Although many might warn against designing for or with family and friends, Australian architect Beth George describes the experience of designing her sister’s forever home in Perth as “an exceptional collaboration.” The statement serves as a testament to the sisters’ closeness and mutual respect—while the stunning results are both a reflection of their shared past and a vision for the future.
George’s sister, Frances, an archaeologist turned stay-at-home mum, and Frances’ husband Mark, a rheumatologist, had purchased the 1908 Edwardian home and its surrounding plot of land years ago and had lived there to get a better feel for the space and start to plan before embarking on a major renovation. The compact structure was outdated and had a “zany 1980s-90s extension” that leaked at the back, but otherwise had lots of original character. Located in the leafy suburb of Subiaco and bordering a historic district, it had been known as “the Lilac House,” a reference to its purple walls. The home had been on the Heritage Register until it was removed from the list when the previous owners made plans to demolish it and subdivide the land. As a result, it was not actually officially protected by any historic preservation laws. Still, Frances and Mark valued its character and sense of history, and so chose to maintain it.
A large-scale home renovation can test the best relationships, so the family let honesty and professionalism be their mantra. “We all took care of each other through the process,” says George. It was her second commission from the family; she had worked on her brother-in-law’s medical suite earlier in her career—a project that tested the waters for their working relationship and help them set the road map for the future collaboration.
The process of carefully planning the design included long conversations where the sisters looked back on their shared past and looked to the future of Frances’ family. “My sister and I reflected on our favorite memories of growing up together in the Perth Hills: listening to trees, birds, and frogs; reading on the lawn; invading each other’s rooms. We used these memories to generate atmospheres and spatial relationships for her four daughters.”
The couple’s four daughters range in age from six to 16, and the family wanted spaces for togetherness, but also for seclusion—and the oversized lot provided plenty of opportunities to design for ample public and private spaces. George left the original dwelling in place and removed the two rear walls. A long, linear kitchen and the dining space are transitional spaces that lead to the new contemporary extension in the rear. Full-height windows look out on the courtyard, giving the home an almost terrarium-like quality. The rectangular concrete extension houses the living room, which also looks out on the greenery and the swimming pool at the center, and the master bedroom is quietly tucked away in the back. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, one for each of the girls.
Concrete was a natural choice for George, who was inspired by the use of the building material that she saw when she traveled throughout India and Sri Lanka on a travel scholarship after she graduated from university. “I was totally struck by the work of Balkrishna Doshi and Charles Correa, particularly by their use of folded concrete elements that provide structure, space, and hydrology all at the same time,” she says. “I referred to this when thinking about the collective concrete elements in the house, all of which connect to gardens.”
Concrete is also able to multitask: It can convey a sense of weight while also giving off a light, sculptural feel; it is able to work both indoors and outdoors; and it’s incredibly durable. A material that hopefully will be able to add at least another hundred years to the original home’s lifespan—with a design that is masterful in its ability to evoke past memories, as well being the source of many new ones.
The Reed House is currently shortlisted for two awards: the Australian Institute of Architects Awards in the Alterations and Additions category and the Houses Awards, for Alterations and Additions over 200 square meters.
Related Reading: A Carbon-Neutral Concrete House Is an Exemplary Infill in Western Australia
Project Name: The Reed House
Architect of Record: Beth George
Builder/General Contractor: Alan Pope & Associates
Structural Engineer: Atelier JV
Landscape Design: Banksia + Lime
Cabinetry Design/Installation: Shepherd Craft
Dining Table: Guy Eddington Design