Go to Main Content

Inside an apartment reno

Apartment stats
Location: Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria
Size: 80 sqm over two levels, 2 bedroom, north-facing living and balcony
Building: 3 storey, 4 apartments
Built: 2001, redesign completed 2012

Sustainability improvements
1. Draft sealing
2. Closing up and insulating a skylight void
3. Insulation upgrade where possible
4. Efficient LED lighting
5. Reflective film blinds on northern windows
6. Wicking planter boxes for vegies on the balcony

The story

When Luke, his partner and new baby moved into their two-level apartment in hip Fitzroy in 2012, it was only ten years old but already in need of a revamp. “While it had a favourable north orientation, it was hindered by a dark, inefficient kitchen that blocked views and light,” says Luke, “and it had meagre storage space and an envelope with poor thermal performance.”

A building designer whose projects always have a strong emphasis on sustainability, Luke embarked on an interior redesign to improve the inner-city apartment’s functionality, energy efficiency and thermal performance. “I wanted to inject some style and improve liveability, without spending a fortune,” he says. Even with design elements that make energy efficiency difficult, such as a mezzanine and open staircase, the redesign rewarded its occupants with lower bills and an increased sense of space. “The design capitalised on the apartment’s hidden potential, repositioning and re-orientating functional pathways, opening and connecting spaces in new ways,” explains Luke.

Using a thermal imaging camera, Luke and his team found the spots where heat was escaping and entering. They covered and insulated a skylight and changed old downlights in the living space and kitchen to sealed LEDs. They also installed draft excluders and repaired the apartment’s doors so they seal completely. Reflective film blinds hang on the northern windows to keep summer heat out. “We did what we could without turning the world upside down,” says Luke.

Changes in the kitchen also improved the apartment’s liveability. The fridge was moved from where it stood blocking access and light. Clever cabinetry created more storage space and concealed the new fridge, a high bar-style counter was removed, and bench space increased. A charcoal mirror splashback reflects the balcony garden and the gum tree outside, giving an increased sense of space.

Locally-sourced materials were used as much as possible in the refurbishment. Custom-built furniture – including a series of reconfigurable ply boxes as shelving and storage – helps to minimise clutter, further optimising the space available in the compact apartment. On the balcony, wicking planter boxes were crafted from recycled timber palings and discarded pallets, allowing the family to grow a wide range of herbs, vegies and salad greens.

The result, according to Luke, is a “funky space that works”, on a modest budget of $35,000.

Luke is a building designer who focuses on sustainable architecture. You can learn more about his work at the EME website.

Luke's advice

Start by picking off the easy things like drafts under doors and windows, and think about shading (summer) and curtains (winter) where possible. If you plan a refurbished kitchen or living room, engage an expert and think hard about the rooms, the furniture, the way spaces work.

Luke Middleton, building designer and apartment owner