Engineered to Perfection: Akilah Swan makes magic at a once modest one-bedroom cottage

By Aina Curated

Extending a modest one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage into a not-so-modest two-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage, might seem like a relatively simple task to the uninitiated, but when the cottage has no proper foundation and huge steel beams are involved, there is nothing simple about it at all.

Masterminded by Akilah Swan, director of architectural firm Aina Curated, Dreamworks Cottage now not only has a beautiful new master bedroom suite, but also a newly renovated second bathroom and large, light and bright open-plan kitchen and living room, with an accessible front door and outside patio.

It was the open-plan kitchen and living room that provided the biggest building design challenge and was the reason for the vast steel beam: “The client wanted a really high ceiling, opening up the space and making it really bright,” explains Swan. “This presented the greatest interior challenge for the project. A 22-foot steel beam was required to span the entire living room and be concealed into the existing roof construction for a seamless transition between the kitchen and living room.

“This is an existing roof,” she continues. “So, we had to tie in the new with the old and also heighten it so we could have a step-down lintel as well as just have a nice, open concept living, dining room, eating area.

“The collar ties of the existing ceiling also had to be dissembled and re-engineered for the new open full-pitch ceiling.” The beam needed a column to hold it up, but Swan didn’t want that interfering with the newly created opening. “We didn’t want any columns to be in the open-concept living space, so we hid it in the closet,” she says. She reserves strong praise for the contractor who successfully managed to achieve this feat: “Jonathan from Phoenix Construction was the contractor and he did a really great job,” she says.

The second big construction challenge they faced was the sand: “A large pocket of sand was discovered under the intended addition,” continues Swan. “This was combined with the reality that no proper foundation was poured for the original cottage.” New foundation walls and concrete underpinning were therefore needed to secure both the existing cottage as well as the extension. “We had to dig down about eight to ten feet just to get bedrock, so it was quite extensive to support this addition and then we have piles here and in the planters to actually support the main building, because it was slowly shifting,” she explains. “All the non-sexy bits were the challenging parts,” she laughs.

Patrina Carey of Carey Interior Design chose the furnishings and furniture for the newly renovated space, including tile, countertops and cabinetry for both bathrooms.
Carey expertly matched the bedroom furniture and barn door to the bathroom to the bedroom’s dark wooden ceiling beams.
Both bathrooms feature stylish floating wood vanities, elegantly arranged glass tile and large sliding glass doors to the shower.

Once the construction challenges were overcome, however, it was on to the fun parts—upgrading and renovating the interiors. Enter Patrina Carey of Carey Interior Design. “Patrina did all of the finishes, the flooring, the colouring, the furnishings,” says Swan. This included a sleek new master bedroom and bathroom, full of stylish features such as “floating” wood vanities with elegantly arranged glass tile behind, and grey and white pebble tiles and large glass sliding doors in the shower. Dark wooden ceiling beams in the bedroom match the bed frame and barn door into the bathroom. These beams are also used in the new open-plan area, adding character to the high ceiling.

The dramatic mocha-coloured kitchen cabinetry was not the original plan. This colour had to change to match the kitchen backsplash tile which had white and brown tones to it. “This is a backsplash I got from Tile Bar,” explains Carey. “It has a very Asian feel to it. I had to figure out a new kitchen cabinet look that incorporated some of these beautiful tiles.” The resulting cabinetry, white countertop and backsplash tile works together, however, as if it was always meant to be, and is complemented with a light laminate vinyl floor from Souza Carpets & Flooring. Other great interior features include a hidden laundry area and transparent counter stools.

Where the house looks almost unrecognisable from its previous form on the inside, the transformation is less obvious on the outside with the exception of new windows and the outdoor seating area, which is particularly enjoyable in the summer as the trees provide ample shade. The contractor also made the kitchen window larger to allow more light in.

Our judges were very impressed with the way Swan had “applied skill and talent” to this project. “What she did with the roof was very challenging,” they add. “It’s not easy because you can’t just take a beam and lift it into place. It looks clean and simple but getting to that wouldn’t have been easy.”

Construction issues aside, when Swan walks into the property she gets that “‘ah’ feeling because everything is so tall, open and clean. That’s my favourite bit,” she says.