Light box: Centripetal House

Finding balance between separate rooms and an open plan, this renovation to a nineteenth-century terrace house by Panov Scott arouses curiosity and encourages exploration.

Negotiating a sunny day in Sydney’s Bondi Junction is a memorable experience for a visiting architect. Rushing from a prior appointment, we made our way through the pageantry to meet Anita Panov and Andrew Scott at Centripetal House. After being greeted at the small iron front gate and ushered across the narrow verandah, we were delighted to be led out of the mid-January heat and glare into an intimate entry vestibule.

Almost immediately, the sensitivity of the spatial planning became apparent. This miniature room gave us pause to compose our thoughts (and catch our breath) while we attuned our senses to the unexpected generosity of the spaces before us.

The Centripetal House is a renovation to a classic nineteenth-century Sydney terrace. We began by discussing the provenance of the original building: how it might once have been occupied and by whom.

At just 3.6 metres wide, the narrow terrace house required “opening up” through the introduction of a central void and generous windows that let in ample daylight.

At just 3.6 metres wide, the narrow terrace house required “opening up” through the introduction of a central void and generous windows that let in ample daylight.

Image: Brett Boardman

Conforming to the cultural conventions and social mores of the day, building designers of this era championed propriety through formal reception rooms and treated the daily practices of cooking, cleaning, sleeping and dressing as utilitarian acts to be sequestered away from public view. Public and private spaces were expertly partitioned and clear thresholds delineated indoor and outdoor spaces.

In contrast to this conception of the private house, most contemporary Australians expect their homes to express personal values, showcase their personality and provide means for deriving comfort and pleasure through daily rituals. As a result, the open plan has largely supplanted the cellular planning arrangements of yesteryear. The compelling connectedness that has followed has brought with it photogenic volumes filled with light and air. Rooms fit for furnishing with bold, individualistic pieces.

The revitalized Centripetal House draws on the best of both traditions. The owner and the architects sought to revive the idea of nineteenth-century room-making while satisfying contemporary twenty-first-century expectations for illumination, volumetric generosity and social connectivity.

Each of the spaces in the building is enriched through its relationship with the spaces around it. A central void drags natural light from rooftop glazing through the two lower levels of the house. Surrounding rooms, such as the first-floor bathroom and “bridge,” profit from this relationship by borrowing space and illumination from the void.

A particular highlight of the building is the suggestiveness of the architecture. An occupant is frequently reminded of the spaces located above or below. Glimpses into the partially enclosed stair room and the visible protrusion of treads at the bottom of some flights hint at the possibility of vertical movement, of unseen rooms beyond. The presence of light streaming down from above excites curiosity as to the source of the illumination. The scent of an evening meal being prepared is permitted to drift up through the building. The murmur of conversation in the garden or the echoes of footsteps in the bedroom corridor announce unseen events in distant parts of the building.

The first-floor "bridge" borrows space and illumination from the void.

The first-floor “bridge” borrows space and illumination from the void.

Image: Brett Boardman

It is here that the synergy of nineteenth- and twenty-first-century room planning becomes palpable. The owner’s brief emphasized the importance of the relationship between herself and her young son. The architects have nurtured this bond by developing a plan that promotes mutual awareness. Both occupants can maintain a sense of one another without sacrificing independence or privacy.

Significantly, the house also seeks to engage its broader context by arranging the kitchen directly behind the historic front facade. The life of the street becomes a companion to prosaic daily rituals such as making toast or loading groceries into the pantry. This simple planning gesture is designed to remind the occupants of their relationship to the city and to encourage contemplation of life beyond the day-to-day domestic existence.

Often, the failure of a contemporary open-plan house can be found in its lack of discretion; little is left to the imagination. Privacy is difficult to control and good order can be labour-intensive to maintain. Striking the right balance is difficult to manage, but here, Panov Scott has skilfully measured its interventions to offer generosity, arouse curiosity and excite exploration, while maintaining the informality and ease expected of a contemporary dwelling. The needs of both the household and the individual are met through a thoughtful collection of interconnected rooms.

A central void drags natural light from rooftop glazing through the two lower levels of the house.

A central void drags natural light from rooftop glazing through the two lower levels of the house.

Image: Brett Boardman

Tellingly, in a note to the architects sent shortly after moving into the house, the owner does not dwell on luxurious materials or the convenience of appliances on offer. Rather, she commends her architects for their contribution to the social life of her family and the spatial quality of the new volumes. This is because, although the house is beautifully finished and appointed, its principal virtue is the subtle complexity of the room-making. The Centripetal House is a society of rooms where each individual can find a space of their own in which to dwell.

Products and materials

Lysaght Spandek roof decking and custom folded flashings, downpipes and astragals in Zincalume; custom skylight by Viridian.
External walls
CSR Cemintel BareStone compressed fibre cement sheets; bagged brickwork painted white; steel door and window supports in Dulux Ferreko ‘St Enoch Grey’.
Internal walls
Austral Plywoods plywood, CSR plasterboard and Oregon timber, all in Dulux ‘Vivid White’; CSR Cemintel BareStone compressed fibre cement sheets in Bondall Natural Finish Sealer.
Windows and doors
Acacia Joinery custom Western red cedar windows and doors in Timber Solutions clear timber oil; Madinoz flush pulls; Centor flush bolts; Dorma solid-core pivot doors painted Dulux ‘Vivid White’.
Boral blackbutt tongue-and-groove flooring in Synteko Natural Oil; CSR Cemintel BareStone compressed fibre cement sheets in Bondall Natural Finish Sealer.
Opal Lighting Systems track lights and spotlights; Boaz Audrey Tilt downlight; Caravaggio pendant from Cult.
Austral Plywoods joinery; DuPont Corian benchtops in ‘Glacier White’; Miele oven and cooktop; Baumatic rangehood; Fisher and Paykel DishDrawer; Villeroy and Boch sink; Astra Walker mixer tap.
Duravit Architec toilet and Vero basin; Kaldewei Saniform bath; Astra Walker Icon tapware.
The Australia Sofa and Fly Coffee Table from Great Dane; Borge Mogensen table from Vampt Vintage Design; vintage teak and upholstered dining chairs designed by Henry Klein.


Panov Scott Architects
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Project Team
Anita Panov, Andrew Scott, Olivia Moore
Builder Hammerstone Builders
Engineer Cantilever Consulting Engineers
Joinery Refalo Joinery
Site details
Location Sydney,  NSW,  Australia
Site type Suburban
Site area 91 m2
Building area 127 m2
Category Residential
Type Alts and adds, New house, Residential
Project Details
Status Built
Completion date 2015
Design, documentation 18 months
Construction 5 months



Published online: 15 Oct 2015
Words: Stuart Vokes, Aaron Peters
Images: Brett Boardman


Houses, August 2015

Related topics

More projects

See all
The bound pages of books in a study space sit against a transluscent wall. Artwork: Bill Henson A future ruin in the garden: Almora House

Edged by an established garden and crowned by an undulating concrete roof-form, this home for collectors on Sydney’s North Shore is a carefully cultivated expression …

A long gable over the northern wing connects the new living spaces and directs sight lines toward the river. Verandah living: Brisbane Riverbank House

Set above the bends of the Brisbane River and informed by the material qualities of the existing 1930s cottage, a new brick and timber living …

Wrapped in hand- fixed shingles and set on recycled brick plinths, the contemporary pavilions are discrete yet sympathetic to the older home’s character. Sun catcher: Empire House

Two subtle yet sophisticated pavilions designed by Austin Maynard Architects, delicately stitched to a modest Canberra cottage, honour the interwar character of the home, while …

Reminiscent of Japanese techniques, some windows have been replaced with screens of translucent polycarbonate. Bushland machine: Osborne House

With a panorama of bush and water as its backdrop, the design for this house, built in 1995, uses materials and details reminiscent of wooden …

Most read

Latest on site