We thought the use of lava stone would remind the owners of the solidity of the old Italian villas.
Andrew Piva

Canterbury Road, Toorak, isn’t typical of the prestigious suburb’s sprawling homes. Just behind the Toorak Village shopping centre, the street features a number of Victorian cottages, on modest sites. However, these cottages have increasingly been replaced with large, often three-level homes (with basement car parking) and compact courtyard-style gardens.

One of the cottages has been replaced with a new three-level home, designed by b.e. Architecture. On an east-west axis, and covering approximately 350-square-metres of land, the Toorak house is almost fully clad in blocks of lava stone. “Our clients, a couple with two young children, come from an Italian lineage, even though they were both raised in Australia,” says architect Andrew Piva, a director of the practice. “We thought the use of lava stone would remind them of the solidity of the old Italian villas,” he adds.

Nestled behind a high black-stained timber fence, entrance to the Toorak house is via a Japanese-style courtyard garden to a side entrance. “We often design entrances at the side of our houses. It sets a path that allows you to ‘read’ the form and materiality of the design,” says Piva, pointing out the ‘floating’ lava stone above the home’s front grey-tinted mirrored glass window that also creates privacy.

A sense of surprise, rather than predictability, is also integral to b.e. Architecture’s approach. Past the threshold, there’s a sense of standing in a walled courtyard rather than a hallway. The patchwork of greys, charcoals and brown hues appearing in the entrance walls creates a sense of the outdoors, as does the external courtyard garden directly ahead. “We could have simply used plaster on the wall, but it’s more engaging to walk in and be able to caress this stonework,” says Piva.

The other reason for bringing you into the house via the side is to set up sight lines. From here (entrance) you can see from the front to the back garden,
Andrew Piva

On one side of the entrance, orientated to the street, is a second living area. And on the other side, orientated to the rear west-facing garden, is the open plan kitchen and living area. Both these areas are slightly below the lobby to further articulate both living areas. “We’ve used a fairly restrained palette of materials to accentuate the form of the house. Our client (a director of Franze Developments) was also keen to create a simple and minimal palette, but using quality materials and finishes,” he says.

The kitchen, for example, features generous limed walnut joinery combined with grey marble benches and splashbacks. Fine black steel delineates cupboards and terrazzo runs throughout the kitchen and living areas. “The owners wanted robust materials, ones that would also withstand the test of time,” says Piva, who continued some of the materials to the rear courtyard, which includes a plunge pool, outdoor kitchen and pizza oven.

The second level, accessed via a dramatic oak-tread staircase, is enclosed by polished walls, and is illuminated by a generous circular skylight. “There’s a sense of generosity in the layout. We didn’t want the feeling to be one of compression,” says Piva, who provided fewer, but larger, rooms in the design.

As with the ground level, the bedrooms on the first floor are delineated by the staircase. On one side, there are the two children’s bedrooms and a shared bathroom. On the other, offering glimpses of the city skyline is the main bedroom suite, with a generous ensuite and walk-in wardrobe. To provide privacy to the north, and prevent overlooking to a neighbouring home, b.e. Architecture included a Japanese-style garden. “We often use a garden to create privacy and prevent overlooking rather than insert a hard screen. It’s a much more subtle way to create privacy and far more pleasurable to look at,” says Piva.

As with a number of new homes on Canterbury Road, basement car parking is preferred, particularly given the size of the blocks. For this house, there’s basement parking for four cars and the residual space is given over to a media room/gymnasium and a mudroom, together with a separate bathroom and a laundry. And mindful of bringing shopping straight to the kitchen bench, a lift services all three levels. A relatively large house for the site, approximately 380 square metres, the Toorak house has everything family homes have, but on a considerably smaller footprint. “It’s important to create special moments in a house, features that you almost just come across and allow some time for reflection,” adds Piva.

Words by Stephen Crafti.


b.e. Architecture can be contacted on 03 9529 6433. Photography by Peter Clarke.

Lifestyle & Design

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