BLACK BEAUTY – A Multi-Layered Home for the Inner City, Fitzroy North

Imagine – an opportunity to build an inner city sanctuary – to create a contemporary design that incorporates living spaces that face north and south, multiple garden areas, views in three directions, including to the city – and all within the convenient location of inner city, Fitzroy North.

This proposal combines due respect and acknowledgment of the history of the existing cottage and streetscape on a corner location, whilst resolving key client objectives, with a lateral and unique design response to achieve passive thermal design.

Black Beauty House, by Cathi Colla Architects


For many people living in the inner city means living in a tight, compact home, often with minimal natural light or outlook. This is often a primary driver for a renovation – and not an easy challenge to easily resolve.

Dealing with Statutory Planning and Heritage Overlays are next on a typical briefing checklist. And then, it is how to create a new building to complement the existing building – and you really have a design challenge ahead.


The client’s brief was clear for this design commission – to create a house for a family of four that often hosts extended family from interstate;  create a home that looks great and feels welcoming, respects the home’s history, and embraces contemporary where possible; a home with a layout that functions well and optimises the sun and the outlook. No mean feat for an inner city renovation!

The site is a generous (for the inner city), with a formal street frontage, a lengthy side street, and a rear lane. Quite exposed in many ways, but also an opportunity for the acknowledgment of heritage, opportunity for new volumes and materials, and of course, access to natural light.


The design resolution benefits from having site access on three boundaries. The resulting resolution provides double-storey accommodation, comprising of ground floor living areas and garage, first floor bedrooms above, and multiple outdoor areas. Cross ventilation is achieved through the building, allowing breezes from the cooler south areas across to the northern parts of the home. Further draft is encouraged by the star effect of the double volume over the stair, which distributes cooling breezes across the upper floor areas. This creates a comfortable indoor environment in the summer.

The form of the original cottage is retained at the front of the site. This is in respect of the streetscape and a nod to history, whilst providing a formal frontage and entry to the home from the main street. The contemporary addition is revealed beyond the rear of the cottage, distinguished over the two levels with modulation of volume, and contrasting materials and colour to differentiate the new form from the existing cottage.

The main living areas are at the centre of the site, having opportunity for flexibility of use and providing access to gardens to the north and the south. This also enables opportunity for access to natural daylight from within the living areas.


The living spaces integrate with the garden and deck areas – yielding a significant outdoor living and garden areas and private oasis. The main bedroom maximises access to southern light and ventilation with generous windows that overlook the garden below, and the city views beyond.

Key design Features

  • An inner city sanctuary within a convenient inner city location.
  • Adaption of the existing cottage to suit future flexible living arrangements.
  • Strategic glazing locations in combination with extensive thermal insulation to minimise reliance on mechanical heating and cooling.
  • (Future) garden spaces to enable edible garden space.

Primary Sustainable Design Strategies

  • Retain existing building fabric to acknowledge the history of the site, and heritage requirements
  • Compact and efficient floor layouts
  • Living space with light and natural ventilation on the north and south sides
  • High thermal mass to ground floor, plus significant levels of insulation to walls and roofs
  • Minimal east and west facing windows to reduce summer heat loading
  • Windows to south side of home to enable cooling cross breezes throughout the home
  • Stack effect ventilation over two floor levels
  • Space for edible gardens
  • Rainwater harvesting for garden and toilet use
  • Photovoltaic panels and solar hot water service to roof
Project Team
Architecture and Interior Design
Cathi Colla Architects
Structural Engineer
Meyer Consulting
Building Surveying Services
Statutory Planning Authority
City of Yarra
Project Details
Architectural Services
Full Architectural Design, including Concept Design, Developed Design, Documentation and Contract Administration Services
Project Status
Construction completed, pending final items and landscaping

 Previous Next