Photography Douglas Mark Black. The front of the home, designed in 1962, has been  retained, while the more dramatic modernisation has  been implemented at the rear.

Three & Easy

Last Updated: 03 Dec 2015
Hannah Lawrance

A trio of separate builds, featuring right angles, robust materials and a unique frame connecting inside and out, combine in the incredible renovation of a classic home.

Renovating this 1960s post-war residence in City Beach was the first project for emerging company Mark Aronson Architecture (MAA)… and the result, which keeps the beautiful, historic forefront while creating a brand-new modern backyard, is nothing short of amazing.

The design of the house was broken up into three separate entities, dubbed XYZ. Section X is the retained original dwelling, designed in 1962 by architect GE Swallow, whose work was exemplary of West Australian modern architecture at the time. The foundations of this section comprised a low-pitched metal roof, Donnybrook stone on the facade, jarrah floorboards and natural brickwork – elements that Mark Aronson Architecture wanted to preserve.

The original brickwork, salvaged from the existing house after the bar area and arch had been replaced, is employed in a simple extended living space.

"One of the things that we are actively trying to get involved with is specialising in existing buildings which have architectural merit," says MAA director Mark Aronson. "Homes that are basically post-war buildings have a place in the history of the streetscape and of Perth. It would be a tragedy to be sweeping them away."

The house is just a few minutes' walk from the ocean, and is positioned
on a slope, with the site being split in a north-south alignment to protect the foundations from strong southwesterly gusts of wind.

The project called for a synchronisation in aesthetics from the original house to the additions, says Mark, and keeping the horizontal aspects did just that.
Which brings us to the Y element.

The first addition to the house was a parallel piece that backed towards the pool, with the idea of having a framed view of the outside, and the same from inside out.

Backing on to the pool, the home's 'Y' element frames views into and out of the building.

The continuity of the landscape brick formation is seen from the front to the end of the house.

"The interiors specifically had a lot of brickwork," says Mark. "But it was narrow, thin-format brick, and they had a lot of timberwork too, so the whole design had a real feel of horizontality about it from the elevation.

"The horizontality, colours and timberwork are all representative of the Danish work that's all about horizontal furniture."

The picture frame component – connecting the inside to the outside – extends across the alfresco that aligns with the pool for picture-perfect views – literally.
The large-scale window also serves another purpose, says Mark. "The idea was that we would form a large window seat inside and outside, so you could sit at the pool and have pool parties, with the structure also forming part of the enclosure, instead of having an ugly pool fence."

The line where the timber flooring ends acts as a demarcation point, marking the extent of the original house.

He says one of the components was to dismiss any sense of seclusion or separation from the inside out. The materials used coincide with the original materials in play, such as fibre cement sheets in a metal-oxide paint, glass, metal cladding, and refurbished timber and jarrah.

Curiosity led the clients to climb their roof, where they were pleasantly surprised to find they had great ocean views. It was at that point that a second storey was designed, and thus component Z was born.

An original column has been retained after the timber room-divider was removed, and has been painted blue to add another level of aesthetic contrast.

The living space allows an appreciation of light that was not possible in the house before. Facing south, the room doesn't overheat in summer, making it perfect for typical Perth weather.

Mark concluded the best approach was to continue the horizontal aspect on a smaller scale. This section of the structure was built along the edge of the original building to minimise structural connections through the existing fabric. The room would act as the client's master bedroom, which also created an advantage in sheltering the alfresco below.

The renovation has proved an iconic and inventive approach to modern architecture for our laid-back Australian lifestyle.

With this project taking just over a year to complete, it has proved MAA is a small firm worth watching, garnering a mention in the House Alterations and Additions category of the 2015 AIA Awards in the Residential Architecture.

"It was the first house we had done, and it was great to get anywhere!" says Mark. "It's just like 'wow' – I'm so happy we pulled it off."

Beyond the line of the timber flooring, both the outside and inside rooms are finished in exposed aggregate polished concrete.

The view from the street with the reinstated house frontage. MAA prides itself on
retaining existing buildings as well as performing renovations. The decision respects
the urban design of streetscapes, and allows the houses to evolve organically.


Mark Aronson on his iconic first project.

What do you think makes this house unique?
We had quite a modest budget, so we worked really hard to create something intelligent and creative on limited funds. If I can make changes and create positive outcomes with what I've got, then I'm fulfilling my role as an architect.

Do you have any tips for working on older homes?
Keep it simple – just try and respect the old place as much as possible and put all of your work into what you're creating. But don't try and knock out too much of the old house.

Any tips for building or renovating on a gradient?
Well, the problem with construction on a slope is that it's more difficult for builders to get materials and equipment in and out. So instead of just being able to get a bobcat in, everything has to be carried by a group of men. It's difficult to get a crane in – so try to make everything a smaller component, then you can carry it through. It's more labour-intensive on an existing house and on a slope – that's why you should keep it as simple as possible.

How did you feel landing a project in City Beach?
For me, I was stoked that we were working on a beautifully classic, 1960s-style West Australian house that had really good presentation to the street. It was about changing the owners' lifestyle and how they felt in the house.

Do you think window seats will be an upcoming trend in homes?
I want to say no, so nobody will copy! But if it is, at least we can say we were the first.


Mark Aronson Architecture, (architects)
BGC Residential,
Pritchard Francis, (structural engineer)
Total Project Management, (project manager).

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