This project is for a family of two parents and three children; two teenagers and one soon to be. They asked us to reconfigure the house (which had already been reconfigured many times before) and utilise the small but intriguing interstitial site areas to allow them to stay living in the house and in the local community. The design needed to accommodate the expanding needs of three teenage children and parents, providing mutual distance or ‘breathing space’ within the overall togetherness of the family-house unit on a compact site. The site’s unusual shape is formed by the easement of the Elwood Canal – producing a very small back yard but also a great sense of surrounding open space. The house has no immediate neighbours to the north, south or east sides. It is surrounded by the landscape of the canal and sports fields of the local primary and secondary schools. The design seeks to establish new relationships with this sometimes lively public realm, to address the canal as a positive frontage, and to allow mutually-beneficial overlaps between private and public activities. The new parents’ room facing the canal is accessed from the mid-landing of the existing internal stair. This sets up a series of half-levels which turn the previous distinct separation of ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ into four more even zones of ground level, parents level, kids level and roof terrace. Each is only a half-flight apart which makes for easier connections but also allows privacy. The new room also forms a shaded undercroft space facing north-east to the canal. This can be used for carparking, or equally for outdoor workshop activities or casual recreation space. The gravel surface merges with the easement roadway so that it is unclear exactly where the site boundary lies. Kids can cut the corner on the way to school. Chairs can be scattered into the public realm. Upstairs, the new roof terrace offers another form of public-private interaction over the fence. Architectural expression develops from the way the building is made, and from its particular situation as a side fence-building highly exposed to a public thoroughfare. The structure is a braced timber frame over a core-filled blockwork base. Internal plywood lining is utilised as structural bracing. The new windows and openings to the canal side reveal certain aspects of this construction, while they also carefully modulate and allow for customisation of view, privacy and ventilation. Over time, the garden planting will grow and merge with the native landscaping of the canal, and the fence will turn the same silver grey as its neighbours. The building acts as a ‘backdrop’ to both public realm and family life.