From the 50s to today

Improving the orientation of this 1950s classic and creating a more flexible floorplan means this family home now makes the most of old and new.

1950s home

Anne and Gavin’s mid-century house had narrowly survived a series of renovation attempts by previous owners – falling victim to pesky drafts and poor orientation – so the couple were keen to ensure their overhaul solved the problems of the past while showcasing the period aesthetics of the Thornbury home.

“We wanted to retain the original features of the house and add more space,” says Anne. “We wanted the changes to be sympathetic to the original 1950s features using modern materials, and we were hoping to achieve a more flexible floor plan which had a better separation of living and sleeping areas.”

The couple confess to being “absolutely clueless” about the renovation process so they employed design architect Natasha Palich to oversee the project. She says creating a compact, functional design primarily within the existing building envelope – the north facing living space is the only addition to the floor plan – was challenging but the end result fits the brief.

Rooms have been reconfigured to allow for improved ventilation during the warmer months and existing brick walls provide for some thermal mass, which aids winter heat retention.

1950s renovation doorway1950s renovation exposed brick

“The old house had service areas oriented towards the north, while the new design inserts a living space on the northern side that interacts with the back garden,” says Natasha. “The old house had a convoluted circulation path, while the new layout links all living spaces and provides a north-south connection through the house that provides vistas and the potential for cross flow ventilation.”

Double glazing was fitted in all new doors and windows and some existing windows were also upgraded. Walls are now equipped with R2.5 insulation and R5 batts line the ceiling. Recycled floorboards help to retain the 1950s aesthetic in the new living area.

Anne says the couple intentionally chose fittings with high energy efficiency ratings. “Most of the lighting is LED and there are three solar tubes in rooms with fewer or no windows – the laundry, powder room and bathroom,” she says.

As retention of the 1950s aesthetic was very important to her clients, Natasha cleverly fused mid-century elements into the design of new joinery. The new design retains existing bricks on the north facing wall and exposes them internally to clearly identify the old and new parts of the house.

Anne and Gavin are thrilled with the result. “The design is thoughtful and sympathetic to our original house,” says Anne. “We have retained some original blonde brickwork as a feature for our internal walls, while new brickwork is dark blue and grey. I love the way the internal brickwork shows the original form of the house.”

New windows are constructed from aluminium but the scale and proportions are in keeping with the original windows, and the steel windows at the front of the house have been restored. Generous windows in the living area reduce the need for lighting and maximise winter sunlight. And, importantly, those pesky drafts have been sealed to create a more even year-round temperature inside the home.

In a lovely touch, the front door is new but the style is reminiscent of the 1950s and painted pale blue. “Many visitors think it’s the original door,” says Anne. Two frosted glass original internal doors were also retained.

1950s renovation front stairs1950s renovation dining

So which energy efficient features have the greatest impact on the liveability of the home? “The back of the house is much warmer in winter than the front of the house where we have retained old steel framed windows,” says Anne. “Double glazing makes for a much more comfortable space.We are waiting to see how much effect there is on bills. The new windows offer better circulation of air in summer, which cool the house faster.”

Anne and Gavin advise prospective renovators to “do as much as you can all at once” rather than complete a renovation gradually. They are also keen to emphasise that they worked to a tight budget but still managed to achieve a comfortable, energy efficient result.

“We had a pretty easy experience of renovating,” says Anne. “Our challenges were financial – every decision was influenced by the bottom line. Unfortunately we found in many cases that the higher efficiency or more sustainable options cost more money so we are yet to install solar panels, a rainwater tank and sub-floor insulation. But now that we have a fantastic finished house we can add them in the future.”


Text: Angela Tufvesson

Photography: Roma Samuel



Prepared with assistance from Green Magazine

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A brick 1950s house in Melbourne

Smarter Renovations profile – From the 50s to today

Improving the orientation of this 1950s classic and creating a more flexible floor plan means this family home now makes the most of old and new.