An overgrown back garden is reinvented as a fabulous new living space.

In Brisbane’s balmy subtropical climate a lot of living is done outside — on decks and verandahs, in sheltered courtyards and terraces.

While the owners of this enticing, contemporary outdoor space already had a large rear deck, they wanted to make more use of their garden which, over the years, had taken on the appearance of a jungle. An old mango tree dominated the yard, casting dense shade. Narrow paths wove through the undergrowth where ferns and bromeliads grew in the gloom, and spindly trees strained towards the light. The owners needed someone with a fresh eye to see the possibilities of the site and called upon architect Mick Hellen of Aardvarc who had designed and built the deck at the rear of their house sixteen years earlier.

Given that the back of the house faced south, any new structure in the rear garden had to be tucked up against the back fence to maximise its orientation and catch both winter sun and cooling breezes. Pushing it across to the western corner where the old garage stood also meant tall trees in a neighbouring garden would provide shelter from the late afternoon summer sun.

“We wanted to keep it over this side of the block, and save as much of the existing vegetation in the garden as we could,” says Hellen, a committed recycler. “Any plants that had to be removed were given to family and friends.”

The original single-car garage, which had been converted into a cubby house years ago for the owners’ three daughters, was also recycled and has been re-erected in a neighbour’s garden for another generation to enjoy.

With the space cleared, the slightly sloping yard was divided equally into two levels, higher to the east and 800 mm lower to the west. Wide, polished concrete steps, which double as extra seating, link the two levels and provide access from the rear deck to the new garden pavilion, which is also split into two spaces of roughly equal size. When it’s cold, the room to the west can be closed off with sliding floor-to-ceiling glazed doors, while the space to the east is always open to the breezes.

Although at first appearing deceptively simple, the pavilion’s floor plan reveals the building’s hidden amenities. Against the rear wall of the western room is a small kitchenette, with storage concealed behind timber-battened doors, while running behind the room is a tiled corridor with a toilet and an open shower area. In the eastern external space built-in slatted seating wraps around two sides of the space, butting up to an outdoor fire-pit at one end and a barbecue area at the other.

“In Brisbane you don’t always need a fireplace but I come from a strong camping background,” says Hellen. “Even when it’s cold, if you can see a fire you feel warm. We put outdoor fires in every job we design.”

The fire-pit has been positioned to line up with the view from the house’s main living area and rear deck. Views and sightlines also determined the height of the new pavilion with its green roof planted out with native grass and succulents.

“We dropped the roof level a little so you could stand on the back deck and see more of the planting,” says Hellen. “I’d always wanted to do a green roof and I’d now love to do more of them.” Looking across from the deck the exposed concrete parapet has been concealed with a piece of folded Coreten sheet that acts as the gutter and ends in a graceful upturned edge above the fire-pit.

While the pavilion features a lot of concrete, Hellen is at pains to explain that the same mix was used in five different ways, forming the floor, the roof, the retaining walls, and to core-fill the rear blockwork walls, with the leftovers whisked away in wheelie bins by the boys from Pop Concrete, who used it to form two concrete bench-tops.

“The idea with the materials we used is that everything is raw and nothing needs painting,” says Hellen. “Steel and concrete aren’t usually warm materials, but we used rusting steel and copper — two metals which have the colour and warmth of timber.”

Article source: Green Magazine

TextJenna Reed Burns


PhotographyColin Hockey


191 Musgrave Road,
Red Hill QLD 4059

07 3367 3411