Atop a Shop by tsai Design

Have you ever looked up at an inner-city Victorian shopfront and wondered what’s going on upstairs? Truth is, many of these residences are vacant or underutilized. Smith St Caretakers offered tsai Design the perfect opportunity to bring this type of building stock into the modern era: thriving business downstairs, sanctuary above.

Specialist violin sellers and repairers, the clients had retreated to a rundown kitchen, living, and bedroom above their Collingwood shop for 15 years. A veritable time capsule, there were few creature comforts, and midnight treks downstairs to the bathroom were grueling in winter. The architect’s plan was to hero simple, modern conveniences as well as some hidden pleasures.

Typical of these shopfront terraces, the floor plan was long, dark and narrow – just 4.5m across at its widest point. Bringing light to the heart of the home would be central to the new design’s success. To address the apartments shading the full length of the building to the north, the architects overhauled the central stairwell, introducing a translucent roof that would flood the living space with light and warmth.

It is rare for buildings of this type to enjoy access to the outdoors, so tsai Design added a green wall and transparent roofing to the internal stairs, making it feel more like a well-lit courtyard than a threshold between business and home. Architects planned for three outdoor decks where there had been none, too. By adding a second set of stairs, they made an entertainer’s roof deck possible, and a courtyard deck off the guest bedroom will double as drying space for laundry. Finally, the main bedroom deck will be the perfect sunny perch for a morning coffee.

Warmth defines the new kitchen and living space, where timber shelving and cork flooring sit well with the new heating. No more miserable winters! Past the stairwell, a new main bedroom with skylit ensuite and second bedroom will cater for the couple and any guests.

Photography by Tess Kelly

Architecture by tsai Design