MJK

Bungalow bliss

A thoughtfully-rendered remodel and extension updates this home for twentieth century beachside living, while gently respecting it’s architectural history.

Photos: Felix Forest

Author

Gabrielle Chariton  
Californian bungalows, with their solid, welcoming facades and decorative detailing, were a dominant housing style of the early twentieth century, and their heritage appeal underpins the character of suburban streetscapes around Australia to this day. However, while charming, original Californian bungalows don’t necessarily align with twenty-first century lifestyles, with closed-off kitchens and living areas, and small windows hooded with heavy timber framing that make the interiors feel dark and gloomy. 

 

All these problems were present in the Californian bungalow that became MJK Building’s Pacific House project. The home had good bones, but inadequate living space for the owner’s family of five, and the cold, dark, south-facing living areas were completely at odds with the home’s enviable location, just minutes from the shores of Sydney’s Manly Beach. 

 

In 2018, interior designer Megan Brown, principal of Penman Brown, dreamed up a way to transform this ugly duckling into a bona-fide beach babe, and engaged HIA member MJK Building to bring her ideas to life. From concept to completion, it was a project that challenged the building team’s technical and problem-solving skills. ‘It was not an architect-designed project; it was a collaboration between the interior designer and a draftsperson,’ explains Matt Williams, owner of MJK Building. ‘The plans we ended up with weren’t comprehensive. There were [many elements] we had to [creatively solve] as we went along, and due to the nature of the design, it all had to be millimetre-perfect.’ 
MJK
The pavillion-style extension opens via full-height glazing onto a landscaped alfresco area
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
MJK
Vj-lined ceiling studded with skylights
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
Lucky then, that Matt is a builder who thrives on ‘interesting projects that are unique and have a bit of design input from us’. Hailing from England, where he first trained as a carpenter, Matt moved to Australia about 13 years ago and started MJK Building in 2010. His original aim was to create a niche within Sydney’s Northern Beaches market for creatively challenging renovations and new builds. Success came quickly, driven by MJK’s high-level workmanship and strong word-of-mouth around the area. ‘We’re just passionate about building, so I think the rest of it comes easy when you like what you do,’ he says. In the street that Pacific House is located in, for example, MJK has worked on no less than eight homes, thanks to neighbourly recommendations.
 
The scope of works for Pacific House included a full remodel of the original home. The MJK team removed some walls to create a more family-friendly layout, renovated the bathrooms and transformed the loft area into a rumpus room. They also demolished the existing, dated rear addition to make way for the defining element of the project, a new pavilion-style extension – a light, bright, elegant space that houses the kitchen, laundry, living and dining areas and opens via full-height glazing onto a landscaped alfresco area. 
MJK
handmade moroccan tiles and rich marble
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
MJK
The house took shape organically
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
Physically building the pavilion – particularly in the absence of detailed plans – was a fairly involved process thanks to its unique design. ‘It was a square room with a Mansard hipped roof around all four walls and a flat top section,’ Matt explains. ‘We had to excavate and put a big slab down for the structural steel. It’s very hard to brace a shape like that had so there was a lot of steel, I think it was 100 different pieces.’ 

 

Externally, the pavilion reads as a contemporary space, clad in vertical planks of stained ash from Sculptform, softening the bold shape, while surrounded by picture-perfect stands of palm trees. Inside, it’s a luxe, light-filled sanctuary; its crisp white walls and understated oak floorboards the perfect canvas for an eclectic, yet pared-back decor. The VJ-lined ceiling, studded with skylights to capture the northern sun, soars overhead, following the distinctive angles of the roofline. ‘The challenge with the ceiling was that we needed to make sure all the VJ profiles lined up on the hips,’ Matt says. ‘Mathematically, that’s really hard…we achieved it by using a manufactured VJ lining board for some of the ceiling, then as we went around, we made custom boards, routing the V-grooves ourselves, which allowed us to adjust the spacing as needed.’ 
MJK
‘we’re just passionate about building, so i think the rest of it comes easy when you like what you do’
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
MJK
Interior designer Megan Brown dreamed up a way to transform this ugly duckling into a bona-fide beach babe
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
While the architecture of the pavilion is singularly contemporary, the skillful use of colour, finishes and accent joinery visually smooths the transition between the old and new sections of the home. Heritage details, such as the ornate ceiling plasterwork, are juxtaposed against ultra-modern light fittings. In the bathrooms, pale grey handmade Moroccan tiles frame the marble vanities. Marble reappears on a fireplace and – in a bolder, more graphic pattern – the kitchen island. The kitchen splashback, bathed in light flooding down from a concealed overhead skylight, is finished in a subtly textured Venetian plaster. This softly lustrous finish is also used around the bespoke off-form concrete fireplace that Matt built in the pavilion.

 

The linear patterning of the pavilion’s external cladding is mirrored in the interior joinery. The built-in cabinets feature retro-inspired curved fronts, clad in distinctive vertically-grooved panelling. The same panelling is used around the stairs that lead up to the loft, and on a dramatic curved feature wall dividing the kitchen and laundry spaces inside the pavilion. ‘That was all constructed from routed MDF panelling,’ Matt says, adding that creating the curved wall involved a lot of trial and error. ‘It took the joiner about six or seven goes…he kept trying different ways until he could get that curve right.’ 
MJK
Heritage details, such as the ornate ceiling plasterwork, are juxtaposed against ultra-modern light fittings
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
MJK
Oak timberfloors
Photo courtesy Felix Forest
The home took about 12 months to complete, and Matt believes that the lack of highly prescriptive planning actually contributed to the overall success of the finished project. The house took shape organically – one idea inspiring the next. ‘From getting out of the ground right to completion, we were continuously consulting with the designer about how things would work and how things would fit with the next item,’ he says. And while moving through a constantly-shifting project presented logistical problems, Matt says that from the very beginning he knew it was destined to be something special. ‘I could see the designer’s end vision…we just went on that journey with her and it was really satisfying to see it all take shape and come together into something so beautiful.’ 
MJK

Pacific House at a glance

Builder: MJK Building
Designer: Megan Brown, Penman Brown
Materials:
  • Exterior: Sculptform stained ash timber
  • Windows: Shamrock Joinery, Stegbar, Vision 3 Windows
  • Flooring: Oak timber floorboards
  • Tiles: large format, handmade Moroccan tiles, Di Lorenzo and Moroccan Zellige wall tiles from Barefoot Living
  • Kitchen benchtop: CDK Stone marble
  • Ensuite vanities: CDK Stone marble
  • Tapware: Sussex Taps, Brodware Yakato
  • Lighting: Rakumba Standley wall light from Design Nation. 

Related Articles

Levels of luxury

A tower of glistening glass and the opulent oasis within and above, took out two national awards at this year’s HIA–CSR Australian Housing Awards.

Urban oasis

Designed with a focus on liveability and built with meticulous attention to detail, this verdant, secluded retreat defies the constraints of its location.

Into the tempest

Amidst the wild winds overlooking Werri Beach on the NSW South Coast, Bellevarde Constructions has created a family home that is not only awe-worthy; it is award-worthy.

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.

Join more than 120,000 like-minded subscribers