There are only a handful of remaining prefabricated Singaporean cottages that came to Melbourne in the 1850s, a time when goldminers were looking for quick and affordable housing. The history and rarity of this home appealed to a young couple with a young child, keen to renovate and extend it. Presented in a as dilapidated condition that could possibly exist, with an awkward ‘tacked on’ brick fence that concealed its potential charm, it has been thoughtfully reworked to give it a completely new lease of life.
The many layers that had been added to the cottage over decades were removed and each item and material closely examined: including the Roman numeral etched into each stud that would allow its assemblage once the cottage arrived in Melbourne. The wide board sugar pine cladding was also reused, with a new recessed entry door. Like many of the surrounding buildings, this one had a number of additions over the years including a ‘Balinese-style’ bungalow among the jungle to the rear.
In the new scheme, the bathroom and ensuite were located centrally at the front of the house, clad in recycled rough sawn Messmate timber. It was referred to affectionately during the project as the ‘dunny block’. Layers of original 1870s wallpaper was retained as a feature to the home’s entry, recalling a time when miners would endeavour to add a personal touch to often bare interiors.
This cottage also very much responds to the present, with an open plan kitchen, dining and living area that leads to a courtyard-style garden. Messmate and Corian benches add a mix of recycled and contemporary touches in the kitchen. And as there was an opportunity to build to the site’s boundaries (just under 240 square metres), and with clever planning, there was sufficient room to include a third bedroom at the rear. While the past captures the essence of the 1850s, the present, with its vaulted ceilings and white cork floors, responds to a family looking for ease of modern living and generous natural light.
The St Kilda house is certainly not large by today’s standards. But it includes everything one could need, including a butler’s pantry and a second living area. And for this heritage streetscape, it has retained an important part of the street’s history from a time when the goldrush produced simple and instant homes for those with relatively modest means.