Mullumbimby House

By Edward Davis
alterations & additions

32 Station St Mullumbimby

By: Davis Architects

Mullumbimby Residence by Davis Architects

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

The project is situated in far northern NSW on the edge of the hinterland township of Mullumbimby. The existing weatherboard house was re-located to the site from Lismore in 1994. The original house dates back to around 1930-40. This was building typology, very common around that time, features high ceilings, a cellular type plan and an enclosed verandah or "sleep out". (which was designed as a cool space to be on hot summer days and nights as it was positioned to catch the prevailing breeze.) The existing house has been well sited on the block, centrally placed, facing North and addressing the primary street frontage. 

Due to the semi-rural character of the block, the project was more about connecting the building to it's immediate site and forming a design based around retaining and enhancing the existing weatherboard character of the house.

What problems did you have to solve?

One of the main challenges of the project was to retain the character of the existing house whilst substantially increasing the amount of accomodation and outdoor living spaces. It was key that the house should still feel like an "old Queenslander" when completed rather than a moderised version of an "old Queenslander".

The cellular layout of the existing house needed to be "exploded" and re-assembled with most of the rooms re-located to different positions to create larger open plan living spaces that connected to the landscape outside. It was decided early on in the design process, that North and South facades should remain largely intact to retain proportion and roof form and as a result, the new deck should be extended on the Nort-East corner of the house so as not to alter essentially the proportion and feel of the North facade which was dominated by the existing sleepout windows and low horizontal proportions. The new deck allows the house to be "stretched" horizontally which in turn creates a better visual connection to the site.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

The brief to the builders was that all existing detailing was to be retained and all new timber work would incorporate details that took their cues from the existing house. New VJ lining boards were used throughout and these matched the gauge of the existing lining boards. The owner was proud to be able to say that "there was not a single sheet of gyprock in the house".

Engineering also had to be considered, so new beams and posts could easily be inserted into the existing building fabric and then clad over so as to negate their visual impact.

Landscape design was kept intentionally simple as the client wanted a low maintenance garden.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

Both thermally and functionally the existing house did not perform well. The brief to create a much more "liveable" and contemporary home and still maintain the relaxed feel of the existing house whilst working to the modest budget was achieved.

The design transformed the existing house and allowed the existing owner and future owners to gain a lot more value from it.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

Some of the key sustainability aspects of the house are as follows:

  • Insulation was added to all the roofs and ceilings;
  • New timber verandahs wrap around the house to shade all the external doors and windows;
  • Solar hot water units and Photovoltaics were installed on the new roofs to reduce energy costs;
  • Large doors and windows have been placed on the north facade to capture the prevailing cooling breezes;
  • Gas heating and fireplace were installed to reduce heating costs.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

This weatherboard vernacular is something that holds strong associations and collective memory for many Australians. Most small regional towns evolved and grew out of a initial collection of well constructed hardwood timber homes. That aesthetic has survived today and is often referenced in a lot of contemporary residential design.

To be able to retain and enhance the existing building, to give it new components whilst still preserving the overall feel of the house is a satisfying process. The house can now continue to be a part of the "valueble" building fabric of the township for many years to come. The feel that this type of house creates in the rural township is one of the major factors that draws people to the area. While the contribution may seem small when viewed on its own, when many other residences in the area take a similar approach, a very signifigant social benefit is gained.