Vir­ginia Ker­ridge clev­erly in­tu­its a build­ing’s char­ac­ter then deftly aligns it with its sur­rounds.

Belle - - Artstart R I Ght Now - Portrait DAVE WHEELER Words KAREN MC­CART­NEY

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.

“The na­ture of the space de­manded big, gutsy ges­tures to match the tough­ness of the build­ing.”

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