A nine-metre-high glass-fronted, skylight-capped void, spliced into the front elevation, creates a showstopping entrance and unifies the spaces along the vertical plane. Comprising a quarter of the home’s volume, the void frames views of the tree canopy outside and brings light into the interiors. While visually and functionally unconventional, the finished layout is also practical and future-proof: children’s bedrooms and a home studio on the lower floor; common living areas and kitchen in the middle; and a luxuriously private parents’ retreat on the third floor.
Ben Koster, a long-term HIA member who established Birdsmouth 16 years ago and works exclusively with architects, describes the 12-month construction period as ‘probably the hardest build I’ve ever done in my life’. While the original building was solid and the Birdsmouth team didn’t encounter any nasty surprises, he says it was the logistical challenges that kept him awake at night: the nuts and bolts of getting materials in and out, sequencing demolition works, and the sheer physicality of constructing the void. (Each panel of glazing, weighing ‘hundreds of kilos’, had to be carried in by hand. The skylight, at 201 kg, was craned into position.)
In the end, he says, ‘we had to build the place upside down’ – first installing the metal framework for the skylight, and the third-floor ceiling and framing, then cutting away a section of the floor to open the top of the void, before moving down to do the same on the middle level, and so on.
Throughout the interiors, the structural components of the old building take centre stage. Ben and his team uncovered low bluestone-lined doorways, long-forgotten joinery, pitted and aged brickwork, fragments of render. At every turn, these treasured vignettes reveal the richness of the building’s past.
‘There were a lot of unusual techniques that the builders had to employ, different painting and plastering techniques to work with the texture and the quirks of the old building,’ Chris explains. As the home morphed into its new shape, materials were retained and repurposed; new walls created from old bricks; timber beams refashioned into vanities, doors, cladding, jambs and steps; and hardwood floor joists were cleaned up, run through a thicknesser and used to construct the 4.5-metre-tall front door.