An innovative and sustainable residential addition that ticks all the boxes

Lewis Street House, in Melbourne's inner northern suburb of Thornbury, is a striking example of what can be achieved when it comes to renovating and extending an existing house when a vision of sustainability is at the forefront for the client, architect and builder. What was once a small, two-bedroom Deco-style cottage has become a three-bedroom, two-storey family home, with the added bonus of standing out as a place of significant architectural interest and a challenge to more traditional, less sustainable design and building practices.

Jeremy McLeod, of Breathe Architecture, is committed to designing buildings that, from the stumps up, utilise materials with low embodied energy and that, as a result, leave a reduced carbon footprint. It is for this reason that timber and timber products are predominant in Breathe Architecture's specifications, from the structure to the exterior and interior.



"Every project we do, whenever we specify any sort of framing, our first option is always timber."

For the frame of the Lewis Street House Jeremy McLeod specified plantation pine (MGP10) throughout. The steel cladding on the outside of the building had to be fixed to boards, so a 15 mm Ecoply cladding was used as the bracing and structure for the whole building. "The steel just goes over as a skin, to protect it all."

In keeping with the architect's vision, structural engineer Neil Hocking specified timber in the structural design, preferring products derived from plantation timber: "As a general rule, architects and builders prefer to use timber over steel for ease of construction, as well as aesthetic, environmental and cost considerations; this is always in the back of my mind when I am preparing the structural design."

James Glover from Keenan Built, the builders for Lewis Street, comments that, "For me the advantage in building with timber is it's a natural product that has so many different textures, finishes and colours. I have grown up working with it so I guess I'm a bit biased, but it's so easy to work with compared to most other materials."

The exterior of the Lewis Street House is all about textures and shapes, with the contrast of weathered boards and sleek steel cladding adding to the meshing of old and new that characterised the project. McLeod says that he generally specifies Ironbark for exterior use, "... or another class 1 or class 2 Australian timber. Ironbark is class 1 durability - the CSIRO says it will last 100 years above ground and 50 years in-ground. The Grey Ironbark cladding at Lewis Street, with the stainless steel fixings, is meant to stay there for 50+ years without ever needing anyone to clean it or paint it. Initially it's expensive but over the lifecycle of the building it becomes very, very cheap. Imagine trying to put up scaffolding here every ten years to paint it - it would be a nightmare. Basically the building is maintenance-free."

The inside of Lewis Street is warm, inviting collection of old and new textures and finishes, with the original floorboards merging with the additional floorboards that were recycled from an old school. McLeod notes that, "the stairs are new hardwood (Victorian Ash) and that's because the stair treads needed to be harder wearing." A number of the kitchen cabinets are also recycled as McLeod "took some of the old kitchen and laundry and pulled it apart and used it again. While it was really imperfect in a lot of ways, the clients were happy to re-use it." The joinery throughout the interior uses pine-based engineered wood products, with some of the original joinery recycled or retained.

Timbers used in this case study:



Joists of plantation pine (MGP10)

Roof frame of plantation pine (MGP10)

Rafters of plantation KD pine

Lintels of Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) (floor level)

KD pine (roof level)

Poles Beams: 

Beams of plantation pine (MGP10)

Shear Walls: 

Wall panels of Ecoply (15 mm) plywood panels


Sub-floor joists of plantation KD hardwood

Bearers of plantation KD hardwood



Red Ironbark F17 (130 mm x19 mm) weatherboards


Joinex finger-jointed pre-primed treated plantation pine

External Cladding: 

Grey Ironbark F17 (class 1) shiplap weatherboards



Recycled Tasmanian Oak (108 mm x 19 mm)


Plantation pine


Plantation pine-based plywood

Joinery Cabinetry: 
Interior Stairs: 

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