Kitchen of the Week: ‘A Secret Retreat’ Above a Violin Store

Designers often say that the best renovations come about after you’ve actually clocked some time living in a space, so that you can have a better understanding of how your home supports (or hinders) your daily routine. Architect Jack Tsai’s clients, a couple in their 60s, had 15 years to figure out what was wrong with their living quarters.

The couple own a violin shop and had been living atop of it in a dark, rundown apartment for a decade and a half before they brought in Jack to reimagine it—and by then, they knew exactly what they wanted: more light, a real bedroom (theirs was essentially a studio apartment), a guest bedroom, a bathroom on the second floor (they had to trek downstairs to the store level to use the loo), and outdoor space.

“In many ways, it was not hard to improve on what they previously had,” says Jack of their formerly depressing and uninspired apartment. “We wanted to create a living situation filled with daylight, with courtyards, balconies and rooftop decks—a secret retreat that’s hidden behind the heritage façade.”

He succeeded in delivering just that, plus an open kitchen and living room that feels like a sanctuary. Below, we dissect this serene, light-filled space.

Photography by Tess Kelly, courtesy of Tsai Design.

Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: The kitchen references the outdoors with sage-green accents. On the walls here is Dollar by Australian paint company Dulux. The tiles are from the Piemonte collection (in apple) by Classic Ceramics.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: The faucet is from Methven. (For similar faucets, see 10 Easy Pieces: Modern Single-Lever Gooseneck Kitchen Faucets.) The leather handles are from Melbourne-based company Made to Measure.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: The kitchen cabinets were custom-made by MTR Designer Cabinets using Laminex boards in Elegant Natural Oak finish. The pantry features doors fronted with with green panels of furniture linoleum by Forbo. The same linoleum was used to top the 18-mm birch plywood countertop as well.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: The eco-friendly cork flooring is from Market Timber.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: For a cohesive look, the built-in storage units in the living and dining areas are constructed from the same Laminex material used for the kitchen cabinets.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: Just beyond the living room is the dining area, over which hangs two Pluto Pendant lights from About Space. The fireplace surround and steps leading to the roof deck are tiled with bluestone.
Above: The dining table and chairs are from Japanese furniture store Apato, in Victoria.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: Behind the built-in bench is the lightwell. It is Jack’s favorite part of the project: “The simple gesture of removing the roof became the centerpiece of the house, figuratively and literally. It is a transition space that divides work and home. And also divides the open-plan living space from the private bedrooms.”
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: The view from the lightwell looking into the living and dining area. “We kept the original stairwell but simply removed the ceiling and roof above, replacing it with a polycarbonate roof, to bring in much needed daylight. Throughout the day, you move through the space and feel as if you are passing from indoor to outside, a brief moment of replenishment from the sunlight that beams down from above.”
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: Just beyond the stairs are two bedrooms; below is the store and workshop. About the half-painted railing: “The owner, being a violin maker, wanted to take on a bit of the timber restoration work himself, but he never got to finish it. During all the construction process, I think it just fit in so well with the character of the space, with the exposed structures, so the decision was to leave it as it is,” explains Jack.
Tsai Design Violin Shop Home Kitchen Above: The front of the building, with the store on the street level and the couple’s kitchen just above it.

For more clever work/home setups, see:

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