Mrs Barber’s House

Everyone who sees this home, a Queen Anne-style abode in Fitzroy, immediately thinks that Mrs. Barber once lived here. Unfortunately, Mrs. Barber is a tile the owners fell in love with when they started thinking about finishes. “Our clients initially saw these tiles in a bathroom in a country chalet. It was as important for them to locate these tiles, as much as focus on the functional requirements, such as the number of bedrooms,” says architect Rebecca Naughtin, who ended up using these tiles in the kitchen, the bathrooms and even as a hearth to support the pot belly open fire in the living room.


Originally home to Weary Dunlop (a decorated surgeon during World War II), the corner terrace was previously divided into three separate apartments, one at ground level and two located on the first floor. Each apartment came with its own aesthetic, including retro. When the current owners, a couple with three children, purchased the property, the intention was to return this place into a family home. However, while they were keen on creating one home, they wanted the original scale of the rooms to be respected. Naughtin’s clients came from the United Kingdom, where the places they lived in were more enclosed and there was a level of separation between spaces. “The dilemma was that some of the rooms were fairly pokey, but they still wanted fluid and connected spaces.”


One of the ways Naughtin created more contemporary spaces was by including generous steel and glass doors and windows in the renovation, some of which extend to four metres in height. This strategy was also used to bring in the eastern light to the living areas. And although many renovations see an addition edging into garden space, for Mrs Barber’s House some of the previous additions were removed to increase the size of the garden. Some of the original features, such as the quirky outdoor steel staircase, once an important access point to an apartment, was also retained in the renovation. “We tried to leave as much of the original fabric and detailing as possible.”


Although the kitchen is entirely new, it feels comfortable and lived in with inspiration partially coming from the 1950s when the house was subdivided. Plywood joinery and a ‘floating’ overhead cupboard, edged and supported in steel, create a casual ambience. And of course, Mrs Barber’s apple green tiles (a colour popular in the post-war period) feature on the kitchen splashback. Other features in the kitchen and living area, such as the unusual pendant lights, were discovered by the owners, who liked the idea the frames were designed for sorting wool. “We always work in a collaborative manner, trying to accommodate things that have been found along the way.”


As well as not creating something that it wasn’t, Naughton’s brief was to create a low maintenance home with a limited budget. The tiles, for example, at only $9 per square metre meant that a container load of tiles had to be shipped. And included in the brief was a need for low maintenance, something that comes into the minds of most parents with three young children. Hence surfaces, such as the stainless steel benches in the kitchen, can be easily wiped down as easily as Mrs Barber’s tiles.

“We see every renovation as offering different solutions, depending on the clients and the way they live. It’s their house when the initial discussions commence for the renovation or a new build. It’s certainly not simply imposing my taste and how I choose to live,” adds Naughtin, who enjoys the collaborative process in each of the projects she commits to.

Country: Wurundjeri

Photography: Mark Fergus

Text: Stephen Crafti