The inhabitants of a former family home on one of Melbourne’s premier boulevards are dancing to a different beat.
The Avenue in Parkville is a picturesque boulevard from a bygone era. Number 262, a Queen Anne-style house, occupies a coveted site.
A family home for decades, it’s now accommodation for 23 ballet students attending the Australian Ballet School, in Southbank.
The arched brick entrance looks like the “mouse hole” entrance to the nearby National Gallery of Victoria.
To fit in students from all around Australia, as well as Japan, China and New Zealand, this fine early 20th century home has been reworked by MGS Architects.
Apart from a small lean-to, almost the entire period home has been retained, simply freshened up with paint and new carpets.
“We wanted to touch the original home as lightly as possible. As you can see, the beautiful joinery, architraves and open fireplaces are all intact,” says architect Joshua Wheeler, director of MGS Architects, who worked closely with architect and associate of the practice Catherine Ranger.
“It was important to make students feel as though they were literally coming home rather than to something that felt quite institutional.”
Ranger initially looked at several options, including a two or three-storey building behind the home’s gabled roof.
Outside has the feel of a suburban back garden with a well-kept lawn.
While there’s a formal arched entrance at the front of the house (predominantly the girls’ wing), the students ranging in age from 14 through to 18, use a side gate that opens to a winding path and a new single-storey pavilion.
“One of the ideas we were interested in exploring was ‘a secret garden’,” says Wheeler, who included a curved feature brick wall and privacy screen just outside the entrance to the new wing.
While not deliberate, the arched brick entrance leading to this wing has a semblance of the “mouse hole” (the northern entrance to the National Gallery of Victoria and a stone’s throw from the Australian Ballet School.
“Most of the children staying here haven’t lived away from home, so it’s important to give them a sense of familiarity,” says Ranger.
The contemporary new wing, which includes the boys’ bedrooms, is constructed in grey brick and stands apart from the period home.
As well as a link with a lowered ceiling, there’s a small lightwell-garden to allow both buildings to “breathe”.
And to ensure high surveillance, without being obvious, generous glazing and unimpeded sight lines form an integral part of MGS Architects’ design. Likewise, the head of boarding’s office is glass-fronted and is the first place of call when students come home.
“We didn’t want to create a strict environment. This is their home, not their dance studio,” says Wheeler. “No mirror or [ballet] bars feature in our scheme.”
The open-plan lounge, adjacent to the communal dining area, has a strong domestic feel.
Doors lead to a garden setting, not dissimilar to the suburban back garden with a manicured lawn.
But in this instance, there’s a generous covered deck and built-in window seats internally and externally.
And to add some colour, the extension features timber cladding stained a deep mauve.
One of the pleasures of visiting this abode is seeing not only the open-plan contemporary style living we’ve come to expect, but also the past retained.
The original kitchen, for example, is now a communal kitchen for students to make their own snacks (breakfast and evening meals are prepared by staff in a separate kitchen).
Complete with butler’s pantry and stainless steel benches, there’s a sense of the family home left behind.
“We saw this project as a ‘home away from home’. It had to be comfortable and provide an important break from school,” says Wheeler. “There are certainly more than enough areas in this house to stretch.
“But having comfortable chairs and a garden forms part of one’s wellbeing.”
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