polished concrete floor red steel structure

Tales of the unexpected

A glorious, post-modern collision of retro motifs, bold colour and elegant raw finishes, Oak House in Melbourne’s North Fitzroy is a stunning reimagining of Victorian architecture.

Photo: Derek Swalwell

Author

Gabrielle Chariton

This extensive renovation and addition project involved restoration works to a double-fronted Victorian house and construction of a new two-storey addition to the rear. The home unfolds from its (almost) traditional facade in a series of unexpected visual treats – from the brilliant blue porch tiles and screen door adorned with geometric shapes, through to the intriguing interplay of drama and subtlety that characterises the interiors. 

It was designed by residential architects Kennedy Nolan, and built by HIA member Weiss Builders, who specialise in constructing out-of-the box architectural projects where co-operation and collaboration are key. ‘We do highly detailed work where there’s a lot of engagement from the clients and the architects, every element is carefully considered and assembled,’ explains founder and director Christopher Weiss. 

This philosophy held particularly true for the Oak House project, which is the result of an extended design phase, during which every element was carefully deliberated over as the owners awaited council approval. Once Weiss Builders joined the team, further changes were made as they devised the best structural solutions to bring the design vision into reality. 

Weiss Builders red steel structure concrete renovation
Underpinning the entire home, functionally and aesthetically, are the bold red gridlines of a Brise Soleil, a shade structure that serves to protect the north-facing elevation from excess heat gain. 
Photo: Derek Swalwell
geometric black kitchen and terracotta tile dining room
The interiors are at once highly detailed and almost austere, pivoting on the creative – and exacting – application of raw materials, sculptural forms, and an edgy, stripped-back colour palette. 
Photo: Derek Swalwell

The home’s layout is flowing and uncluttered, designed for easy family living and entertaining. The original section of the house comprises two bedrooms; a new, cleverly designed ensuite which can also function as a main bath; and a formal sitting room. A deliberately blurred line between indoors and out provides a seamless visual linkage between the old and new elements of the home. The kitchen and dining space runs adjacent to a north-facing courtyard, with a sunken living room positioned off to the side, completing the ‘U’ around the courtyard. This room opens via custom-made large-format steel sliding doors on both sides to take in views of the surrounding greenery, including the magnificent 20-metre high oak tree for which the house was named. Upstairs, behind a full length bank of louvres, are two more bedrooms and a bathroom – a hideaway for the children.  

The interiors are at once highly detailed and almost austere, pivoting on the creative – and exacting – application of raw materials, sculptural forms, and an edgy, stripped-back colour palette. Between the polished concrete floor and black ceilings, jewel-like pops of colour burst forth.

‘The colour setup is pretty bold…there’s some touches of blue and the Manor Red which is a real seventies colour,’ Christopher explains. 

Terracotta tiles, laid in a crisp grid formation, line the dining and living room walls (and reappear in the courtyard outside); burnt-red powder-coated steel frames the glazing. Geometric motifs – circular and triangular – play out in brilliant blue. At the heart of the black-clad kitchen, an oversized island features dramatic triangular inlays of black and white granite. The ensuite floors and walls are finished in a striking swathe of earthy terrazzo tiles, accented with ecobrass hardware. It’s eclectic, yet cohesive; tied together with the extensive use of honeyed oak Oregon joinery.

‘It’s a beautiful timber, it has a really golden, warm finish and is beautifully integrated into the build,’ Christopher says. 

geometric black kitchen
‘The colour setup is pretty bold…there’s some touches of blue and the Manor Red which is a real seventies colour’
Photo: Derek Swalwell
terrazzo tiles bathroom
The ensuite floors and walls are finished in a striking swathe of earthy terrazzo tiles, accented with ecobrass hardware. 
Photo: Derek Swalwell

Concrete serves to unify the indoor and outdoor elements of the Oak House; visually softening the interior palette and providing a sense of stability. It’s used structurally throughout the new sections of the home; most visibly in the green roof that sits atop the sunken lounge. ‘The top and bottom of this suspended roof slab are both concrete, so you get a concrete soffit,’ Christopher explains. The seamless transitioning between floor and ceiling, internal and external, was executed with a rare precision: ‘It’s really carefully detailed so you don’t see the junctions between the underside of the soffit and where it becomes external walling’. 

Underpinning the entire home, functionally and aesthetically, are the bold red gridlines of a Brise Soleil, a shade structure that serves to protect the north-facing elevation from excess heat gain. 

‘Essentially, it’s a solar screen that stands off the building and works to control the light and heat,’ Christopher explains. ‘It absorbs that initial solar heat gain and then releases it via air circulation.’

The Brise Soleil was custom designed and constructed by Weiss Builders, and Christopher considers it a crucial element for the project. ‘At 15 metres long, it was a great challenge to get right!’ he says.

The architects brief was for an ‘extruded, monolithic form’, originally imagined in steel. ‘We had to rethink many aspects of this structure to be confident it would stand the test of time and still achieve the architect’s vision.’ 

The resulting aluminium structure represents a feat of engineering: ‘There are no visible connectors and it’s lightweight, it’s durable,’ Christopher says. ‘We’re really proud of this piece.’ It’s an imposing presence in the courtyard, but also has a ‘spectacular’ impact on the interiors, he adds, thanks to the ever-changing shadow patterns it creates. 

renovation addition concrete and red steel structure
The resulting aluminium structure represents a feat of engineering: ‘There are no visible connectors and it’s lightweight, it’s durable.'
Derek Swalwell
renovation addition concrete and red steel structure
The architects brief was for an ‘extruded, monolithic form’, originally imagined in steel. 
Derek Swalwell
polished concrete bold colour interior
‘The colour setup is pretty bold…there’s some touches of blue and the Manor Red which is a real seventies colour’
Photo: Derek Swalwell
terrazzo tiles bathroom
The original section of the house comprises two bedrooms and a new, cleverly designed ensuite which can also function as a main bath.
Photo: Derek Swalwell
Despite such technical challenges, the construction of Oak House was relatively straightforward and the home was completed in August 2018, following a 13-month build. The finished result is a stunning showcase of the Weiss team’s talents; every element of the architect’s vision realised with care and precision. 

And in the end, the home, in all its retro, post-modern splendour, is as unique as the family it was created for, who, Christopher says, were deeply involved with the design and are thrilled to be living in it. ‘They’re extremely proud of what they’ve been a part of; a beautiful reward for their tenacious commitment to a dream!’
Weiss builders renovation red steel structure

Oak Tree House at a glance

Builder: Weiss Builders
Architect: Kennedy Nolan
Location: Fitzroy, Melbourne

Materials:

  • Brise Soleil: Fabrication by Weiss Builders and McKinna Sheetmetal
  • Green roof: Installation by Fytogreen; Planting by Amanda Oliver Gardens
  • Walls: Rosso Box terracotta tiles (rear facade, columns and dining room)
  • Flooring: honed exposed aggregate slab finish (extension); Terrazzo tiles, Signorino (bathroom/ensuite); Polyflor ‘Noppe’ studded rubber tiles in ‘Cobalt’ (kitchen); Tasman
  • Grey flamed cobble stones, supplier by Granite Works (courtyard)
  • Kitchen island: black and white granite, De Fazio (supply and install)
  • Joinery, doors and handrail: Oregon timber
  • Door hardware: Designer Doorware
  • Tapware: AstraWalker

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