Farmhouse renovation in Melbourne

Nestled in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, restoration ignites functionality with stylish trends trans-forming an old farm house to a slice of black timber magic.

Kids are playing in front of the house
ARTICLE Penelope Barker IMAGES OLA Architecture 

When we first bought it, we called it The Crack House, because it had so many cracks,” says Melbourne restaurateur Jesse Gerner of the tumbledown Victorian Italianate house he and wife Vanessa purchased in Northcote about seven years ago. “We were naïve as to just how bad the condition of the house was!”
The house, built in 1885, had been the original farmhouse in the area and inhabited since the 1940s by generations of the same Italian family who grew fruit trees and veggies and kept chooks.
Jesse and Vanessa wanted to retain as much of the original house as possible and add a modern extension at the rear that would be a complete contrast, and suit the needs of their growing family which now includes sons Sam, aged six, Oliver, four, and Archie, two, plus dogs Ruby and Charlie.
A modern wooden kitchen
Having had a bad experience with a commercial build for one of their restaurants Jesse and Vanessa first wanted to find a builder they could trust before proceeding with any renovations. “We searched for two years and were lucky to find builder Wade Lovach who was very patient and transparent,” recalls Jesse. “We did the whole job as an owner builder set up, Wayne charged an hourly rate and we bought all the materials.”
The entire build ended up going over budget but Jesse is quick to point out that this was not the fault of the builder. “We originally thought we would be up for $500,000, then $700,000, then $1 million, then $1.2 million and it ended up coming in at a bit over that. A lot of this was due to our own decisions regarding the quality of the build. We’d find a beautiful material, then an even more beautiful one, then a totally awesome one. You choose a few of those awesomes and there goes your budget!”
For the restoration of the original house and design of the extension the Gerners called in award-winning architects Manos Mavridis and Phil Snowdon of OLA Studio. 
“It would have been cheaper for the clients to knock down the original house and start again,” says Manos, “but they were determined to keep as much of the original dwelling as possible. The house was in a very bad way and a lot of money and effort went into retaining original features. In fact, it was deteriorating so rapidly the structural engineer advised the family to move out.”
A bathroom in black and white background
While the fireplaces and pressed metal ceilings were retained, the roof had to be propped up and replaced with a new slate roof and, much to the disappointment of Jesse and Vanessa, the 110-year-old hand-painted Australiana mural in the front entrance had to go. As much as possible, bricks from walls that had to be demolished were reused elsewhere. 
In complete contrast to the solid white masonry of the original house, the extension is a lyrical, lightweight structure of blackened timber. The thermally treated red spruce, called Lunawood, is burnt then oiled and is essentially maintenance free.
“It took three guys using massive blowtorches about three months to treat the wood,” recalls Jesse. “It’s charred twice then oiled. Now it’s been weathered for a while it’s lightened up and greyed a bit and looks very cool.”
“The concept was for the Victorian part of the house was to be very much about being inside, while the new extension was about being part of the garden,” says Manos. Rather than a single open plan space opening to the garden at the rear, the extension is conceived as a series of boxes opening into one another with a courtyard garden in between. A steel staircase leads upstairs to the main bathroom, which is cantilevered over the kitchen, an office space in the roof cavity and a deck above the dining room. 
An up stair place with light decoration
Hidden behind the parapet roof is an array of solar panels, while a large rainwater tank is concealed down one side of the house. 
Vanessa, who was responsible for most of the choices of materials, had help from an interior designer friend on ideas for the lighting throughout. “Too many people leave the lighting choices until the end when they renovate,” says Vanessa. “Good lights are like jewellery for your rooms and should be integrated into the design concept as early as possible. “
With the one and a half year build completed, Jesse and Vanessa called in landscape designer Sam Cox who has created an edible garden at the front of the house with olive, citrus, apple, pear and mulberry trees and raised veggie beds. “It’s quite agricultural but beautiful,” says Jesse, “and we’re planning to serve a dish in one of our restaurants from time to time based entirely on ingredients from the garden.”

You might be interested in reading about another case study in Melbourne: A class above

Renovate Magazine Logo
This article by Penelope Barker featured on page 70 in Issue 022 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page. This is not a Refresh Renovations case study. 

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