An Art Deco Queenslander becomes a Contemporary Family Home

Renovating an Art Deco Queenslander into a contemporary family home can be challenging.

It can be difficult to preserve the character and original details, whilst ensuring the finished home suits modern family life.

Read on to see how we achieved this in this renovation project.

This project was my husband’s and my own renovation. It was the third we did together, and by far the biggest!

We purchased it as a project (ie we intended to renovate and sell once complete). It look longer than expected, because around the time of purchasing it, we also had our third child, and I started an architectural practice with 5 business partners!!

This home was around 100m2 at its original size.  A small 3 bedroom home, it had walk-through rooms as verandah space on the original home had been built in to contain a bathroom and study / nursery. A new kitchen had been put in by the previous owners prior to renting it out, and there was a small laundry tacked onto the back, which sat adjacent to a deck. The deck was accessed by a single back door, and had no relationship to the interior.

We renovated it over a three year period into a large and beautiful family home intended for sale on completion.

Built in the 1930s, the home had significant original features both internally and externally that we sought to protect and enhance. It was quite an unusual Queenslander for the area, being Art Deco in style. We wanted to preserve this character, and the local town plan also required that the street elevation be protected, and any other pre-1946 features of the home.

Room sizes weren’t conducive to modern lifestyle requirements, and did not optimise the orientation of the site (which was north to the side). And despite the block actually being a large one for its area, it was a weird pizza-slice shape, and the home was doing very little to create an indoor / outdoor connection with the garden around it.

During purchase, and our settlement date, I worked on several design options. However, when we went for our pre-settlement inspection, we discovered the neighbour had come onto the property (taking advantage of the fact no one was occupying the home), and chopped down a line of significant trees along the fenceline. They sat on our property, and their foliage had screened the neighbour’s upper floor deck (their main entertaining area) from looking down into our yard. The neighbour had done it to open their views and northern light up, and illegal as it had been, you can’t really do much about trees that are no longer there. We did reach a financial agreement with them, but it meant that I had to completely rethink the design in order to create privacy from their overlooking.

The design ideas

So, the design we ended up deciding on raised the existing home by around 1100mm, and shifted it sideways on the block by 1500mm (to the east and away from this neighbour). This then created sufficient room on the western side to add a double-car garage.

We located secondary bedrooms and a family room (or kids’ living space) on the lower floor, with their own bathroom and internal entry from the garage. This living space had french doors that opened onto the side garden. We securitised the front garden with high fencing so it connected to the rear garden as well. This meant that kids could be in the lower living area, run around the garden, come up into the rear garden and main living area, and be safe and contained in the one space.

In renovating the existing home, I was very keen to keep as many of the original features as I could. This included traditional ceilings, and timber detailing on the walls. So, the design in the existing home worked to keep the walls where they were, and we located the master bedroom with an ensuite, and his and hers’ separate walk-in-robes, in this part of the house. We also located a second bedroom, sitting room and study in the original home as well.

The old deck was removed, and the old laundry became a connection zone between the existing home and its new extension. We located a stair in the old kitchen to connect lower and upper floors. A study nook was created in the connection zone, and a full bathroom added on here, which could be accessed as a guest powder room, and also for showers from the pool area.

The biggest change to this home was the pavilion extension we added to the rear. I positioned this along the southern boundary of the home. It was designed as a separate element that ‘bolted-on’ to the connection zone. Due to this design, we could position the pavilion to do a few things:

  1. the main living areas were able to be oriented to the north
  2. it enabled the home to connect with the rear garden
  3. it privatised our garden area from the overlooking neighbour
  4. it stretched out budget as we could then build the pavilion as a new structure and more cost-effectively (renovating can be labour-intensive and slow – a pavilion extension can be much faster and simpler to build, capitalising on new-build efficiencies).
  5. it meant our living / kitchen / dining space could be sized as generous, open plan spaces, and not constrained by existing house structure
  6. we were free to choose suitable materials because it was an independent structure to the home

This extension successfully expanded the home to suit modern lifestyles and enable full surveillance and connection of indoor and outdoor living areas, as well as the pool.

The result was a home to suit any family, at any age, throughout their ages and time in the home. It also gave this gorgeous old Art Deco Queenslander the opportunity to live on!

Some special design features we included that you may find interesting:

The intercom / security door

We wanted to create an intercom gate, so the front door could be left open to bring breezes through the home, yet the home stay secure and private. We also knew that the front door is a bit of a walk from the lower floor, and the rear living areas.

A local aluminium panel fabricator had a range of standard panel designs that included this ‘leaf’ patter. The home itself was located on the grounds of the original orchard of the first home in the suburb – so I loved this motif of leaves / trees / orchards as a decorative element. We had the frame of the door custom made from square aluminium tube, and the panel sized to suit, to fix over the top.

We then fixed a handle and lock, and also included a camera intercom connected to a unit in the kitchen. It didn’t electronically open the door, but it meant you could determine from the kitchen if you needed to walk to the front door!

We also used this aluminium panel design as a privacy screen on the lower floor bedroom, where you start walking up the stairs.

The lettering for the ‘sixty-one’ street number fixed to the house, and the letterbox numbering as well (structurally supporting the timber letterbox) were all custom made to my design, and powdercoated to match the screen panels.

The colour scheme

We wanted to keep the colour scheme fairly monochromatic so as to appeal to future buyers, and give the home a contemporary look. However we were keen to use colour to accentuate the original features of the home. This included the stucco art deco form on the central part of the house, and its feature border, which we highlighted in a darker paint colour. Colours used here are all Dulux:

  • The dark grey is “Bushland Grey”
  • The white is on the window frames is “Whisper White”
  • The lighter colour on the stucco and new extension is “Grey Pebble”
  • The dark / black on fencing and trim is “Namadji” (this is a brilliant warm black)
  • Natural timber battening is Spotted Gum with a natural oil finish

Rainwater chains

The new little roof to the entry needed to be unobtrusive and elegant, and so a downpipe wasn’t going to be a great feature right by the entryway. Instead, I sourced a rainwater chain for that small area of roof, to run down to a stormwater drain mounted in the grass garden below. The same detail was used on the roof to the outdoor room at the rear. That roof was actually made from Solarspan Bondor, which is super-fast to install, thin in profile, and provides insulation and weather protection all in one material.

There were lots more, as a lot of thought, detail and attention went into this home to make it extra special! Have a look through the photos and floor plan below. All images and design are copyrighted to Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

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The “BEFORE” photo of the home!
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This is the home transformed, with new extensions to the side and rear, and a lower floor built in underneath.
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The ‘before’ rear of the home, showing the old deck and laundry.
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The new rear of the home, with the connection zone and new pavilion extension.
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The new pavilion extension with its north-facing outdoor room
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Inside the pavilion, the living room has great visibility of the pool.
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The interior view of the pavilion from the living area. A butler’s pantry and laundry were located at the western end.
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Interior view of kitchen / dining and living pavilion extension.
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The master bedroom in the original part of the home, with its original ceiling and timber features.
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Building in underneath the existing home to create a lower floor. We cladded both storeys in weatherboard to tie together old and new.
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Inside the lower floor, this is the kids’ living space, with access to outside.
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The connection zone between the original home and extension (in the area of the original laundry). This space also provided external access to a bathroom.
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A view of the home from the driveway. We used exposed aggregate for driveway and paths.
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These floor plans show the ‘after’ version of the home. The blue highlight and text indicates the original part of the home, and shows how rooms were repurposed or renovated.

Want to see more Queenslander Renovations? Check out these other blog posts:

Before and After: Bringing a Dilapidated Workers Cottage into its new future

The corner store no more | Renovating a corner Queenslander home

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Work begins to prepare site for a new home | New Zealand Home Project Diary Update #4

Whilst waiting for approvals, work on site begins. And lots can be done!

Read on to see photos and footage – it’s really exciting. Here’s the latest update in the New Zealand New Home Project Diary.

In our last instalment, I shared the final design concept drawings that I prepared for the Andersons. This package enabled them to commission a local draftsperson to work with them to create an approval package and construction documentation.

In the meantime, there is often work you can commence on site without building approval. It’s always worthwhile checking if this applies in your area, for your site – as it can give you a fantastic head start on your project. Building approvals can sometimes take a few months, and that can be a long time to delay a project. Check what’s possible for your project, and whether there’s any work you can commence before you receive building approval – whilst managing your risk as well! (You always have to consider what will happen if you don’t get your building approval when you anticipate it! This is important risk management in any project.)

First, let’s begin with site preparation and excavation

Whilst the Andersons kicked off documentation, and also started getting prices and quotes from various suppliers, this work commenced on site.

UndercoverArchitect-New-Zealand-New-HomeExcavation of house area has begun

Sandcastle making meets icing cakes…


More sand…

Our site and this digger are intimate friends

The compacted sand needs to get to the top of those fluro pegs

Compacting ground at excavated extents

Compacted by 4.5tonne roller

Another 200mm deeper for the 2m circumference of house where load bearing walls are located

Marking out house plus 900mm in all directions

Building Approval plans and documents all lodged with Council. Fingers crossed for approval in 3 weeks.

“Work has started onsite. So exciting to see some physical changes after being buried in plans and getting quotes from suppliers. Due to soil conditions in this area the geotech report required excavation so that we can achieve a compacted sand base of a minimum 600mm under the foundations. We have also tidied up around the eastern and northern boundaries, trimming back hedging on adjoining properties that had overgrown significantly. It feels like we have another 5m of land on these boundaries now.”

Once the site is prepared and the correct pad level is set, the sand base can begin

It will vary based on your site, your soil conditions and your local building rules as to how a site is prepared. On this site, a sand base is created to act as the platform for the home’s concrete slab floor and foundations. This will not always occur, so check you local area as to how sites are prepared before slabs are poured. And you may be having an elevated floor structure, which will vary again!

The sand base here provides a stable, level base for the home’s concrete slab. And remember, that sand base is sitting on an excavated site, where varying trenches were dug for different areas of the home – where walls were loadbearing vs where they were not, for example.

More progress on the sand base. Now that it’s been excavated its time to refill it with sand being continuously compacted with a roller. It’s a slow, methodical and somewhat tedious task. Amazing to see the colour difference from last weeks excavation as it went through the top soil, to this bright white sand.

The sand pad is all complete now, site is pretty much cleared and getting leveled. The roller worked overtime creating a really solid base. We have been really lucky with the soil conditions here, free draining and next to not clay to have to manage. Just wonderful top soil and sand.

The drone footage is a fantastic way to see the size and layout of the home isn’t it?

In the next instalment, the Andersons will progress to having site services installed, and also get a head start on their landscaping. The beautiful thing about gardens are that they grow, and everything costs less when you buy it small. So the Andersons are employing a great strategy to save money, and make the most of their construction time.

Until next time …

Are you starting construction on your new home or renovation soon? Don’t sign your contract without this …

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The final design drawings are done | New Zealand Home Project Diary Update #3

The final design concept drawings are done and we move onto the next stage!

Read on to see the final design concept drawing package, and for the latest update in the New Zealand New Home Project Diary.

In our last instalment, the Anderson’s had decided on a preferred option, and I’d prepared some drawings for feedback.

Now we dive into creating the final design concept drawing package, so they can proceed locally with documentation and approvals.

NB: Not all architects will work like this with their clients. I don’t provide documentation services, so when I work with clients now, I only provide design concepts. They then take them to local designers or draftspeople to then continue the process, have approval and construction drawings prepared and manage it locally. Other designers and architects will provide all of this work for you as one service. It’s important, however you are executing it for your project, that you understand copyright laws and know what’s involved in taking a design to someone else to get drawn up.

So, the purpose of this package of design concept drawings, is to present the design in a way that someone else has sufficient information to convert them into formal documentation.

That means lots of notes, lots of dimensions, and descriptions of windows, ceilings and roof design – both in written and drawing form. Want to know how many drawings you’ll need for your project?

Here is the design concept package for the Anderson’s New Zealand new home …

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Floor Plan of proposed new home in New Zealand

The proposed floor plan is drawn at 1:100 and shows detail for the home’s overall layout. It also shows internal dimensions for all rooms, layout for the kitchen, and window types and sizes (and how they open). The latter information regarding windows and doors can be correlated with how they’re shown on the elevations as well.

Extra notes provide additional dimensions to be applied as standard across the design. Dashed lines show roofing and window hoods over the top of the floor plan, and proposed skylight locations.

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Ceiling Plan of proposed new home in New Zealand

I find that creating these colour coded drawings is a simple way to illustrate how ceilings are to be designed. Anyone drafting these drawings requires this information for the design intent to be carried through properly into documentation.

The aim was to do the bulk of the home in a flat ceiling, so that the roof structure could be constructed in roof trusses, and keep costs down overall. Where the impact would be meaningful, we’ve raked the ceiling (see yellow area). This opens up the volume of the living spaces, and the contrast in volume between those spaces, and the flat ceilings of the adjacent kitchen, will create drama and openness. Those raked ceilings will also have skylights to ensure loads of natural light (especially in winter) enter the main living space of the home.

Remember last instalment when I mentioned the shared storage / fireplace wall between the two living areas, and how we were intending to detail it to maintain a visual connection through? Well, this design proposed one of two options – dependent on budget. One was to do doors either side of the storage wall, with a 2700mm (or 9 feet) flat ceiling over, so that long lines of view could be established when the doors were opened.

The other option (and the one that the Anderson’s are doing … YAY!) is to install glass doors internally in those locations, and run glass over the top of the fireplace / storage wall. That way, the visual line of the raked ceiling runs through both living spaces, as well as loads of light and spaciousness. I can’t wait to see that when it’s finished! It will be incredible.

Lower ceilings (2400mm or 8 feet) are proposed wherever joinery is installed, or in tiled areas, to keep expenses down where possible.

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Roof Plan of proposed new home in New Zealand

The roof plan is important for illustrating roof pitches and any plans for gutter locations, and how roofs are intended to sit over the top of each other. The roof is a huge factor in the form of the home, and in a large site like this, it becomes a fifth elevation. So conveying this information accurately is important in maintaining design intent.

I’ve also indicated where skylights are proposed, and the type as well.

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Western Elevation which is the entry elevation of the New Zealand home, and a long section to support information about ceiling and roof design

Elevations are essential for showing the overall form and materiality of the proposed design. They also show window and door information that sometimes isn’t visible on the drawings.

The intention for this home is to wrap the roof and walls in the same cladding, and create a monolithic, simple and elegant gabled form. Almost like an elegant shed (but on steroids!!) This home is not small … it’s intended to house family, and guests, and life, and generations. There’s a balance we need where we don’t want the site to dwarf the home, but we also want the home to have intimacy and elegance about it too. So, the design of the elevation and overall form certainly assists with this.

You’ll see porthole windows in the entry space – these were intended as a bit of fun. I saw the entry space as being a gallery of family photos, with the porthole windows providing framed ‘pictures’ of their own between the family photos.

The entry itself is not over-bearing. It’s sufficiently strong to show where guests need to enter the home, but we didn’t want it to be too significant. It’s designed to protect people from the wind and rain whilst they wait for someone to open the door as well.

The section cuts through the living pavilion, and shows how sliding doors are arranged along the north-eastern façade, and the ceiling steps from being flat (over the kitchen) to raked (over the living spaces).

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North – west and South – east elevations of the living and sleeping pavilions. The ‘oblique’ view is how we show elevations when the plan is on an angle. So in the top elevation, we’re looking at the living pavilion square-on … and the sleeping pavilion is on the oblique (because it’s at an angle to the living pavilion). The bottom elevation shows the living pavilion on the angle, and we’re looking at the rear of the sleeping pavilion square on.

The ‘end’ elevations of the home work to articulate the two pavilion forms. The northern end of the home is, of course, open to natural light. This elevation hasn’t changed from the previous time I presented it. The Andersons decided they wanted full glazing to the northern end of their living space (not the cedar transom as was an alternative).

The southern end of the home is basically the ‘rear’. However, it is where the kids will have their bedrooms, and so natural light is important. This site is also big enough that the home can easily be circumnavigated, so this elevation will be visible. The ‘wall blades’ use on the northern elevation are brought in here, however we have an eave protrusion that is flat, not gabled – which means that the roof structure can be trussed, and we don’t require additional window hoods over the bedroom windows.

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Additional elevations to describe the home

These elevations pick up the remaining facades that aren’t described elsewhere in the package. Here also, the northern elevation of the sleeping pavilion is shown square on – rather than oblique – to help with measuring and scaling for window sizes.

The north-east elevation gives the opportunity to describe how the connection zone will work. This is important, as the roof over the connection zone is low so it tucks under the pavilion roofs – but it can’t be too low overall!

Exciting times ahead …

Now we have the design bedded down, and this package describes it so a draftsperson can convert these drawings into an approval package and construction drawings, it’s time to move on to the exciting stuff.

In the next instalment, I’ll share how the Andersons kicked off construction prior to having their formal approval – as there was specific work they were able to commence without approval. There’s some great photos and footage to share.

Until next time …

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Choosing a preferred design option | New Zealand Home Project Diary Update #2

How did this family choose a preferred design option for their New Zealand new home?

Read on for the latest update in their Project Diary (and catch the previous installment here).

In our last update (and first in this Project Diary), I shared what the Andersons were asking for in their home. And I took you through the various options I created in response to their brief.

So, which option did they choose?

Well, it was a tweaked version of one of them. Keep reading!

One of the things I love about working remotely with homeowners, is the different ways I find clients use to convey their thoughts and feedback to me.

The Andersons are really invested, involved clients. And having done this a couple of times before, they’re also very clear on what they want, and trusting of the design process as well.

And they’re able to use different techniques to convey what they want and need, without over-riding the design process completely. Clare sent these sketches back to me, as well as an email with feedback.

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This is worth remembering … When you’re using a designer, it’s important that (as a client) you feel you can drive the process, without limiting the design exploration or outcome. The whole point of using a designer is to tap into that expertise and expand what is possible. If you want to control the outcome, you may as well design it yourself and save your fees. However, if you wish to drive the process, then being clear on these three things will be essential:
+ your brief
+ your budget
+ your feedback (likes, dislikes, wants, aspirations)

And then listen.

If you’ve done your homework in finding a designer who is experienced, and the right fit for your project, then listen to their input and trust their expertise. (Want to know how to find the right designer for you? This will help.)

The feedback

Clare provided me with these images initially, which showed a slight rearrangement of the pavilions. This would assist with privatising the sleeping pavilion, and giving the living pavilion north / north-eastern orientation.

We both agreed, that siting-wise, we wanted to bring the home back to the southern end. This would limit the extent of driveway required, and maximise the northern outdoor / site area for a huge garden and privatised outlook.

Other detailed feedback included:

  • Siting and garaging location would mean the home’s entry would probably need to be articulated – so guests knew where the front door was
  • The arrangement of the master needed to consider the new siting and outlook, and how windows and light worked with the bed position – and the ensuite needed to work into this as well
  • The service zone of butler’s pantry, laundry and study nook, needed resolution as part of being the connection zone between the living and the sleeping pavilions
  • And some other feedback about elevations, and the general stepping of the floor plan, plus where covered outdoor areas might be located for sitting, and for hanging clothes

So based on the feedback, plus on reviewing some images that Clare had sent to me to explain some of these ideas, I created a new option: Option D.

Here is the next design option for this New Zealand home …

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Option D: Site Plan

The siting of the home brought it back towards the southern boundary. This minimised the length of driveway required into the property – and driveways can be expensive! So, keeping it shorter helps us put budget elsewhere. It also maximised the northern part of the property for landscaped area.

The cul de sac location ensures the home can then have privacy in this way. The finger-like nature of the living pavilion is exposed for natural light all day (to both living areas) and the sleeping pavilion also gets good natural light (and is protected from harsh afternoon light as well).

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Option D: Floor Plan

Entry into the home occurs at a core area of services, and the home itself is screened at the entry point. This helps provide an airlock at colder times of the year as well. In this service core is the mudroom, laundry, toilet, butler’s pantry and study nook, and then the home expands into living and dining areas.

Two living areas are separated by a storage / fireplace wall that could service both rooms. The detailing of this wall was also intended to provide transparency around this wall (but still have acoustic separation between the spaces), so that views are maintained throughout. Watch out for the next instalment to see how that was achieved.

A service core also exists in the sleeping pavilion, housing linen, walk-in-robe and study, and skylights provide natural light at these points.

Kids’ bedrooms are equally sized (no arguments), and the master and guest bedroom face north. These make them great retreat spaces as well for their users.

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Option D: Northern elevation of the home, showing full glazed façade to the north-facing living space

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Option D: Alternate northern elevation, where cedar is introduced to the living façade as a transom between glazing panels

Now that we had the plan option moving closer to resolution, it was time to show the Andersons what I had in my head for the elevations. Clare and I had been sharing imagery and ideas along the way, and we both had very clear ideas about strong simple forms, with the living pavilion being the dominant structure.

Both the living and sleeping pavilions are expressed as simple gabled forms. Because the sleeping pavilion is a wider shape, the pitch of the roof is kept lower, to help it not dominate overall. The living pavilion has a steeper roof, and open glazed end on the north. Connecting the two pavilions is the library spine. This provides an outdoor area to the north, and a service court to the south, all tucked between the two pavilions.

I started playing with how the glazed façade could be broken up – and the second option explores an alternate idea.

What happens next?

Now things are getting exciting, as we’re honing in on the final option. Again, the Andersons are super fast at getting feedback to me, and me then being able to resolve their design as a result. Stay tuned for the next instalment, as I share the final design and elevations. I’ll also share the package of drawings I prepared to illustrate how the inside would appear, and you’ll get to see a site update (because things are moving along there too!)

Until next time …

THIS MAY ALSO INTEREST YOU …

Listen to the podcast where I introduced this New Zealand project for the first time here.
Want to see how the Andersons created their Brisbane home? Start the Project Diary here.
Do you love following progress of a home? There’s also the renovation of a Queenslander cottage here.

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How ‘The Spheres’ by Amazon will help you design your home and its garden

How can “The Spheres” by Amazon help you design your home and its garden?

This incredible facility, built by Amazon in order to connect its employees to nature, can help with your home and garden design. Here is more information …

I got to visit the Amazon Spheres, or “The Spheres” as they’re known, when I visited Seattle.

The view of The Spheres as we approachedThe view of The Spheres as we approached | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

The exterior of The Spheres as we entered.The exterior of The Spheres as we entered | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

The Spheres were built in between February 2013 to January 2018. The building itself – which comprises of three glass domes, was completed in December 2016, and then from that time, up until the opening in January 2018, the garden inside the building was established.

Other movements in The Spheres occurs around a central garden, and right up against the glass panelled dome wall.Other movements in The Spheres occurs around a central garden, and right up against the glass panelled dome wall | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

The walkway under the highest part of the dome puts you right next to the glass panels.The walkway under the highest part of the dome puts you right next to the glass panels | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

This is pulled from the Sphere’s website

The Spheres are a place where employees can think and work differently surrounded by plants.
The Spheres are a result of innovative thinking about the character of a workplace and an extended conversation about what is typically missing from urban offices– a direct link to nature. The Spheres are home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries.

Why am I mentioning this project? Well, I think there’s lots of inspiration that you can draw on when thinking about your home, and how you go about renovating or building it. And particularly, how you create the green spaces in and around it.

The importance of connection to nature in our everyday lives – and our homes

For both the High Line and The Spheres, it is super significant that landscape design, planting and green spaces are essential to the quality and feel of these structures and spaces.

The vertical planted wall is dense and lush.The vertical planted wall is dense and lush | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Platforms project out into the void, and overlook the garden areas.Platforms project out into the void, and overlook the garden areas | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

The connection with gardens, with light, with natural elements … all of that is scientifically proven to improve our well-being, our sense of relaxation and lower our anxiety levels overall.

This is what your garden – no matter how big or how small, can offer your home. That feeling of relaxation, of slowness, of haven and enjoyment.

This doesn’t have to be grand statements. There are many examples of projects that have shown that something as simple as a lovingly curated collection of indoor plants can make a massive difference to the feel and function of a space in someone’s home. That can be achieved anywhere, for very little budget.

Each plant in The Spheres is identified with these fantastic timber signsEach plant in The Spheres is identified with these fantastic timber signs | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

So, let me tell you more about The Spheres, because it’s an amazing project.

I actually got access because the friend I was staying with used to work for Amazon. However, they do open the Spheres up to visitors a couple of times a month, so you can check out the Sphere’s website if you ever plan to be in Seattle and want to check them out.

Let me describe the experience to you if I can. As you approach The Spheres, winding your way through city streets, you see these glass domes that look unlike anything around them.

External structures defining walkways between The Spheres and other buildings look like tree canopies.External structures defining walkways between The Spheres and other buildings look like tree canopies | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Amazon allows staff to bring their dogs to work, and provides an off-leash dog park outside.Amazon allows staff to bring their dogs to work, and provides an off-leash dog park outside | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

They’re really notable, and as you get closer you can see the amount of greenery inside them, because they’re a fully transparent structure. In fact, they had to test the insides would get enough sunlight to support a tropical garden of that scale, as Seattle’s weather isn’t the most tropical or sunny.

So a mockup greenhouse was built to test glass types, temperatures and sunlight penetration, before they committed to the selections for The Spheres.

You enter at the bottom level, into quite a darkened space by comparison. There’s a security sign in, and as you move through turnstiles, you step into the full volume of the dome.

Up a winding staircase, along side a full height vertical garden, you start to see all the greenery revealed to you. The green wall extends up 65 feet – or approximately 22 metres, and the overall height of the domes at their tallest point is 90 feet – or approximately 30m. So, we’re talking a BIG space with a lot of greenery!

There’s several floors of cafes, meeting rooms, walk-ways and little gathering spaces.

Looking down on the entry stair, where you arrive into The Spheres, adjacent to the vertical wall garden.Looking down on the entry stair, where you arrive into The Spheres, adjacent to the vertical wall garden | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Looking down through the volume of The Spheres with its staircases and ramps.Looking down through the volume of The Spheres with its staircases and ramps | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Different spaces are created at each level, with all movement oriented around garden areas.Different spaces are created at each level, with all movement oriented around garden areas | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

The walkway and large trees on the uppermost level of The SpheresThe walkway and large trees on the uppermost level of The Spheres | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Everything seems to pivot around the greenery … you literally feel like you’re walking through a garden despite looking outside to city buildings. You can hear running water, and every so often a mist fires off to water the huge vertical garden wall nearby. And light … there is so much sunlight.

I didn’t know a lot about The Spheres before I visited, but surmised that Amazon had done a lot of research around how a connection with nature, and providing a space like this for staff to go, meet, work in, and be away for their desks, would enhance creativity and productivity overall … and impact company culture in a really positive way.

Since returning, I did some reading on the ‘why’ behind creating this space, and I found this great article – which I’ll pop a link to in the show notes, but wanted to read this section to you …

It was written in the Seattle Weekly by Kelton Sears in May 2016 – so about 7 months before it opened, but by this stage, all the plants were being installed and established. The article says …

“The Amazon Spheres are the latest local manifestation of a fascinating new design approach—biophilic and biomemetic architecture.

Kelton continues … Biophilia is the name of a seminal 1984 book by E.O. Wilson, a biologist with a specialty in ants. In Biophilia, Wilson posits the “biophilia hypothesis,” which states that, subconsciously, humans have evolved a deep connection with and affinity for natural systems and life forms (biophilia literally means “the love of life”).

In turn, the emerging field of biophilic design seeks to connect humanity with nature through the built environment. This can be as dramatic as cladding the entire exterior of a building with foliage or as simple as installing a small garden in the lobby. The approach has been most popular in hospitals, thanks to a scientific study that was able to quantify the medical benefits of biophilia. Patients recovering from surgery did so quicker and required less pain medication when they could see trees out their window than they did with a view of a brick wall.”

I think we actually understand this need for connection with the natural environment. That we feel better when we spend time in nature, and connect with it. I love thinking about how we do this in our homes, so they’re a really restorative place for us.

Throughout The Spheres, there were these gorgeous sitting areas that projected from the central stair and ramp at several places … including the Bird’s Nest. This was a semi-enclosed meeting area that projects out into the void of the dome, and literally does look a birds’ nest.

I think the Bird's Nest was one of my favourite features.I think the Bird’s Nest was one of my favourite features | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

A view of the "Bird's Nest" from belowA view of the “Bird’s Nest” from below | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Looking inside the seating area of the Bird's NestLooking inside the seating area of the Bird’s Nest | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

Looking down on the Bird's NestLooking down on the Bird’s Nest | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

A small workspace with a canopy over the top that can be moved to shade the space as required.A small workspace with a canopy over the top that can be moved to shade the space as required | Photograph by Amelia Lee, Undercover Architect

There were smaller zones where you could sit at a desk and use your laptop, and adjust a panel above you for shade based on what the sun was doing (like the space in the image above). Everything felt very connected to the garden at every level.

How can your home do this too?

A couple of other things to be inspired by when it comes to The Spheres, and your new home or renovation …

One is the impact of volume.

I’ve spoken about this in more detail on another episode of the podcast (you can listen to it here). However, volume is a key way to create spaciousness in your home – without having to increase the floor plan of your home. Many homeowners think two-dimensionally about their design. They arrange boxes on a plan to get the rooms right … the correct size, connected the way they want … and then pop a flat ceiling over it all. Consider how volume can change how a space feels in size.

Another is the impact of natural light.

Again, I’ve dedicated several episodes to how important natural light is in helping you and your home feel great (you can start listening here). If you do want to include indoor plants, or even have a green space growing within your home, then getting the natural light right in your design will be essential. Design that in early, so you can maximise its potential.

There’s lots more I can mention … but if scroll through those photos above, I’m sure you can look for inspiration yourself.

It may seem weird that I’ve written about an urban park, and an Amazon staff facility, when this is a website all about designing, building or renovating your family home.

My hope is that it shows you that design inspiration is all around us.

When we get curious, and watch how we, and others, use and interact with spaces and places, it can give us great ideas for our homes.

It can help us see what we resonate with, what makes us feel great, what we do and don’t enjoy, and how we can make our homes fun, relaxing, enjoyable and beautiful places to live.

EXTRA RESOURCES FOR THE SPHERES, SEATTLE

The Spheres website >>> https://www.seattlespheres.com/
Article about Biophilic design and The Spheres >>> http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/using-nature-as-inspiration-architects-and-designers-are-building-seattles-biofuture/
Study on hospital patients from 1984 >>> https://www.healthdesign.org/chd/knowledge-repository/view-through-window-may-influence-recovery-surgery

The post How ‘The Spheres’ by Amazon will help you design your home and its garden appeared first on Undercover Architect.

Source: Undercover Architect

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