A dialogue with the past

David & Alicia Galloway found the perfect living space right at home, transforming their house in a way that blurs the lines ­between the old and new.

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Tucked away in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, this house is a true child of the 1970s, with its combination of modernist strip windows, chamfered-tile roof and an oversized number 14 painted on the front street wall. The owners, David and Alicia Galloway, had wanted to move out of the property - which they had lived in since the early 1990s - because, although they "kind of liked the house", they thought of it as tired and old. After looking at alternatives in the area with the help of Aidan Halloran of ITN Architects, they realised that nothing they looked at was as good as the house they already had.

In the end Halloran talked them into staying and admits, "The 1970s is a period of design that I've admired for a long time, so for me it was easy to see the potential. What I find interesting about working with older houses is not designing a strictly historical separation. I'm a lot more interested in an integration where you might get a bit confused about exactly what is old and what is new." The original house was designed by the architect Peter McIntyre and comprised fabulous, open communal rooms based around the kitchen. The Galloways, with their family of seven children, spend most of their time in this part of the house so it was Halloran's job to bring in more light and make the space more functional. The general flow of the house from front to back already existed but wall openings were expanded and the sliding doors facing the back courtyard were extended, blurring the lines of old and new. With careful reconfiguration of the spaces, including walling in a previous garage to create a home theatre-gym-study, the house now works well for the family's current needs.

The new entrance to the house is through a basketball court, which was a previously unused part of the large front garden, into a wide double-height corridor that channels your view straight through to the living spaces. As you move towards the back of the house your attention is pulled towards a fabulous mural on the back wall of the courtyard.   The low ceiling height in the living area creates a feeling of extreme width in the property. "This is really where we live," explains David Galloway.

As well as for Friday night Shabbat dinners, friends and family constantly drop in, creating the need for a highly functional space. Rows of Eames DCW chairs in moulded plywood frame the long, low, recycled hardwood table that runs parallel to the kitchen. The kitchen bench top is made from marble and recycled blackbutt timber, while hanging above the dining table are handcrafted wicker lampshades made by a local weaver of crayfish baskets. A shift from floor tiles to carpet marks sensory and ambient changes and creates different zones in the large open-plan space.

The new design works with the various older layers of the house, highlighting and preserving the best elements, such as the pale-coloured terracotta tiles and cedar-lined ceilings. Again blurring the old and new, ancient limestone blocks from Geelong create a beautiful fireplace.   "This was about having a dialogue with the past", explains Halloran. "We weren't here to preserve the architecture but to discern what the original architect had done well that still worked for the family, and what didn't, and therefore had to go."

The house was extended only marginally beyond its original footprint but also reoriented to embrace the new back courtyard and lap pool. The emphasis was on creating spaces to entertain large family groups. The reorganisation of the spaces, including the previous garage, created a more harmonious living environment, which suited the Galloways' lifestyle and current needs. "I think that they are happy," says Halloran. "And I was happy that the house had some history. Even though there's a lot of new stuff in it, it still maintains a continuity from the past that is very much intact."

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