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The Melbourne Terrace House

26 February 2016

Melbourne is home to a number of housing styles. A simple excursion in any direction from the city evidences the growth rings and the original limits of the city. A great example of this is the drive from Melbourne University starting at Elgin and Swanston Streets heading east. Carlton and Fitzroy consist of small early Victorian terraces, even the shops are terraces! These were working class suburbs on typically small allotments with single and double fronted terraces. Access laneways serviced the rear of these properties and the late night trips to the outhouses must have been a joy for all. Most terraces have a flat front wall with verandah and a parapet with some decorative features including perhaps the name of an English County or town.

In North Fitzroy and North Carlton the more elaborate Boom Style homes emanating out of the gold rush period showed how the other half lived and these dwellings were more often detached. The boom style is referenced by the liberal use of wrought iron and matching front fences.

A majority of homes in Fitzroy and Carlton are brick. The foundations often require work as they consisted of red gum slabs laid on the excavated ground, topped with bluestone blocks, onto which the brickwork is laid. Over time red gum can fail, especially if the drainage around the home has been compromised.

Collingwood, Abbotsford, Richmond and South Melbourne more typically had timber terraces and were even more working class! Blocks of terrace homes made way for the housing commission flats in these areas on the late 1950’s. In these inner city suburbs entire streets we declared “Slum Reclamation Area’s” with all homes compulsorily acquired to make way for the ubiquitous Housing Commission Flats that populate the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

The trip down Johnson Street takes you past John Wren’s old tote at number 148. Once you cross Hoddle Street you are suddenly on Studley Park Rd, Kew. It is still possible to imagine John Wren and Archbishop Mannix heading along these streets into the Melbourne CBD and St Patricks Cathedral.

The Yarra River formed a natural barrier to Melbourne’s initial growth. As you cross the river heading east look down to the left and you will see the remains of the original bluestone bridge that crossed the river and gave access to stately homes on the east side of the river such as Raheen, Studley House and Villa Alba.

Further along Studley Park Rd you eventually run into Kew Junction and Cotham Road. The large Federation and Victorian homes in Kew on larger allotments become evident all the way to Burke Road. This area also has some great Art Deco and Spanish Mission Style homes, while further out in Surrey Hills and Mont Albert to Box Hill the Edwardian homes rule.

Past Burke Road, Cotham Road becomes Whitehorse Rd with its shopping strips and larger retail outlets around Nunawading. This is the era of the fifties and sixties. What were country towns surrounded by orchards, market gardens and small scale farming enterprises have been subsumed by the relentless growth of Melbourne. All the way to the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges is now considered part of the city.

But it is the Terrace homes of inner city Melbourne that now have a timeless appeal. Many of them are now supported by heritage overlays so the streetscapes, particularly in North Fitzroy and North Carlton remain intact. Up until the 1970’s and 1980’s these areas were regarded as less desirable. Melbourne’s urban sprawl and the inner city ease of access have seen them gentrified where trendy cafes and designer boutiques are de-rigueur.

The desire to renovate and extend these homes understandable. Planning considerations always need to be at the forefront of any attempt to work on these properties.

Getting light into these buildings is a major consideration and most extensions involve demolishing the rear of these structures and making open plan living areas incorporating the family kitchen. Depending on planning restrictions they lend themselves well to second storey extensions with added family accommodation.

There are many books written on subject of terrace houses. One recommended publication is “The Terrace House: Reimagined for the Australian Way of Life”. It is written by Cameron Bruhn and Katelin Butler and published by Thames and Hudson. It incldues many examples of renovations and extensions to terrace houses in both Sydney and Melbourne.

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