The architects behind this award-winning warehouse conversion did not exactly follow a detailed brief.
The loft – built inside the iconic MacRobertson chocolate factory in Fitzroy, Melbourne – is the product of constant editing and redesigning along the way.
“When building with a history like this, architects make a lot of alterations to suit what you find during the construction,” says Albert Mo, director of Architects EAT, who designed the loft.
The casual approach won the firm the residential design award at the Australian Interior Design Awards this year.
Here the architects share their favorite features of the loft.
The heritage-listed MacRobertson chocolate factory was first subdivided in the mid-’80s and then again in the mid-’90s.
The 125-year-old warehouse is now mostly residential, although the site for the loft was being used as an advertising agency before the current owners purchased it. Before that, it was Melbourne’s first Akido Dojo, a type of martial arts center.
“The building came with a fair bit of history,” Mo says. “The residents that form the Body Corporate are quite passionate about it.”
To retain the building’s historical integrity, the builders were instructed by Mo to not touch the boundary walls. This also meant keeping the original bricks, timber columns and the existing roof structure, which is bound by timber trusses.
“If you buy a historical warehouse, why hide it?” he says.
Secret doors and fire alarms are just a couple of historical discoveries that builders came across during construction.
Mo and associate at Architects EAT, Emma Gaudner, would often receive phone calls from the builders asking them to “get down here, quick!”
“It was like an archeological site.” Gauder jokes.
In order to respect the building’s rich past, the initial plans were often changed to work around the new findings.
The suspended bridge
There is a steel bridge made from a perforated steel base and stringers that connect the upstairs mezzanine on either side of the loft.
Mo and Gauder nominate this as their favourite feature – mostly because of the engineering feat it represents. The structural engineers and builders weren’t initially thrilled with the concept.
“The original idea was to build a rope bridge,” Gauder says. “We wanted that play element.”
There is still a bit of bounce when you walk along it, but the use of steel made the structural engineers, and the clients, a young couple with plans to create a family, a lot happier.
The ceiling heights
With its cathedral-like ceiling heights, the warehouse was unique but lacked the intimacy of a place you would want to call home.
The architects responded to the challenge by creating two mezzanine levels, connected by the suspended bridge that sectioned off into smaller, private rooms.
“We inserted the cosiness with those mezzanines,” Gauder says. “Having shorter ceiling height gives the space more intimacy.”
The narrow ensuite
The ensuite bathroom is only a slither of a space – just one and a half metres wide. The existing roof structure, which is four metres high at its apex, makes the narrow room feel spacious.
Having windows face east also gives the room beautiful morning sunlight, which is great for when you’re getting ready for the day, Mo says.
“It’s also a beautiful intimate place to have a bath.”
Originally published as Inside the Fitzroy loft that used to be a chocolate factory by Alice Bradley. Author at realestate.com.au