Astute planning and subtlety of detail assure a seamless transition between old and new parts of this refined residence.
Shadow lines and portal frames define the edges and intersections of this minimalist modernization of a 1920s duplex. The home is made of two original dwellings that have been joined and extended, augmented by a separate garage and a guest dwelling. The reworking is uncompromising; behind the original facade the retained building extends barely to the depth of a room. And beyond this sliver of original fabric lies new planning, new architectural expression and new ideas about how houses should operate.
The attention to detail that is evident in the new work, and in the juxtaposition of new and old, is more usually associated with the minimalist lines of crafted Japanese townhouses or tiny Sydney terrace reworkings, where space is so limited that superfluous detail is removed to maximize both space and the “sense” of space.
There is an inkling of this minimalist language in the entry to the house – the existing door and leadlight sidelights are framed in a deep-set, sleek, black surround that neatly contains and isolates the original elements. This strategy of compartmentalizing is visible throughout the interiors, where original doors have been retained within new frames that replace the original decorative mouldings with blade-like white steel portals.
Another key strategy is visible adjacent to this framed entry. An oversized version of a shadow line separates the new and old fabric on the south facade. Again the shadow line features prominently in the interiors; skirting has been supplanted by shadow lines and handles have been rendered obsolete by concealed pulls that allow uninterrupted and pure lines to dominate. Pivot doors hide spaces, leaving nothing to define an opening but a telltale periphery of shadow.
Equally minimalist is the resolutely black-and-white language of the interior. Black timber floors flow throughout the ground floor. The universally white walls are punctuated by the black surrounds of the external openings and fireplaces, and by the occasional burst of colour from an artwork. The clients’ desire to display these artworks effectively was a driving factor in the selection of this “gallery” palette.
The language may be minimal but the accommodation is not. Beyond the original rooms the generously sized spaces flow one to another, barely reined in by their black-and-white enclosures. The rigorous detailing abets the flow between spaces as shadow lines continue into the distance.
On the ground floor the dominant axis is the main hallway that leads from the original entry. This broad hallway skirts between the original and the new fabric and while the new spaces do not have doors, the door to the original sitting room is framed in a white portal. A series of punctuations in the ceiling above the stairwell, which sits adjacent to this gallery-like hallway, brings a high quality of light to the centre of the plan. The corridor terminates in a full-height glass window that frames the startling view of a section of brick wall belonging to the neighbouring building.
A secondary axis runs perpendicular to the first. This path skims past the central stair and encompasses the change in level between the formal front rooms and the open-plan rear. It dissolves into the open area of the living/family/dining room that runs the width of the house, dissipating into a view of the rear garden and swimming pool, which is framed in the full-height glass window. At the other end of this axis is the study, which is contained in one of the original rooms and is concealed by doors so seamless that they practically disappear. In a narrow run to the other side of the study is a surprising find: the original entry to the second duplex unit. This former front door now functions as a secondary entry for the occupants. The hallway it opens onto is lined with cupboards that are ready to accept school bags and sports paraphernalia.
The meticulously detailed black central stair leads down to a subterranean service space and up to the second-floor bedrooms. On the upper level the black flooring gives way to a beautiful dove-grey carpet that suggests a softening of the spatial and material rigour of the ground floor. On this level four bedrooms are accommodated, including an immense main bedroom that takes in a louvred view over the back garden and beyond to the city. A generous ensuite bathroom serves each bedroom, and a children’s living room and capacious laundry round out the floor. The clever design strategies and carefully resolved detailing continue: the original rooms are retained at the front of the building, and their decorative doors are framed in white steel portals; a consistent language of black-and-white unites the bathrooms, where the shower drains and vents are concealed in sleek linear slots; and the laundry is packed with storage space and served by concealed hanging rails and drying cupboards.
Throughout this house it is the support spaces, like the cupboards of the secondary entry, that provide moments of pure delight in their cunning buttressing of minimalist rigour. The laundry conceals a hanging rail below the overhead cupboards and obviates the need for a washing line with its array of drying cupboards. The school cupboards have rear walls lined with pin-up boards to accommodate school notices. The kitchen contains a concealed operations centre, complete with a work desk, a telephone and a noticeboard.
Plentiful storage is the secret ingredient in such a pared-back house. Throughout the project, the storage and secondary spaces have been meticulously and cunningly planned to maximize their effectiveness and minimize the intrusion of “stuff” into the rarified realm.
This astute planning and the subtlety of detail serve to emphasize the abundance of space at hand. And at the small scale, it is evident that this clever use of detail, while subtle, is what makes the space.