News Home & Design Workers Cottage Preserved and Revamped as Modern Family Home Old gets a new life with this illuminating renovation. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Published October 12, 2022 02:05PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Carla Middleton Architecture News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive It may seem counterintuitive, but constructing a new, energy-efficient building isn't necessarily the greenest way to go. That's because one has to consider the embodied carbon emissions (also known as upfront carbon) in the lifecycle of materials—how much energy it takes to extract, process, transport, and assemble them—whether they are already existing in an older building, or in a freshly minted one. Surprisingly, perhaps, sometimes the greenest building is one that already stands, lending credence to the reuse imperative, and why preserving and retrofitting these older specimens should count as a form of climate action. In Australia, we've seen a number of intriguing instances of old workers' cottages overhauled and redesigned as modern homes. These cottages date back to the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, when they were built as residences for working-class families. Many of these homes are now designated with heritage status, so revamping them can be challenging in a number of ways, beyond design considerations. In Hurlstone Park, a suburb of Sydney, the design team over at Carla Middleton Architecture recently completed one such renovation of a workers' cottage. The idea was to incorporate an addition that would include an open plan living, dining, and kitchen space for a family of five, optimizing privacy while still respecting the character of the small site. To achieve this, a "monolithic form" was integrated at the rear of the existing four-bedroom home, which now holds the new living, kitchen, and dining areas. Looking at the front door of this modest-looking cottage, however, the new addition isn't all that apparent, as regulations for renovating such heritage structures require. Carla Middleton Architecture Past the front entrance, it's a straight shot to the rear addition. As we can see here, the original ornamentation and character of the cottage interior have been kept more or less preserved. Carla Middleton Architecture The old living room, outfitted with a fireplace, has now been converted into a bedroom for the kids. Carla Middleton Architecture Stepping into the rear addition, one is immediately struck with the sense of openness and all that natural light coming in from above. Carla Middleton Architecture As the firm explains, the monolithic volume of the annex was "carved out" with two "skylight tunnels," which permit more natural light to enter the home throughout the day. Carla Middleton Architecture The new living room features lots of built-in cabinets, allowing the family to store books and toys out of sight. One can also see that a modern-styled bay window has been inserted into this spatial volume. Carla Middleton Architecture Another wall of the living room is devoted to more storage: almost full-height cabinets and open shelving to display various items. Carla Middleton Architecture The kitchen and dining areas overlap that of the living room. In particular, the kitchen is quite striking, with all-white cabinetry and an island that stands in wonderful contrast to that sliver of nature, seen through the strategically placed window behind the kitchen counter. Carla Middleton Architecture Stepping outside, we have a view of the rear addition and its unique bay window from the backyard, which has been clad with recycled bricks. The design approach of "carving space out" is pretty successful here, as this angular interplay of surfaces and volumes creates new spaces to enjoy and relax in: a sheltered porch, a place to transition between house and yard, and yet still maintaining a sense of privacy apart from the two adjoining houses of the neighbors. Carla Middleton Architecture The bay window provides an excellent spot to curl up with a book or a warm drink. Carla Middleton Architecture Back inside, we move on to the master bedroom, renovated to feature a pared-down palette of calming greys and warm browns. Carla Middleton Architecture The house now includes two bathrooms, one of which now includes a terrazzo-clad bathtub, a glass-walled shower, and a skylight, all harmonized in a pale-colored scheme of materials. Carla Middleton Architecture The second bathroom features a warmer tone in its design scheme and features modern subway tile in beige, a rainfall shower, and lots of storage to be found in the mirrored cabinets, and in the integrated niche underneath them. Carla Middleton Architecture In the end, the unassuming front facade and historical character of this modest cottage have been preserved by this careful, yet ambitious, design scheme. Nevertheless, it still manages to cleverly hide an abundance of space and light within, showing that there can be many possibilities when taking the preservation path. To see more, visit Carla Middleton Architecture and Instagram.