You can’t help but do a double-take when you drive by this home in the suburb of Prahran. As you take the corner, its modest picket-fenced frontage extends into a majestic, angular building that’s eye-catching in all-white. It’s been completely transformed by owners Elissa and Ben, both doctors. “We bought the house ages ago with the intention of living in it,” says Elissa. “We really liked the old Victorian cottages around Melbourne. Then, you know, family happened and we realised it was too small for us.”
The couple, who live nearby with their young daughter, decided to renovate the “poky” cottage and turn it into a future-friendly rental property. “I feel like we all need to be thinking that way,” says Elissa. “With climate change, it’s inevitable. We’ll all have to go electric.”
It was previously one level with two bedrooms, a small kitchen and living room, and a bathroom that was “tacked onto an old, quite dodgy renovation out the back”. A heritage overlay listing meant they were restricted in the changes they could make. “We had to keep the facade and Council was quite firm about not having the upstairs too close to the front of the building. So that forced us to come up with something a bit more interesting,” says Elissa.
Who lives here?
This is the family’s rental property.
What was the project brief? Elissa: “To restore a leaky worker’s cottage and transform it into a well-heated and cooled, solar-powered and aesthetically pleasing house for the rental market – unheard of.”
What were the challenges? “Council limited the size of upstairs and therefore the roof space available for solar. We also had to work with a heritage overlay and a small, corner inner-city block.”
Why did this type of home appeal? “We have a passion for sustainability and eliminating fossil-fuel energy use. The future is electric! The energy savings are also a win-win for the tenant and landlord.”
“There’s free sunshine so we wanted to maximise the solar capacity and have a really energy-efficient house.”Elissa
The open-plan kitchen, dining and living space unfurls onto a courtyard. “It’s a small site, so we only had room for a courtyard,” says Elissa. “The upside is it requires minimal maintenance.” Under the deck is a 5000-litre water tank for reuse purposes.
The Lounge Lovers ‘Bronte’ sofa and armchair with Adairs and L&M Home cushions create a soft space to relax with a sunny outlook. The side table from HKliving and a Globe West ‘Hills’ coffee table offer the ideal resting spot for books or a cup of tea.
“The idea was to create a flow from the kitchen through to the courtyard and make it feel bigger,” says Elissa of the space. White walls, light floors and streamlined joinery by Precision Cabinets, paired with oak handles from Linear Standard, turns the kitchen into a practical and beautiful space.
The kitchen features a simple, considered palette, including a selection of stainless-steel pieces to add interest. A hi-tech Fisher & Paykel ActiveSmart French Door fridge sits between the cabinets to one side of the kitchen and the stainless-steel Franke EOS pull out spray mixer tap is paired with a Clark double bowl sink from Caroma. Artworks by Tuftluck on the kitchen shelf and by the window add character and tie the areas together.
Insulation acts as a barrier to heat flow – it makes your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer, leading to a reduction in energy usage. This home has insulation in the roof, walls and under the floors. A neutral rug adds another layer of insulation to the floor, plus a lovely tactile experience underfoot.We love… insulation
The new upstairs bedroom has a walk-in-wardrobe that has proved its worth. “The shelf and mirror in the wardrobe is perfect for getting ready and putting on jewellery,” says Elissa. “We had to move a service, which was planned to go in the roof/cupboard upstairs to the courtyard, so we got a bit of extra wardrobe space.”
The diagonal design allows the second storey to sit back from the original front section. They kept the original two bedrooms and added a third upstairs with an ensuite. The biggest challenge in making the draughty worker’s cottage energy efficient was sealing up all the cracks. “I think that makes a big difference to the energy efficiency of a house,” says Elissa, who got an air-tightness consultant on board but wishes they had done so earlier.
The second storey includes the main bedroom and ensuite with a double shower. Considered choices for this space include AXA square sinks with chrome basin mixers by Phoenix Tapware, all available from Reece. The matt white wall tiles from Signorino are paired with ‘Melk Natural’ floor tiles from National Tiles.
“Trying to fit all the spaces and services we wanted in was the ultimate jigsaw puzzle.”Elissa
While the finished product is incredible, it wasn’t without obstacles. Regardless, the first-time renovators pulled it off and are pleased with the end result. As for the longer-term benefits like savings on power bills (and, of course, the pros for the planet), those will come. “The tenants have only been there for a month, so we’re still getting data in,” says Elissa. “I’m sure time will tell.”
Builder: Murchie Group, murchiegroup.com.au.SOURCE BOOK
Air-tightness testing: Passivetech, passivetech.com.au.
Landscaper: Van Leeuwen Green, vanleeuwengreen.com.
Styling: Neighbourhood Property Styling, neighbourhoodps.com.au.
Electrician: Demann Electrical, demannelectrical.com.au.
Windows: Taranto Windows + Doors, tarantowindows.com.au.