Jenny’s house

A limit. A wall we cannot go through. Which is in some ways where we began. Except that memory, in leading us back, has turned us about. It has drawn us through room after room towards a past body, an experience of the world that cannot be entered, only to confront us with a future body that can. Memory is deeper than we are and has longer views. When it pricked and set us on, it was the future it had in mind, and the door our fingertips were seeking was not there because we were looking in the wrong place; it was not that door we were meant to go through. The door was in us. Our actual body is the wall our fingertips come to. We have only to dare one last little blaze of magic to pass through.

David Malouf
12 Edmondstone Street

In 2015, I completed alterations and additions to my house.

There are two broken bricks in the wall on the side of my house. Some chunks are missing. In their place are some bluestone pebbles, just sitting. Who put them there? How were the bricks broken? So many questions to ask. And in a world where perceptions of home are coloured by the economy and choice, why am I drawn to and value such a tiny, insignificant interaction with the building by a past owner?

My house doesn’t sit in silence. Interactions like these give it a voice that links it to the past. It’s a voice that speaks with humility, honesty and ordinariness. It was a home to waterside workers and widows.

I came to this place with a sense of dislocation from my own past. But in the worn aesthetic I found a connection. Its ordinariness made it accessible. I could see where past owners had engaged with the building through labour and toil. The marks of repair and time are not concealed. They speak of honesty, modesty and pride. They are marks that gave me a sense of belonging, marks that convey fragility and resilience.

The stories in the surfaces of my house provide a genealogy of place and provide boundaries to operate into the future. And just as I cannot go back personally, my house cannot stay in the past either. But these stories give voice to its future direction and provide the values of honesty and modesty to work with, along with countless creative opportunities. Materials also link these histories across time.

Houses have different purposes for different people. I came to this working class cottage at a time in my life where it is the simple ordinary things in life that give meaning. In making myself a new place to be, I have found so much. In architecture I have found both the courage to face the future and the door David Malouf speaks of.

The contemporary addition to my house is a generous building with its own strong function, yet at the same time its placement, transparency and reflection allow for the stories of the past to be part of the present. It is in this way imperfection, impermanence and humility cohabit with perfection and rationality.

And that is where the ‘blaze of magic’ is. It has turned the ordinary into something extraordinary.

Rosevear Stephenson architects designed the alterations and additions to my house and received the following awards for their work.

National: The 2016 Eleanor Cullis-Hill Award for alterations and additions in residential architecture

Tasmania: The Australian Institute of Architects’ 2016 Tasmanian Architecture Awards: Residential Architecture – Houses (Alterations and Additions) and Heritage Architecture – the Roy Sharrington Award