By inserting an impressive central atrium, StudioAC adds contemporary grandeur to a formerly falling-down Victorian
When photographer Stephanie Bonas first laid eyes on the semi she eventually bought in West Queen West, the place was in rough shape. “It was as though Wes Anderson redirected Grey Gardens in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland,” she says. The heritage-listed Victorian had been given over to the raccoons for years, then a false start by a developer left a disjointed jumble of stray Ikea kitchens and crumbling walls.
For Bonas, after two years of losing bidding wars, a massive overhaul was better than staying in a too-small laneway house with her seven-year-old son, Lennox. “I was committed to a full gut,” she says, standing in her now exquisitely remodelled ground floor–an open-plan, maple-and-brick-lined space where a living-dining area can easily be reconfigured into a photography studio. The kitchen, across from her office, is bathed in light, ideal for filming cooking and nutritional videos for children at a graphite marble island (her son has type 1 diabetes, so she’s working on a series showcasing low-carb recipes).
Bonas hired StudioAC on the advice of contractor James Aikenhead of Whitaker Construction, which specializes in contemporary builds. “When I saw a photo of StudioAC’s Richview kitchen, I was like, ‘Oh, those are the designers for me,’” she says. The studio recently won the Design Exchange’s prestigious Emerging Designer Award, in part for its miraculous ability to convert small homes into gracious spaces, often by smartly reconfiguring the floorplans. Bonas’s place was comparatively large at 400 square metres, “So we decided to experiment with section,” says founding partner Jennifer Kudlats. “Walking through in its original state, it was very compartmentalized. But we could still feel the scale and understood that there was a monumental opportunity.”
The vision best manifests in the form of a two-storey atrium in the home’s belly. Its windows channel sunshine into the centre, while its void creates a playful moment. Between the two bedrooms on the second floor, facing peek-a-boo windows open so mom and son can chat, a bit like neighbours on a European piazza. Dramatically ribboning up one side of the atrium is a solid maple stair that continues to a third-floor guest suite.
“The stair is very simple yet sculptural,” says Kudlats’s partner, Andrew Hill. “In order for it to look good, it had to be perfectly installed – difficult to do in a 130-year-old, crooked house.” At one point the team even thought about trying a more forgiving design. But, by using a complex setup of laser guides and ladders, the wood was positioned flush, as though the stairs were always meant to be there – as though the gut job wouldn’t be complete without it.