Skylight House (AKA Kew House)

Skylight House (AKA Kew House)

INbetween Architecture
Melbourne, Australia | View Map
Project Year
Private Houses
Nick Stephenson

Skylight House (AKA Kew House)

INbetween Architecture as Architects

Once a dark and segmented 1970s double brick home, Kew House underwent a complete internal overhaul and external update to suit the modern living styles of its young family.

Retaining the valuable existing conditions of the suspended first floor concrete slab and external double brick walls the internal space was completely transformed to provide future flexibility, maximise access to natural light and improve energy-efficiency.

Natural light and access to the elevated rear yard and pool zone were prioritised – an interesting challenge on a significantly sloping site. Inside, we reimagined the arrangement of spaces to locate family living and common spaces on the upper level, with bedrooms and other spaces requiring acoustic and physical separation located on the ground floor. The double brick external walls were insulated from the outside to further improve the home’s thermal performance.

Three new skylights bathe the deep floor plate and central stair void with natural light throughout the day. Clever orientation ensures morning sun is captured, while the direct, harsher light of the afternoon is avoided. The dramatically tapered shafts, which work to reduce the glazing area required and minimise cost, result in an even, diffuse light at all times of day. Visible from the ground floor entry foyer, this striking feature entices you up into the heart of the home.

Q. The brief and the challenges:

• Renovation of a 1970's double storey brick home on a sloping block with an in-ground swimming pool in the backyard

• The existing house although generous in size and structurally sound, was too dated both cosmetically and functionally. Cosmetically it was very 70's in appearance (depressingly dark, stucco ceiling, grandma's bathroom tiles, arches) with bits and piece of updates from the 80's and 90's; functionally the spaces are small and fragmented, visually disconnected and disorientating.

• The owners, a young family of four, wanted more natural light in the house, larger living spaces and bedrooms and updated amenities without extending outwards. For the backyard they wanted a pavilion that can help easing the harsh high summer sun so they could enjoy the pool more frequently.

• 'To knock down and start fresh or renovation?' was the constant debate from the beginning. We were aspired to retain and rework the existing house for conservation reason and environmental/cost benefit. We also had to make sure we could provide the spaces/function that meet the clients' need. A fine balance we had to find.

Q. The Solutions and the thought process:

• Initial concepts evolved around rearranging the existing program with formal living on ground floor, family and bedrooms on first floor. We were not convinced it was the right approach as there were a lot of doubling up of functions (living spaces and kitchen/kitchenette on both floor) and the cost of structural penalty for opening up spaces on ground floor (holding up suspended slab above).

• Then we decided to take a bold step and suggested flipping ground floor and first floor. It all started to make sense and the spaces started to fall into their ideal relationship.

• Ground floor, being inherently darker and lower in head height, was assigned the private zone which accommodates the bedrooms and rumpus. The cooler climate combining with the abundance of thermal mass means no ancillary cool is required, even in recent stretch of 40 degrees days.

• First floor was opened up to create a new open living, dining and kitchen space with direct visual and physical connection to the outdoor space backyard. Carefully considered skylights were created above the living space to draw natural light into the deepest part of the floor plate for provide a visual focus to the space.

• The existing concrete staircase was retained with the stair void enlarged to allow more natural light to ground floor, more importantly to draw people upstairs into the new living room.

Q. Skylights the heroes

• The feature skylights over the living area and stair void are made up of 3 individual skylights with tapered shafts. The shafts are angled to permit penetration of the morning sun while blocking the harsh afternoon sunlight (instead they give out a lovely diffused lighting like that find in a museum)

• The broken skylights also allowed better structural efficiency as only conventional roof trussed structure was required instead of large beams to support an extended single span opening.

• Solar powered ventilators were installed at the top of the skylight shafts which purge warm air in warmer season to help with passive cooling of the house.

Q. Client's thoughts on the renovation

Double storied seven bedrooms, four bathrooms and pool. Our dream home purchased in 2011 with bigger dreams to come. The structure of this house was strong – slab floor ground and first, double brick walls, grade A soil. And built in the 1970s, this place was a mansion. The only issue, the seven bedrooms were the size of modern day closets. Living areas enclosed and dark. Bathrooms cramped and WIRs – well minimal to say the least. So our bigger dreams were of modernisation, space and light.

Fast forward twelve months and there you have it. Transformation into a four bedroom plus study, four bathroom house with soaring ceilings and light-filled open living areas. Our dream home materialised from the drawings and sketches made. We were led through this process by InBetween Architecture who showed boldness and courage to turn our house literally upside down.

The favourite part of our renovations is without question the soaring cathedral-like sky-lights that not only brought light in, but created space above without impacting on the roofline. Visually our house flowed from room to room with the feature stair-case leading directly to the open tallow-wood living areas lit up by the northern sun. This flow continued to the outdoors with the clever relocation of an outdoor balcony to link to the previously isolated pool-area allowing for an expansive out-door entertaining area second to none.

We asked for a minimalistic design and the clever use of joinery gave hidden space and storage to avoid clutter. The house itself was created with a six-star energy rating with regulated air-flow and clever maximisation of the insulating properties of the brick and slab structure.

Q. What are the elements of the project contributing towards sustainability (in all its forms)?

• The remodeling is informed by passive solar design principles. The programme of the house were turned upside down (moving the bedrooms to ground floor and living space to upstairs) in the effort to best utilise the different micro climate zones. Upstairs has easier access to natural light (great for living areas) while downstairs is easier to maintain a cooler temperature (ideal for bedrooms).

• Existing concrete slabs on both floor retained for benefit of thermal mass

• Existing double brick walls retained and insulated externally (reversed brick walls) for more benefit of thermal mass

• New skylights with tapered shafts to the living area. Optimise diffused natural light without oversizing the opening (which works against you in summer)

• New insulation and solar powered ventilators added to existing roof. Ventilators also extract hot air internally from skylight shafts

• Passive cooling from the thermal mass means no cooling is required to Ground floor at all.

• Low VOC internal finishes including Dulux EnviroII paint and Livos natural oil finish to timber flooring

• Roof eaves retained and new dual shading to windows (sun shade & total blockout)

• LED lighting throughout.

• Hydronic heating

• New pool cover and solar heater to existing pool to help minimising running cost

Project Credits
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