This old worker’s cottage in South Brisbane looks no different from the road to how it did originally, except for its smart, new paint job.

However, from the rear, it is a different story. Local architectural firm Baber Studio has completed a stunning renovation on this old Queenslander home, receiving acclaim locally and nationally for its design. By removing the back wall of the house, refitting the interior and using seamless timber flooring and clever openings, the firm has blurred the indoor-outdoor divide and reinvented the function of the house.

Shutter House takes its name from the iconic timber veil that shades the western side. While the project started out as what architect Kim Baber describes as a “pretty common brief”, it turned into a remarkable and innovative response. Owners and occupiers of Queenslander houses can often be heard to bemoan the fact that while these houses look fabulous, they are hardly built for shielding the weather. Despite a verandah’s best efforts at keeping a penetrating western sun at bay, thin timber walls and floors let heat in and out at precisely the wrong times of year.

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The owners of Shutter House are a young family and came to Baber Studio with a brief to maximise the beautiful view to Mount Coot-tha, to increase their privacy, shelter from the western sun and increase the living space. Kim and Monique Baber have made a swift and efficient conversion of the house, elegant in execution and highly functional in use. Firstly, by raising the house, new rooms were slipped underneath, allowing space for visitors to stay. Secondly, by rezoning and designing the kitchen and living spaces, a flexible living situation has been created, debunking housing traditions and blurring the lines between indoor and out. Thirdly, an elegant timber screen with clear perspex-like inserts was added to the back. Parts of the screen can be folded away, allowing the owners to take in different breezes and frame different views throughout the day, or to shut up tight to create a cosy, warm interior.

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One philosophy of Baber Studio is to keep backyards intact. Bucking the trend of burgeoning houses that grow into every spare corner of the block, they are mindful of keeping as much green space around the home as possible. This is important on many levels. Firstly, on a suburb scale, the increased green space contributes to the greater cooling of the area by allowing breeze to move between buildings and greater shading through vegetation. On a smaller scale, neighbours can enjoy each other’s gardens visually, without having to stare straight into the living room or wall of a house built right on the boundary. Thirdly, it is all about the kids. Memories are made and adventures are played out in backyards. Grass, trees, bark and leaves are the fabric of a Queensland kid’s childhood.

Shutter House provides a balanced environment of old and new, with plenty of space both indoors and out.

Words by Alice Thompson | Images by Christopher Fredrick Jones and Joseph Pappalardo

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