Prizewinning Respect for History: Coventry Place by Michael Jan Studio

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Sometimes the best-laid plans get an unexpected turn; that’s what happened when a builder intended to put two homes on a Coventry Place site in Melbourne, only to find that the house already there had historic value! That’s when he called in Michael Jan Studio, formerly JAM Architects, for help. The house was a prefabricated cottage, dating from 1852 or 1853, and had come to the site imported from Singapore; in the face of this, work began on restoring it under the direction of Roger Beeston, a heritage architect. Now, the ancient structure is “backgrounded” into a modern home with a kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms. On one hand, a soaring façade of glass and concrete…a sun-filled expanse that brings all the best of modern indoor/outdoor life to the site…and on the other, precious history.

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Here, old and the new meld in fun ways: note the leather wing chairs in nonchalant counterpoint to an ultra-modern kitchen, its cabinetry doing double duty as a camouflage for equipment and appliances. “Animal” fur rugs on the floor complement both the new wing and the interior of the original vintage cottage, now furnished with an off-white sofa and loveseat. Printed wallpaper gives an old-fashioned feel to this room, while a similarly printed wall as an accent in the kitchen/dining area looks fabulously chic. And, citing how “the new house … generously allows the cottage to assume its original and rightful place in the urban setting of South Melbourne,” the Victorian Architecture Awards gave this project the 2009 John George Knight Award for Heritage. Sometimes, knowing a bit of history pays off!

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