Virginia Kerridge cleverly intuits a building’s character then deftly aligns it with its surrounds.
I THOUGHT I KNEW the work of Virginia Kerridge until I discovered how many more strings she has to her bow than her finely crafted bespoke residences. I had visited House in Country NSW in the Upper Hunter, and saw up close how she managed a limited palette of ironbark, rammed earth walls and concrete; how she engaged with the site of parallel mountains, and retained the heritage bushman’s stone cottage making it a pivotal point in the plan. The detailing is seamless, the views serene and the house is positioned for the optimum management of light and air.
All this I knew of the practice but there is more. Two very different projects have come her way recently. One was the refurbishment of Halcyon House, in northern NSW, a classic 1970s motel that has been redesigned as a luxury boutique hotel. Virginia admits she thought it was a joke when she was called for the job but the client had previously bought one of her houses and loved how their life unfolded in that space.
“It was a huge job but a really fun one, as we rebuilt everything apart from the ground-floor rooms. We took design cues from the original to maintain the vibe and the sense of theatre. For example, the arches were originally stucco and we redid them in brick as a recurring motif,” she says. Following the great commercial success of this project she has since completed a spa on a neighbouring block that complements the hotel.
This is the thing with this architect – clients come back for more. Her other major departure is into the realm of multiresidential for a longstanding client on a luxury block of apartments on the Gold Coast. “Each apartment has an entire level and the floor area is huge, bigger than many houses,” she says. With offform concrete, zinc and weathered recycled timbers on the facade there is no doubt it is a high-spec building, but the real luxury is that the generous floorplans allow for large internal courtyards for light and cross-breezes.
One of her celebrated projects (it won an AIA Interior Architecture award) is the repurposing of a raw, robust warehouse in Sydney’s Lilyfield. The old Oh Boy Candy warehouse was converted into a family home for comedian and TV presenter Merrick Watts, his wife and children. “Cavernous spaces don’t serve family life well so we looked at ways to create connections, to introduce outdoor space while retaining the character of the original building,” she says.
Downstairs is the garage, a workroom, kids’ bedrooms and a rumpus room relating to the green space outside, while upstairs, the kitchen, with its eight-metre long bench opens up to a deck with an impressive raised swimming pool in Corten steel. “The nature of the space demanded big, gutsy gestures to match the toughness of the building,” she says. With a section of the roof removed to expose the trusses the space gains light and air and the courtyards create porosity between inside and out. “Just as you would imagine, Merrick was easygoing and great to work with. He had grown up in Eltham – a suburb of Melbourne known for experimental architecture including rammed earth houses in the 1970s – so we were aligned in terms of the material palette, and the concept expanded from there,” she says.
Designing a significant house extension in Kensington to raise it above a flood zone, she realised that what she did to these buildings was a form of ‘grafting’, as used in Japanese gardening. Two different elements are joined “to encourage the tissues of one plant to fuse with those of another”, and create a new whole. While the house has a different character as a result of melding the original and the new, a fresh beauty should emerge – hybrid but intact – and this is what she so skilfully achieves. vk.com.au
“The nature of the space demanded big, gutsy gestures to match the toughness of the building.”