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From tiny acorns

Photography: Tom Ross

From tiny acorns

Photography: Tom Ross
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This extension project in inner Melbourne proves that good things really do come in small packages.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

Both imposing and reticent, this backyard studio is a sophisticated take on the traditional concept of a granny flat. Set into, and partially concealed by, an undulating timber-batten fence, the studio reaches skywards behind a striking series of white fins, its steeply angled roofline contrasting sharply with the curvaceous timberwork and delicate, trailing greenery.

Constructed during the first wave of Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdowns, the project nicely rounds out a long professional partnership between the builders, MB Constructions and the homeowners. ‘I think this would be our third or fourth project with these guys,’ says Damian Baldi, owner of MB Constructions. ‘We’ve seen their kids grow up. They’re all teenagers now.’

The project was created to give space and privacy to the family’s eldest child as he started university.

It’s fitting then that this project was created to give space and privacy to the family’s eldest child as he started university. Things get even more meaningful when Damian reveals that one of the trickiest aspects of the build was working around a sizeable oak tree: ‘We had to make sure that tree wasn’t affected because it was planted by the kids from an acorn at the park. And we were building right practically up to it. So, we had to be very careful of that.’

Located in Melbourne’s inner suburb of Hawthorn, the project was designed by architects Claire Scorpo and Nic Agius from Agius Scorpo, who describe it as an exercise in ‘garden optimisation’.

As well as the dual-purpose, self-contained flat, which will be used as a home office in the future, the scope included a garden shed and pool – all integrated within that incredible fence and on just 120 square metres of land.

The extension, nestled in a corner of the backyard, is just four metres wide; but what it lacks in footprint it makes up for in light and volume. The lower level consists of a glass-walled living/dining space that opens onto the garden, with a kitchen and bathroom positioned against the rear wall. A laddered staircase leads up to the loft sleeping area which sits between a wall of north-facing glazing, shielded by vertical shade fins, and the steeply raked ceiling.

‘It was unique but it’s quite a simple sort of construction,’ Damian says. ‘It’s got the tin roof … that timber cladding is beautiful, and then it’s just got some internal plywood sheets that give that feel with the beautiful red brick wall and green cork flooring on a concrete slab.

‘There were some detail issues we worked through together but apart from that, the actual build wasn’t that hard at all.’

A laddered staircase leads up to the loft sleeping area.
The scope included a garden shed and pool – on just 120 square metres of land.

Inside and out, the finishes are simple and pared back: silvertop ash battens, the base banded with white paint, encircling the garden space and camouflaging the entry to the shed and part of the studio. (‘I think we asked the architect three times, are you sure you want us to paint a straight white line on those beautiful timbers that we oiled?’ Damian says, laughing.) 

The studio itself is finished in a Scandi-esque combination of timbers, white-painted VJ panelling and ply cladding, every element realised with absolute precision and clarity. This sustained attention to the tiny details – ‘the one percenters’ – is a fundamental aspect of Damian’s work ethic. ‘It’s about how you finish off a project.’

Damian is incredibly proud of his young nine-strong team, and the Hawthorn project showcases the diversity of their expertise. ‘They are a really good bunch. They want to come to work; they care about the job. I think it shows in the work they do.’

Everything, from the detailed carpentry and joinery work through to the pool and sculptural off-form concrete feature wall, was done in-house. ‘There was a lot of timber involved, which was probably why we came into play because we do all our own carpentry. We try and keep as much in-house as we can between the nine of us.’ Not only does this reduce scheduling conflicts and delays, but it vastly improves the customer experience. ‘We’re a one-stop-shop and can offer a personal service as well.’

Inside and out, the finishes are simple and pared back.
‘There was a lot of timber involved,’ says Damian.

Outside of trade skills, as compliance and the ‘paperwork trail’ get ever more daunting, Damian says he often refers back to HIA for advice on business-related matters. ‘That could be insurance or legal or the help with apprentices. Having that behind the scenes is great because we don’t always get things right, and it’s good to have that help.’ Like almost every other builder out there, he says that ‘coming out the back end’ of COVID has presented challenges, but ‘we’re ploughing through and it’s OK’.

The Hawthorn project took shape slower than expected, thanks to the pandemic. ‘There were a lot of unknowns for everybody. It did prolong the project more than what we would’ve thought,’ Damian says. However, despite disruptions to the momentum, works were completed by the end of 2020, and the clients – who had been closely involved at every stage – ‘love the space’.

Damian credits much of the project’s success to the clients’ original vision and the architects’ ability to fit a studio, shed and pool into a tight space ‘and make it look and feel the way it did. It was incredible.’ He says collaboration, in the form of regular meetings and open communication, kept all the details in check, ensuring a smoother build. It also contributed significantly to the finished outcome – and that’s something that applies across all MB Constructions projects.

Damian is incredibly proud of his young nine-strong team.
The Hawthorn project took shape slower than expected, thanks to the pandemic.

‘Anyone can build. I think it’s the way you go about it; it’s the way you present yourself, the way you communicate and the way you deal with clients’ expectations,’ Damian says.

‘A home is the biggest investment my clients probably ever make so I like to have some communication with them. I like to know things about them because that helps me deal with the expectations of what they want. We make sure they have a good experience and when they move in, they’re happy to move in.’

First published 7 December 2023

Hawthorne home at a glance


MB Construction Group

Design and Interiors

Agius Scorpo Architects


Hawthorn, Victoria

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