Dot's House

Dot's House

Atlas Architects
Fitzroy North VIC, Australia | View Map
Project Year
Private Houses
Tess Kelly

Dot's House

Atlas Architects as Architects

The project is the client’s dream home for her lifestyle enjoyment.

The house is a Victorian heritage terrace with a lean-to structure at the rear. The renovation kept the heritage front façade whilst rebuilding the rest of the house to suit her lifestyle.


What was the brief?

The client would like:

-A house that is functional, low maintenance, comfortable, welcoming, secure, no grand statements and nothing there architecturally that doesn't have a purpose. No bells and whistles and tricks, but a house that gives the client pleasure because it works and flows well and has a place for everything.

A space that is nice to come home to and to welcome friends into.


- She has quite a lot of books, and she needs space for all the luggage of living. Concealed storage place for every item


- She likes the look of the exposed brick wall and polished floorboards and the feeling of returning to a well-ordered space.


Other requirements:

- Good quality and diffused light but no glare
- Weather protection at front door.
- Guest bedroom facing the front street
- Main bedroom is recessed for privacy and quietness with view out
- Bench space for food preparation with appropriate task lighting
- Fit a dining table for 6
- Workable laundry area with easy access storage space
- Comfortable living space
- A study nook


Who are the clients and what's interesting about them?

The client bought the house with her sister in the 1980s. Previously the building was painted red. They wanted to expose the old brickwork, but after removing the paint they discovered that the whole façade was coated in tar. Therefore, they decided to repaint the façade. She also built a front fence with her father. The old building has a sentimental value to the client. Over the past 40 years, the house deteriorated significantly. The client came to us with the hope of building her dream home. She questioned if the building could still be restored and improved, or if she was better to sell the property.


The client is a librarian with a passion for baking and looking after her cat, Dot. She works in the CBD and would like a home in a location that is easy to commute to work. She wishes to have a house with charm and character, that is also quiet, simple, understated, calm, and modest. A home that is not just a sanctuary for her to return to after a busy day but also a comfortable home for her cat.


1. How would you describe the look of the home?

The architectural style is a contemporary interpretation that aims to compliment the existing heritage fabric without replicating the past.


2. Please list the key materials used to bring the look to life?

The new addition is recessed more than 3m from the front heritage façade. The portion that is visible from Coleman Street appears as a frame of the interior space. This introduces new building elements without interrupting the façade rhythm of the street. The reinstated elements of the original house such as the front porch retain the identity of the heritage place.


From the rear laneway, the parapet and verandah awning profile emphasise the continuation of the original pitch roof form, carrying the physical essence of the original house through to the new building fabric. This can be seen through both the internal cathedral ceiling and the verandah awning. The circular window awning adds an irregularity to the contemporary interpretation of the heritage place, creating a point of interest, but most importantly providing a porthole out to the world for the ‘Queen of the Castle’ - the cat Dot.


The materiality and colour palette aims to create a contrast to Fitzroy messiness and richness of the urban texture while relating to the scale of the adjoining properties. This was achieved through a black and white colour palette, horizontal weatherboards boards and vertical Mini Orb corrugated cladding.


3. What are the key details to bring the look to life?

The project is inspired by its existing urban and architectural fabric. It relates to the surrounding context, not through replicating, but through framing and articulating the physical and tectonic essence.


The front elevation of the new addition minimises the introduction of new materials by expressing the new volume as a black frame, revealing part of the interior cathedral ceiling. Part of the existing brick wall is framed in the entry hall, showing the characteristic of the sites historical past.


Fragments of the owner’s story are framed by the timber shelves along the corridor and in the living room. These were designed to create frames for knick-knacks and books that the owner collected over time. The black rectangular feature light fitting over the kitchen bench frames the various window shapes which contain portions of the external environment such as the sky, buildings and vegetation.


The texture of the urban fabric is brought to the interior spaces through the introduction of the concrete tiles in the shower, formed concrete basin and concrete benchtop in the kitchen and the living area. The hardness and roughness of concrete are then contrasted and soften with the abundance of light timber on the floor and joinery.


What were the key challenges?

-Design challenge:

• Long narrow site with party walls on both sides. This creates challenges to facilitate natural ventilation and light access to the inside.

• Small site area: challenge to incorporate and balance functional outdoor and indoor integration.

• Storage spaces: cataloguing and categorising storage zone for each personal items.


-Structural condition of the existing heritage fabric: Significant cracks on the existing brick façade. Existing brick walls were underpinned to improve stability.


-Services: Electrical supply separation between the adjacent properties.


-Working with the neighbours


2. What were the key considerations before undertaking the project?

-Heritage policy and local context: Consideration of the preservation of the heritage façade and how the new additions could compliment without detracting from the main façade.


-Stormwater management: Incorporation of stormwater treatment to the project where external areas are very limited.


-Budget: determining the building area and whether the project should be single-storey or double-storey.


-Structural integrity of existing building: As the existing building has numerous cracks that required investigation and solutions to minimize and localize future building movements.


3. How did you address these considerations/solutions?

-Design solution: The site is a narrow lot with north-south axis and the existing heritage part of the house is on the southern side. This was an opportunity to maximise the northern aspect by locating the living zone towards the rear of the house. The wet areas are grouped in the middle and the new bedroom has a glazed wall looking out to the front street. The use of skylights became instrumental in creating quality light in the bedroom, bathroom and laundry. The backyard area is limited, however a large bifold door and highlight window creates a sense of openness and flow between inside and outside. The cathedral ceiling continues out and becomes the northern verandah awning. This helps control the light in the living space while articulating the rear façades new identity.


Storage is maximized and created through a vigorous process of cataloguing and measuring the client’s belongings that she would like to bring into the new house. The storage is zoned and allocated throughout the house according to its function, size, and frequency of use.


An important part of the design brief was to provide the pet cat direct access to the laundry where the litter tray was kept. A series of carefully located internal cat doors create efficient circulation within the house. In addition, joinery shelves were spaced at climbable heights to allow the cat to traverse between units. The house was also designed with future accessibility in mind. This includes a spacious shower with a grab rail and a single storey floor level throughout for easy access.


-Services: The neighbouring properties have power supply cables looped via our client’s property. This meant that if the cable was removed for the façade works, the neighbours would lose their power supply. A lengthy coordination process with the power authorities was carried out during construction to facilitate for new underground power supply to the neighbours and a temporary power pole to our client’s property.


-Neighbours: Because our client’s property shares the east and west party walls and boundary fences with the neighbours, careful coordination and communication with both neighbours were carried out before and throughout construction to minimize the effect on their properties.


-Structural solution: The existing blue stone footings were only 300mm deep. Due to the highly reactive soil condition, movements in the earth needed to be accounted for. Structural investigation and solutions were proposed not just to reinforce the existing footings of the double brick walls, but to also separate the new structure from the existing party walls. New expansion joints were installed in anticipation for future differential movement.

This story is available in multiple languages
Share or Add Dot's House to your Collections
Project Credits
Game On
next project

Game On

Madrid, Spain - Build completed in 2019
View Project