Upper Wheelan House

Douglas & Co Architects

Upper Wheelan House appears, from the outside, to be a very modest building, designed to be respectful to its streetscape context. Only the red oxide-painted gates give any hint of the architectural approach within. The masonry façade, with vertically-proportioned and symmetrical openings under a hipped roof, are all polite gestures to the context.
Inside, the architects have managed to create sense of generosity within a very tight footprint. The old cottage has been extended upwards to create a first floor, and half of that space is reserved for a living area under double volume. Fully glazed to the south and with bay windows to the east, this space extends into a small backyard garden. After moving through the front door from the traditional stoep space, the sense of volume and connection to the outside that are achieved are unanticipated and delightful.
The other half of the footprint has been infilled with a carefully crafted and scaled timber and steel frame structure. This framework, over three levels, accommodates a scullery, bathrooms, bedrooms and a study. All these spaces flow from a tight but comfortably designed central staircase. The spaces are designed to pivot the user towards framed views of the mountain and surrounding historic townscape, which allows these efficiently-designed spaces to feel generous.
The material palette is similarly restrained. The structure is exposed: varnished SA Pine is used for floors, walls, bay windows and ceilings, and steel is painted oxide red throughout, from beams and posts to handrails and light fittings. All other materials – chosen to impart a sense of luxury and texture within the space – are green in tone, from the green slate floor tiles to the cabinetry.
Altogether, this building is notable for the sense of craftsmanship, surprise and delight it manages to impart, while remaining respectful to its spatially- and heritage-constrained environment.