A house with a small footprint makes a big impact

With interior spaces that perform multiple roles, and clever use of surface materials, this new house at Mornington offers everything a growing family needs.

Often the most creative architecture and design happens in the face of significant constraints. In the case of this house at Mornington, south of Melbourne, designed by Vibe Design Group’s Principal Designer Michael O’Sullivan and Senior Designer Katie Rees, the constraint was a very tight building envelope. “We’d subdivided an old house and were building in the former backyard,” Rees explains. “So it’s a small site already, and then there are two-metre easements on two of the sides and offsets for tree protection zones because of the mature trees in the reserve next door.” And on top of all that, perhaps the most salient point – the house had to comfortably accommodate Rees’s family of five!

One thing in the site’s favour was its orientation, which not only enabled the house to take full advantage of northern sunlight, it provided a green outlook to those trees in the public park next door. But while the outward views help the interior feel a little bigger, it couldn’t solve the material problem of making the house function as a home for two adults and three kids. That required a very specific design strategy.

Designing flexible spaces with multiple uses

O'Sullivan and Rees’s approach for wringing maximum amenity out of the house’s footprint was to design interior spaces to be adaptable to different modes of occupation. So although there are only two separate areas on the ground floor, the open-plan living area and the garage, they can be used in many different ways. For example, during the day, the island bench and dining room table become a home office for Rees (after the completion of this project, she started her own design practice and now works from home). The other benchtop, which runs along the wall, operates as kitchen area, breakfast bar, study and storage area. And on weekends, the garage doubles as a second living space.

Above: Essastone in Grigio Pezzato Gloss finish benchtops, Laminex FormWrap White Satin finish cabinetry. Laminex FormWrap in Nightfall Matte finish Island cabinetry. All cabinetry features a Classic 2mm profile. Laminex Metaline Black Ice splashback.

“When we have lots of people over, we push the garage door up and pull the workbench out to make a table,” Rees explains. “The kids can run around, and ride bikes and scooters, and we’ve effectively created another active living space, connected to the outdoors but separate to the main living area.”

Using surface materials to change perceptions

When asked why she was drawn to Essastone and Laminex surfaces for her home, Rees gives a pragmatic response focused on aesthetics and durability. “The colours and the nature of the products worked beautifully with the contemporary colour scheme we were going for,” she says. “And we wanted the house to be super-liveable. We didn’t want people to be scared to touch or use things, we wanted the whole home to be used all the time.”

Above: Essastone in Grigio Pezzato Gloss finish benchtop

But the way that O’Sullivan and Rees have applied these products, particularly in the open-plan living area, shows how clever use of surface materials can change the way we perceive interior spaces. Instead of using distinct materials palettes to demarcate separate functional zones, surfaces are designed to dissolve these boundaries, enabling the interior to fully adapt to its different roles. So we see cabinetry in Laminex FormWrap White Satin finish running all the way from the kitchen through the breakfast bar to the study and storage zone. We see the feature wall in the lounge area clad in Laminex Impressions Sublime Teak to match the timber of the dining suite. And we see the earthy tones of Essastone benchtops in Grigio Pezzato Gloss finish mediating between the stark white of the kitchen cabinetry and the warmer tones elsewhere in the lounge. The island bench cabinetry in Laminex FormWrap Nightfall Matte finish plays a similar balancing role.

Above: Laminex Impressions Sublime Teak wall panels

In contrast to the white-painted walls elsewhere in the house, the kitchen wall is clad in Laminex Metaline Black Ice. It’s been applied to the strip above the overhead cabinetry, to the splashback, with a glazed section providing a view of the landscaped side garden, and to the section of wall below the breakfast bar. This black background adds an incredible sense of depth to the space, which only increases at night-time. “When it’s dark outside, you can’t see the window at all,” Rees explains. “It’s almost like the glass takes on the persona of the black Metaline. The whole area just looks black.”

Above: Essastone in Grigio Pezzato Gloss finish benchtops, Laminex FormWrap White Satin finish cabinetry. Laminex FormWrap in Nightfall Matte finish Island cabinetry. Laminex Metaline Black Ice splashback.

The materials palette extends throughout the home – most notably in the bathroom, where Sublime Teak reappears on cabinetry, paired with Essastone in Caolino Gloss finish – to create a sense of cohesion between rooms. And beyond the walls, the idea of continuity of space and blurring of boundaries continues. There’s a small outdoor entertaining area, but then, a gate in the rear fence opens up into the reserve, with its trees and lawn and playground. Some backyard!

Above: Essastone in Caolino Gloss finish vanity and Laminex Impressions in Sublime Teak cabinetry

So O’Sullivan and Rees have overcome the constraints of this small site, and also shown how surface materials can be used to create adaptable, comfortable interior spaces. We talk more and more about the need for Australia’s cities and suburbs to increase in density, and this small house for a big family provides a pretty good model for the future.