess Kelly

 Despite the impressive end result here, Vince maintains that the build was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s the brickwork, custom round windows, and bold interior colours that combine to make it something special.

‘Really it was a standard build,’ he says. ‘It’s aesthetics and small details that give it the appeal – in shape it is a just a box.

‘But the details make it pop, like the feature glazed bricks, little details like the brick edge along the top, half round tops to the doors there and the circular staircase up to the rooftop.’

As a corner build this one may be boxy in shape, but as a studio apartment with pool and roofdeck this laneway gem is something out of the box.

Vince has to agree: ‘It’s always great to be doing interesting work like this – it’s come up really well, I’m really proud of that one.’

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