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ORIGINALLY THIS FACTORY in West Melbourne was used to distil alcohol. Built in the 1930s, the solid, attractive building was recently converted into apartments and some of them, including what is now this sleek warehouse-style pad, were sold as shells. "My clients bought it as a shell, literally a black hole in the building," says designer Greg Gong, explaining that the project was initially conceived as an investment property destined for the boutique rental market Ã‚Â¬until the owners decided the apartment simply had to be for them.
The clients, a couple with one child, kept their brief open apart from a few wishes. "Three bedrooms, a spa bath and room for a large fridge," recalls Greg, who was a little surprised by the latter request given the apartment's proximity to the Queen Victoria Market. "You can buy fresh vegetables almost every day," he reasons. On the whole, however, the clients were happy to place their trust in Greg's proposal for a living space that would spell a complete departure from their suburban house. "Some people are a bit afraid of minimalism, they think it will be uneventful, almost boring. But if you approach it the right way, it can be quite powerful," Greg says.
From the outset, Greg was keen to celebrate the building's generous volumes as well as its industrial aesthetic. He opted for materials and surface treatments that were industrial and robust. An epoxy-coated concrete floor, for example, shimmers gently throughout the entrance, kitchen, dining and living areas. In two-thirds of the apartment the existing ceilings have been left almost untouched - sandblasted to expose the original texture and then tidied up with a light coat of matt sealant. And rather than conceal columns behind plaster, they are left exposed. "It was a factory, it was never going to be like a suburban house," observes Greg.
The kitchen, positioned just inside the entrance, features a six-metreÃ‚Â¬long central island bench. Crafted from in-situ black concrete, one side of the bench displays pock marks. In contrast, the concrete finish on top of the bench is as smooth as satin, emulating the stainless steel surfaces of adjacent work areas and appliances. Greg has introduced another layer of textural contrast here, too, with blue gum joinery. To ensure that clutter is kept to a minimum in this prominent space, he designed a long wall of built-in cupboards, and left more than enough room for the clients' wished-for commercial fridge.
Greg modulated the ceiling heights throughout the apartment to afford the bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen/dining areas an intimate ambience. The new suspended ceilings also hide services and bring a certain sculpted rhythm to the open plan spaces. In the dining area, for instance, Greg dropped the ceiling height to 2.7 metres, while in the living area the existing ceiling is a lofty 3.6 metres and features the exposed beams of the old factory. A sheer screen, concealed in a ceiling slot, can be lowered automatically to further enhance the intimacy of the dining area.
A hot-rolled steel wall panel is hung on the main living room wall, serving as a piece of industrial art. The steel has a burnished patina - a by-product of its manufacturing process - that brings tonal depth to this otherwise monochromatic space. On a practical note, it also conceals the flue. The wall takes the observer's gaze through the floor to-ceiling glass walls beyond, and out to the balcony and its views over a gritty, but charming, West Melbourne roofscape. "It's about bringing the indoors out and the outdoors in," says Greg, who merged the floor of the living space with the concrete-floored balcony. One of the major structural changes made to the building - representing a significant portion of the budget - was the removal of external concrete walls and columns that had enclosed the balcony. These were replaced with a toughened glass balustrade to extend the views to Melbourne's Docklands.
Greg used 2.4-metre plaster walls topped by toughened glass strips to define bedrooms and bathrooms. The high glazing allows the warehouse to be appreciated in its entirety. "You still have acoustic separation, but you don't feel as though the space ends abruptly where the living is divided from the sleeping." The main bedroom also borrows space from the balcony, and from the adjacent reading nook. Simply furnished with a bed designed by Greg, this room has a meditative quality, as does the ensuite. Here, a glass-screened shower features an elongated slot in the marble slab to drain water and a similarly slim slot in the ceiling to remove steam. Recycled timber adds tonal depth to the bedrooms and is repeated in the laundry joinery next to the kitchen. "It gives the warmth a residential space requires and compliments the industrial textures - it's a fine balancing act," explains Greg, adding that the warehouse also has 30 metres worth of joinery to cater for family's storage needs.
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