Looking for renovation inspiration? Learn about the award-winning Canberra renovation that blends architectural history and contemporary design. Photos by Adam McGrath of H Creations. Images supplied by Master Builders ACT.

In the leafy suburb of Ainslie, a three-bedroom family home blends architectural history, bringing contemporary elements to the heritage charm of one of Canberra’s oldest suburbs. 

Originally an 89sqm red brick 1940s cottage, Cox Architecture redesigned Ainslie House to respect and retain the streetscape character while introducing strong modern elements to the setting.

Built by Manteena, the renovation and extension project saw the construction of a pavilion extension, alterations, and renovations to the existing cottage, plus the addition of carports, decks, and landscaping.

Danny Agnello, Residential Operations Manager at Manteena, said that the owners, who are architects themselves, wanted to keep the presence of the old 1940s cottage with a strong focus on open plan living, straight lines and natural materials.

“It was more about restoring it back to what the original 1940s cottage would have been … We matched all of the same finishes but with brand new stuff,” Mr Agnello said.

“A lot of the inside of that cottage isn’t perfect but that’s kind of the beauty of it. That’s what drew them [the owners] to the property originally.”  

The existing cottage has been fully refurbished by removing the old kitchen and bathroom, as well as non-structural internal walls, creating a further two bedrooms, a renovated bathroom, study, art studio, and a formal sitting room.

The original 1940s timber flooring remains in the cottage along with the fully restored fireplace and custom-made copies of the original doors.

Linked internally, the new pavilion extension features a flowing, open plan with exposed structural beams, raw concrete, a custom kitchen bench top and herringbone hardwood floors with hydronic heating.

“It’s very minimalistic but very tight tolerances, everything is designed to line up with something,” Mr Agnello said.

Ainslie House Project Manager, Anthony Aloe, said the complex details of the extension were the most intricate aspects of the project.

“Our biggest struggle with the new extension was probably a lot of those materials were exposed and finished products,” Mr Aloe said.

“It all had to be set out, essentially to the millimetre. There was no forgiveness in that.”

While Manteena specialises in bespoke and unusual construction projects, Mr Agnello said it was the most detailed and unique residential project the company has worked on.

The fusion of contemporary design and Canberra heritage history saw Ainslie House receive a Judges Commendation from Master Builders ACT for a Renovation/Extension more than $1 million in 2020.

Ainslie House was also awarded Project of the Year 2020 for Renovation/Addition at the HIA Housing Awards.

Mr Agnello said that the recognition Manteena received from the project is “great” as there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding renovations and extensions. 

“Especially with shows like The Block, people have a very misconstrued view on how much work is in renovation,” he said.

“People probably have rose-coloured glasses and say ‘you should be doing that in six months’, which is not really that possible on things like this, especially when you’re talking about highly bespoke custom projects.”

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