Hood House by Mihaly Slocombe Architects

Hood House by Mihaly Slocombe Architects

Hood House, named for the distinctive window shroud at the rear of the home, could easily have been given the moniker Phoenix House. The architects at Mihaly Slocombe had designed, documented and navigated an arduous town planning process for this single-fronted terrace in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Carlton, only to have the project permanently shelved just as tool belts were being strapped on, when the clients opted to sell the property. Fortuitously, however, a couple retiring from farm life in regional Victoria found what they were after in both the house and its proposed reworking. Hood House was to rise again.

Even more fortuitously, new owners Glenda and Alistair were enamoured with the design as it was, avoiding the need for a lengthy reassessment process at council. The only amendments of note were made internally, with the original scheme’s rich palette pared back to reflect the new clients’ more understated approach. Despite this emphasis on a more subtle interior, a series of beautifully detailed and executed aged-brass details were hung on to and used at key moments, such as in the sliding doors and on the highly bespoke bathroom cabinets.

At the outset, the original terrace needed serious attention; thankfully, the new clients were very keen to see it faithfully restored. The house is one of a pair, and the neighbouring dwelling, as well as a number of nearby homes displaying similar characteristics of the Queen Anne Revival period, provided a fantastic resource for the architects to assemble something that practice director Warwick Mihaly labelled “documentation by photographs.” This clever approach allowed the clients to understand the intent for new filigree around the gable, a bespoke bluestone plinth beneath the iron fence and period tiling patterns on the porch – all details that would have been very difficult to convey with drawings and specifications alone.

The Queen Anne Revival of the late nineteenth century is known for the use of transverse or “turned” gable roofs, which inspired the main architectural gesture – a rhythmic series of roofs springing from the original ridge line. This undulating form allowed a second floor to be added, with strategic dips admitting more light to the neighbours’ windows and demarcating the various rooms on the upper floor. The irregular peaks of the roof are a joy that can be appreciated from very few vantages externally, but that is expressed internally to great effect, with the tilting planes of the ceiling enlivening each space on the upper floor.

Externally, the walls and roof of the upper floor, as well as the titular window hood with its perforated pleats that control overlooking, shade and ventilation, are completed in a crisp white metal finish. The local council suggested this as a way to bounce more light into the neighbouring yards, but the choice was ultimately made after the architects ditched an earlier design clad in ubiquitous black metal, realizing that the dark forms muddied the delineation with the existing house. The white cladding gives the roof silhouette a lightness and elegance that would have been lost in a heavy black mass.

The internal planning, Warwick explains with an audible sigh of relief, was also retained as designed, meaning that the exhaustive work the studio undertook to wrestle a second floor into the house – without poking above the planning controls – was not lost. The key to the planning was the stair in the centre of the plan, which acts as a lynchpin that ties together a myriad of level issues as the house steps down the site. Beneath the stair, a very (in Warwick’s words) “blingy” bathroom steps down twice, once at the entry for clearance under the stair and again for the shower. Here, the team has pulled off an elegant and comfortable space, somehow uncompromised by its spatial restraints. Interestingly, the insertion of the bathroom has compressed the lower flight of the stair to a relatively narrow width of 80 centimetres, expanding dramatically at the landing to the 120-centimetre upper flight. This move from narrow to wide is actually a work of genius. By reducing the stair at the ground floor, a sense of threshold to the private upper-floor living spaces is created, while for those allowed upstairs, the reward is triple, with the effect of the widened stair, the tall volume above (acting as a thermal chimney) and an enormous skylight funnelling light into the living areas below creating quite an experience. The transition sequence was something of a discovery for the architects and one that they hope to use again.

The perennial challenge of the terrace typology is getting light into these spaces. This was especially true here, with the north orientation being to one of the side boundaries. To solve this, generous skylights were introduced along this edge, over the kitchen, where traditional windows would have been permanently overshadowed or screened. There is also what Warwick calls the “miracle” door, an enormous pivoting window that simultaneously frames and then dissolves the back of the house to connect it with a very urban view over the rooftops of inner Melbourne, a world away from the open pastures the clients recently left behind.