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When a Melbourne client wanted to transform her inner-suburban cottage into a multi-generational farmhouse-style enclave, Spence Construction was prepared to take on the challenge. Photos: Derek Swalwell

Kerryn Ramsey

Content Writer

With soaring property prices, busy careers and a desire for kids to bond with their grandparents, many homeowners are choosing to live in extended-family households. While the most common scenario is a family bringing parents into a separate home on a shared block, a Melbourne woman acted in reverse.

In the eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, homeowner Belinda knew her 275-square-metre property could be better utilised. Converting the block, which originally had a timber-clad Victorian worker’s cottage and an expansive backyard, into a dual-living property would give her the chance to live independently – with her son and his wife. 

With a contemporary farmhouse-style, the dominant material is the tactile terracotta cladding on the exterior walls

When Belinda engaged the award-winning Austin Maynard Architects, she explained that the new build had to allow the three of them to live comfortably. While this wasn’t a complex design, Belinda had another request – she wanted a productive vegie garden and communal pavilion that would work as a connection between the two homes. The young couple would settle into the original dwelling at the front of the house while Belinda would have a new home built at the rear of the block. 

To build the new dwelling, Austin Maynard Architects turned to Spence Construction, an HIA member that’s been in the business for nearly 50 years. It was the architects’ – and client’s – vision that excited Spence Construction. According to Matt Gibson, one of the directors at Spence Construction, the innovative materials that ranged from terracotta cladding to steelwork inspired Spence to take on this challenge. ‘The end result created a little village out the back with the garden and link-way joining the existing house,’ he explains.

The original cottage, facing the street has a northern orientation

Since the new build was behind the original cottage, there were constraints with the site due to the narrow access. ‘It took planning to construct it with the restricted access, particularly when bringing in materials such as steel,’ says Matt. ‘We also needed a lot of careful planning when putting together the fine details. There was minimal tolerance around the window and door details, and all the junctions and thresholds had zero clearances. The details had to be spot-on.’

Black perforated metal
The original cottage, facing the street, has a northern orientation. The thoughtful renovation included two bedrooms, a bath, and an open kitchen/living area. The shared unit between the two homes functions as a library, studio, guest house and general social space. Belinda’s dwelling, which is built boundary to boundary to maximise the northern light, comprises of a living/kitchen/dining zone, bathroom and study/guest room on the ground floor. The main bedroom and ensuite are upstairs.
The shared unit between the two homes functions as a library, studio, guest house and general social space
A contemporary farmhouse-style home, the dominant material is the tactile terracotta cladding on the exterior walls. One of the challenges for Spence Construction was waterproofing the building. ‘We had to install a series of steel and metal flashings when protecting the substrate behind the terracotta tiles, particularly around the corners and junctions,’ explains Matt.

During the build, Spence Construction needed to source specialist tradespeople. ‘There are many tile roofers out there, but it was a different concept doing it on the wall cladding,’ says Matt. ‘Our carpenters had to work closely with the roof tiler to execute that.’

Other specialist trades were commissioned to install windows, plaster, steel, joinery, and polished concrete. ‘We’ve had a long partnership with many of the sub-trades who can actually execute those types of works with the level of detail required.’
To introduce energy efficiency, solar was added for heating water and through heat pumps. The building was orientated so streams of natural light spill through the windows. ‘Even in winter, the sun warms the place up, so there’s less need to use a heater or air-conditioning,’ says Matt.

Both the architects and the construction team were happy to get input from Belinda, who lived in the original cottage while the new dwelling was built. Matt explains: ‘Having Belinda onsite was handy because she has some specific tastes and knew how she wanted the family to interact. She also had some real input into the finishes and details, all in collaboration with our team and the architect.’

In the early stages, Belinda referred to the garden and communal pavilion as ‘the soul of her home’. ‘This gives separation when living with her son and his wife,’ says Matt, ‘although it keeps everyone connected as well. Overall, the garden provides a real village atmosphere.’

During the build, the Spence Construction team worked intuitively with the Austin Maynard team. ‘We could workshop issues with the architects to come up with solutions that give the best result. There was an understanding of how each other worked and the collaboration worked beautifully. In addition, having a great client made it a really good experience.’

For more info, visit Spence Construction.


Spence Construction


Fitzroy, Melbourne


  • Polished concrete flooring
  • Exterior cladding: Monier Roofing terracotta tiles
  • Recycled cream bricks
  • Wallpaper: Pandanus ‘Eucalypt’ by Osmond Kantilla from Willie Weston
  • Metal screens with perforated mesh in black
  • 2-Pac painted joinery with blackbutt solid timber benchtops
  • Windows: AWS Black aluminium double glazed 
  • Metal roofing: Colorbond