Spring Hill House by Owen Architecture


The expression “less is more” was first used by Robert Browning in his poem Andrea del Sarto in 1855, but gained prominence in the mid-20th century when it became associated with the minimalist movement in art, literature, music and architecture, becoming especially synonymous with the work of modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Architect Paul Owen’s design for a super-efficient home in Brisbane’s inner suburbs gives a whole new meaning to “less is more”. What if less house gave you more life? Fewer hours spent commuting means more time with family. A smaller home requires less garden maintenance and has fewer surfaces to clean, leaving you with more energy to pursue the activities you enjoy in life.

Spring Hill House owners Ryan and Fran have left a mid-century modern home in a mid-Brisbane suburb of The Gap to downsize in Brisbane city centre. They bought a 160 square meter block in Spring Hill, located within walking distance of work and school, and decided to build a new home for themselves and their three teenage children.

Ryan and Fran were initially nervous about approaching Paul, fearing their small-scale, low-budget proposal would deter him. Much to their delight, however, he accepted the commission. A rate per square meter was established early in the design process and this information was used to guide design decisions. From the start, Paul knew that the project “had to be as economical as possible, both in terms of materials and construction”.

The carport also functions as an outdoor room, providing flexibility of use. Sculpture: Ryan McDade.

Image: Toby Scott

Much of the efficiency of the Spring Hill house lies in its clever planning. Each space can accommodate multiple functions, the carport being a prime example. The ceiling height of this underground space is greater than that of a typical carport; it rises to meet the ceiling of adjacent living spaces so that this raised volume can facilitate a myriad of activities. Beyond car accommodation, this outdoor room can host gatherings and parties, Ryan uses it to create sculptural works of art, and the kids use it for hanging out. It is also a perfect place to play handball.

Throughout the home, spaces are planned around activity rather than traditional room layouts. Public living areas are on the ground floor, while private sleeping, bathing and working areas are on the first floor. Instead of a master bedroom, Paul designed spaces for sleeping, studying, and dressing. Three small but functional bedrooms for children provide the required privacy. To overcome any feeling of confinement in these rooms, they each have a window that spans the entire width of the room. These large windows frame an appealing view from the cribs of the neighborhood sky and vegetation – an unexpected and restorative perspective of a downtown home.

Thoughtful architectural details maximize feelings of openness in a compact plan. In the children’s bedrooms, the beds float on a reference line expressed by an unusually high plinth. This simple and economical detail catches the eye and neatly organizes the visual aesthetics of the interior. Ryan and Fran trusted Paul’s expertise for the home’s finishes and accessories. The light fixtures, door handles and wooden door and window frames explain the architect’s touch on this house. The design of the kitchen carpentry is very functional and the pantry, which is exposed at the entrance, is a charming proposal for a storefront for the house. The laundry room, efficiently stored behind the pantry, is perfect for family living. All spaces in the house are relatively small, but because they are well designed, they function in a way that enhances everyday living and are attractive features.

The architectural details continue outside.

The architectural details continue outside.

Image: Toby Scott

The architectural details continue outside. The simple form of the pyramid roof complements those of the early 20th century cottages that populate Spring Hill, as does the use of lightweight fiber cement siding. These cost-effective elements made it possible to stay within the project budget. They were then dressed in architectural details such as wooden cleats, custom gutters and, above all, an aluminum screen that faces the street. An important attribute of the architectural intention, this screen is an opening device, controlling the views of the house and the neighborhood. The family can retreat behind the screen for privacy or peek through to engage in street activity.

Behind the screen, a large window overlooking the street offers a glimpse of the family life that takes place in the kitchen and the living room. Fran and Ryan called it the “Dutch window”, following a custom they learned during their travels in the Netherlands, whereby window sills are elaborately decorated with objects and ornaments for fun. citizents. Ryan and Fran have found that their Dutch Window is a way to be part of the community and engage in downtown life.

For Ryan, Fran and their children, the city is their backyard. They borrow the greenery of the neighboring gardens and take advantage of the shared open spaces of the city. They describe their downsizing journey as “changing towns; the opposite of radical change, the opposite of creating a bigger house. They were delighted to find that, with good design, their full and busy family life can be accommodated in a 150 square meter house.


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