An unassuming worker’s cottage on a quiet street in Melbourne has been named Australia’s best house under 200 square metres.

The two-storey in Fitzroy North, four kilometres northeast of the CBD, took the title at the 2020 Houses Awards on July 31, where 10 of the country’s finest properties were recognised across nine residential design categories.

Built in the late 1800s and redesigned in 2019 by Victorian architect Rob Kennon, judges called the 197sqm Fitzroy North House a ‘skillful’ blend of historic and modern architecture that slots seamlessly into a street of terraced cottages built more than a century ago. 

Judges praised the architect for respectfully mirroring the style of the neighbourhood’s ‘cheek-by-jowl’ row buildings on the outside while creating a thoroughly contemporary interior behind the front door. 

In its winning statement, the jury said: ‘Walking past this home in a street full of heritage houses, you may not immediately realise the building is new.’

The re-imagined terrace consists of two buildings – one a modern interpretation of the original worker’s cottage, the other a newly built two-storey – separated by a central garden courtyard with a second smaller plot at the rear.

A glass-walled kitchen-cum-living area, four bedrooms and two bathrooms all flooded with natural light are spread across 197 square metres – 48 smaller than the average floor size of a Victorian home which sat at 244.8sqm in 2018, according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A workshop and guest bedroom take up the worker’s cottage, with the remaining three housed upstairs in the main building. 

A corridor leads from the cottage to the heart of the home – the garden – which architect Rob Kennon designed in collaboration with Eckersley Garden Architecture to bring a sense of the outdoors into every corner of the house. 

The result is what Design Files describes as ‘living within a garden and sleeping above it’. 

Mr Kennon said the home is an ‘experience of freedom and openness more connected to nature’ than it is to inanimate concrete.

Every detail has been considered, with each of the three bedrooms in the main building strategically positioned above the courtyard to cast shade onto the open space below. 

Industrial materials like cement, brick and galvanised steel are used throughout the house to contrast the soft green palette of the garden theme. 

Presented by Houses magazine, the Houses Awards is an annual fixture celebrating Australia’s best residential projects.

Now in its 10th year, the awards shine a spotlight on emerging talent while also recognising the country’s top designers.

Amid the pandemic and Australia’s first recession in 29 years, the jury gave equal weight to aesthetics and affordability in their adjudication – making the humble cottage on a quiet street in one of Melbourne’s oldest neighbourhoods an obvious winner.

Houses Awards jury chairperson Katelin Butler told Daily Mail Australia the coronavirus crisis, climate emergency and global economic downturn had heavily influenced this year’s voting.

‘The jury considered how these crises might affect the architecture we create,’ she said.

‘It was important to look beyond aesthetics to carefully consider affordability and sustainability.’

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