A Century Old Cottage Converts Into A Contemporary Home

Terrarium House

A highly personal project, Terrarium House is an intersection of the clients’ childhood and adult life. It was born by bringing together the diverse layers of their childhood memories and adult travels. Its inception – an exercise in pragmatics – evolved into its present dynamic and unique form.

Sitting on the street in Brisbane’s Highgate Hill, the 1900s cottage might seem unassuming. However, upon close inspection beneath the lush vines that cover the facade, is a contemporary home by architect John Ellway.

Aptly named the Terrarium House, the walls function to blur inside and outside and updates the once dilapidated hundred year old house to its present glory.

Terrarium House
Terrarium House

Each element of the Terrarium House is personal. Deeply embedded in its context, Terrarium House is imbued with meaning in every corner. If there was one word to describe it, it would be unique.

While there is a tendency to overuse the word, Terrarium House is truly a rare confluence of its specific conditions and client necessities. While reflecting on its design process, Ellway embraces the constraints of the site conditions and actually uses it as a starting point for his design concepts.

Terrarium House
Terrarium House

Beneath the vine covered facade that hides the entryway to the Terrarium House, the original veranda is now a set of external stairs with lush trees that invites you into the subdued living area. This lower level features all the necessities of contemporary living – a laundry, a bathroom and even a meal lounge.

Terrarium House
Terrarium House
Terrarium House

The color palette is largely gray – with a black stained ceiling that creates a compression as you enter from the garden. This together with the concrete floors make the visitors and inhabitants feel grounded, blurring the experience of being outdoors or indoors.

This lower level can likewise be enclosed by sliding doors – further pushing the concept of blurring indoor and outdoor. A western solid wall also functions to protect the house from the intense afternoon sun. In the winter, a fine textured glass captures the winter morning sunlight.

Terrarium House
Terrarium House

The more private programs are located in the upper level, with a staircase access inside the original cottage door. A common space hallway is more than circulation space, it also functions as a playground for the children to play and grow up together.

Floor to ceiling sliding panels provide the house with programmatic flexibility with the ability to separate and contain a retreat space in the bedrooms. This flexibility extends into the house’s seasonal functionality with deep eaves to protect from the summer sun and large panel slides to allow the sun in during winter. 

Terrarium House
Terrarium House

The house is relatively compact, standing at only 120 square meters. As such, the architect ensured to make good use of the space whilst creating an indoor outdoor living experience. This attention to detail, along with its uniquely personal story, renders the Terrarium House a true labor of love exemplifying creative architectural solutions.

Terrarium House
Photos by Nick Bowers