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City warehouse loft conversion with exposed timber structural columns, brickwork

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Loft conversion in character heritage building with exposed bricks, Douglas fir columns, timber ceilings, barn doors

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Remodelling a character building is often a balancing act – heritage aesthetics versus modern convenience and comfort.

Architect Chris Hawley says he took a softly-softly approach when converting this century-old brick building into a private residence. The building, which was originally a laundry, had many heritage features that needed to remain intact.

"The project was about restraint," he says. "You don't get a second chance if you make a mistake and drill a hole in the wrong place. The inherent qualities of the architecture need to be respected – the more you touch the fabric of the building, the more likely you are to do harm. We wanted to celebrate the architecture with simple gestures that would be in keeping with the heritage character – we especially wanted to avoid awkward connections between the old and the new."

With the building providing two floors at 650m2 each and a half-basement floor, organising the huge space was another challenge. Hawley says the owners chose to position the main living area and most of the bedrooms on the top floor, with an extensive entertaining area on the first floor. The lower level accommodates a gymnasium and mechanical services.

"At some stage before the current owners acquired the property, the interior of the building was painted white from top to bottom," the architect says. "There was also some very dark wood panelling in an office area, and a water-damaged ceiling on the second floor concealed all of the original beams and joists."

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The entire building was dry ice blasted to remove the white paint. Every last trace of paint was removed from the main living level, but remnants remain on the first floor – the distressed finish serving as a reminder of what went before.

The panelling and low ceiling were also removed, and all of the original steel windows were replaced.

"We introduced triple glazing to the new windows, which are otherwise exact replicas of the original, single-glazed windows," says Hawley. "The old windows had not weathered well – the high levels of condensation and humidity in the laundry had rusted out the steel frames."

All the large Douglas fir structural columns with their original cast iron capitals were exposed in the refurbishment. Even columns within bedrooms and wardrobes were exposed so the original architecture can be read at a glance.

New insertions include a curved, dropped ceiling that defines the seating areas on the top floor and conceals mechanical services. Cutouts in the ceiling ensure the columns remain exposed.

"The owners, who are well travelled, wanted a world-class interior with international influences," the architect says. "But there were some constraints. They did not want a strong warehouse aesthetic in the areas where they would be eating, sleeping and brushing their teeth. These spaces needed to be more intimate, so we also introduced dropped ceilings to the bedrooms and bathrooms."

The original concrete floor on the first floor was ground and polished to expose the aggregate. On the top floor, the existing maple floors were retained, complete with oil spots and holes where folding tables were originally bolted to the floor.

Large barn doors, in keeping with the semi-industrial character of the building, were added to the entertaining floor, so that the different areas, which include a bar and home theatre, could be separated as required. Wood and milled steel feature on these doors, and on most of the other built-in cabinetry in the building.

"It's a very simple material palette," says Hawley. "The architecture provides the texture, with the wood and steel adding to the patina."

Interior designer Shelly Neal of McNeal & Friends worked closely with the owners on the choice of furnishings for the interior. To break up the huge expanse of the main living area, the furniture was grouped in key areas, some of these defined by large area rugs.

Here, also, the palette is simple, with warm neutrals, natural materials and strong textural elements complementing the tone and texture of the brickwork and timber. And there is a visual softness to the form of the furniture pieces that balances the strong lines of the architecture, without detracting from the heritage character.

Some furnishings, such as the I-beam light fixtures above the bar, were custom designed to provide an appropriate visual weight to the space.

Other key features of the refurbishment include a porch with a fire door-style window that can be raised to open up the space to the street. There is also a rooftop terrace with barbecue facilities.

First published date: 28 July 2015

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Credit List

Architect Chris Hawley, Chris Hawley Architects
Interior designer Shelly Neal, McNeal & Friends
Kitchen designer Alexander Adduci, Bulthaup
Builder Mutchler, Bartram Architects
Kitchen manufacturer Bulthaup
Structural engineer Solien & Larson Engineering
Windows Wausau aluminium by Custom Window Co
Wall panelling Douglas fir
Paints and varnishes Sherwin Williams
Lighting Tech Lighting from Visual Comfort
Blinds Lutron
Kitchen cabinetry Walnut in Smoke
Benchtops Grey quartzite from Stone Holdings
Splashback White glass
Kitchen sink and faucets Kohler
Oven, cooktop, microwave oven and dishwasher Wolf
Ventilation Bulthaup
Refrigerator Sub-Zero
Bathroom tiles Walker Zanger @@@ Story by Colleen Hawkes ***