Atop a Shop is a project designed by tsai Design. Have you ever looked up at an inner city Victorian shopfront and wondered what’s going on upstairs? Truth is, many of these residences are vacant or underutilised. Smith St Caretakers offered us the perfect opportunity to bring this type of building stock into the modern era: thriving business downstairs, sanctuary above. Photography by Tess Kelly.
Specialist violin sellers and repairers, our clients had retreated to a rundown kitchen, living and bedroom above their Collingwood shop for 15 years. A veritable time capsule, there were few creature comforts, and midnight treks downstairs to the bathroom were gruelling in winter. Our plan was to hero simple, modern conveniences as well as some hidden pleasures.
Typical of these shopfront terraces, the floor plan was long, dark and narrow – just 4.5m across at its widest point. Bringing light to the heart of the home would be central to the new design’s success. To address the apartments shading the full length of the building to the north, we overhauled the central stairwell, introducing a translucent roof that would flood the living space with light and warmth.
It is rare for buildings of this type to enjoy access to the outdoors, so we added a green wall and transparent roofing to the internal stairs, making it feel more like a well-lit courtyard than a threshold between business and home. We planned for three outdoor decks where there had been none, too. By adding a second set of stairs, we made an entertainer’s roof deck possible, and a courtyard deck off the guest bedroom will double as a drying space for laundry. Finally, the main bedroom deck will be the perfect sunny perch for a morning coffee.
Warmth defines the new kitchen and living space, where timber shelving and cork flooring sit well with the new heating. No more miserable winters! Past the stairwell, a new main bedroom with skylit ensuite and second bedroom will cater for the couple and any guests.
Once lacklustre, the upstairs of this building now capitalises on this great property. As architects, it was so satisfying to see how a heritage renewal could bring our clients joy while adding life to one of Melbourne’s busiest shopping strips.