A calming plan: Courted House

Embracing the elements inherent in traditional courtyard houses, this home by Breakspear Architects in Sydney’s inner-west uses rational geometry in a way that is poised, powerful and surprisingly flexible.

Picture a street in Rome, Mexico City or Kyoto – a place where houses look nothing like they do here. Instead of hipped roofs and wide verges, suburban fences and setback lawns, there is the elemental offering of a strong, defensive wall. In each of these cities, these walls may look and feel different – they may be coloured or rendered or assembled with fine timber screens – but their purpose is the same. They are there to protect the life of the home, to create a place of retreat and to keep the constant bustle of city life at bay. At their core, they often hold gardens, which provide light, air, outlook and a sense of tranquillity.

There are certain building types that are universal and one of these is the walled courtyard house: a home encircled by walls, with a garden at its heart. Courted House by Breakspear Architects is a fresh take on this long and meaningful architectural tradition.

The deceptively simple arrangement of the house is based around a nine-square plan. Each corner is anchored by a quiet space – a bedroom or study – while the central cruciform contains the entry, living, cooking and dining spaces. This diagram is highly efficient, eliminating the need for corridors and excess space. More importantly, it is remarkably calm, as living takes place within, around and across the central courtyard.

Kitchen, living and dining rooms adjoin the courtyard, allowing seamless movement between these “public” spaces.

Kitchen, living and dining rooms adjoin the courtyard, allowing seamless movement between these “public” spaces.

Image: Tom Ferguson

The centre of the house – both literally and figuratively – is this private oasis. The courtyard is carved out of the building, forming a sheltered, hidden room. The space contains a sun-drenched deck, a cluster of subtropical plants and a small run of stepping stones reaching towards the entry, inviting visitors in. And yet, this courtyard can be lively too. When friends gather and parties are held, the crisp aluminium-framed glass doors are thrown open, allowing people to wander in and out, pausing to refresh a drink or to stare up at the framed sky. As a space, it can be both contemplative and joyful.

The spaces surrounding the courtyard – the four public rooms – adopt a similarly quiet, restrained quality that is at once poised and powerful. Paired spaces converse across either side of the courtyard: one axis joins the kitchen and dining room, while the other unifies the living areas. Life runs in parallel – while parents relax in one room, kids can be glimpsed playing in another.

Within the meticulous, rational geometry there is great freedom. Each of the rooms is generously proportioned, with soaring white ceilings that are reminiscent of gallery spaces. The quadrants are demarcated by cedar-clad bands, which slice through the ceiling and extend out to meet the courtyard’s cladding. The minimal use of built-in furniture allows for a certain flexibility – it would be easy to switch the living and dining rooms and, in doing so, transform the patterns of daily life.

The four corners containing private spaces are compact and cleverly designed. No single room is exactly alike as each hosts a combination of bedroom, bathroom, storage and study spaces. These differences are elegantly resolved by clustering the joinery and bathrooms within sleek, oak-veneered volumes. Tucked away, they become both minimal and unobtrusive. The lowered ceiling heights are also exploited as additional space, with fine ladders linking up to a series of small mezzanines. These spaces, which feature balconies overlooking the rooms below, can be appropriated as home offices or play nooks.

Glass bricks permit light and exclude cluttered views, which would detract from the calm interior.

Glass bricks permit light and exclude cluttered views, which would detract from the calm interior.

Image: Tom Ferguson

The final layer of this home is its outer border, which is defined by the perimeter wall. These edges are essential to the interior’s feeling of privacy and peace as they provide protection against tall neighbours, traffic and regular suburban clutter. Towards the backyard and street, these walls are screened by hand-folded perforated steel sheets that filter dappled light. Along the side boundaries, utilitarian fibre cement sheets are held in delicate aluminium channels. Their elegant proportions offset their industrial feel.

These outer walls are rarely punctured but when they are it is purposeful. There are essential entry and exit points, such as the solid sliding front door, as well as high glass blocks to the north-east and frosted windows to the south-west that bring soft light to the interior without distracting with superfluous views.

In the backstreets of Sydney’s inner-west, Breakspear Architects has done something unique. The practice has taken a diagram that we all know – universally and intuitively – and have made it its own. Within a house like this, there is room to pause, to reset, to breathe and to escape. Courted House feels both timeless and specific to its context, an Australian version of the great walled courtyard homes that have been built throughout history, culture and time. It is a serene slice of suburbia that is refreshing, relaxed and restrained.

Products and materials

Lysaght Klip-lok in Colorbond ‘Ironstone’
External walls
Cedar cladding in Cutek oil; Equitone Tectiva fibre cement facade panels
Internal walls
Cedar wall lining in Cutek oil; plasterboard in Porter’s Paints ‘White’
Obeco La Rochére Glass Blocks
Schüco sliding doors
Honed concrete flooring
Luceplan Compendium suspension lamp; Modular Lighting Instruments Lotis tubed light; Trizo21 Austere-F reading lamp
Custom oak joinery; brushed stainless steel benchtop with integrated sink; granite benchtop and splashback; Bosch cooktop; Neff oven; Smeg integrated dishwasher
Ceramic wall tiles from Academy Tiles; custom Carrara marble vanities
Heating and cooling
Custom perforated screen by Locker Group
Custom plate-steel spiral staircase


Breakspear Architects
Project Team
Toby Breakspear, Tiffany Liew
Builder A.M. Custom Builders
Engineer Cantilever Consulting Engineers
Landscaping Sprout Landscape Architecture
Site Details
Location Sydney,  NSW,  Australia
Site type Suburban
Site area 557 m2
Building area 195 m2
Project Details
Status Built
Design, documentation 15 months
Construction 10 months
Category Residential
Type New houses



Published online: 14 Aug 2019
Words: Jennifer McMaster
Images: Tom Ferguson


Houses, June 2019

More projects

See all
Imagined as a pure form in the landscape, the design for Bombala Farmhouse captures the minimalist aesthetic of modernist artworks. First House: Bombala Farmhouse

When a family friend bought a property in southern New South Wales, Penny Collins and Huw Turner, of Collins and Turner, jumped at the chance …

The hotel’s two-storey accommodation villas are positioned radially across the site, with chasms between them framing views of the mountains in one direction and the sea in the other. ‘Necessary and motivating’: The Tiing

On the north coast of Bali, a new hotel responds intuitively to its local context, with accommodation carefully angled to reflect the balance of Balinese …

The museum and a cultural park have been built in the Binhai New Area on land reclaimed from Bohai Bay over the past decade. Shells, sails and upturned hulls: National Maritime Museum of China

China’s first comprehensive maritime museum at once reflects contemporary globalism, the marine history of the local area and a profoundly Australian style of architecture rooted …

While the darkness of the roof cavity appears to extend space vertically, the living room at the back of the house creates a sense of depth. In praise of shadows: Terrace House near Demachiyanagi

Atelier Luke’s diminutive Japanese-Australian architectural hybrid reconstitutes the fabric of the original townhouse in a respectful yet compelling way, creating spaciousness as much through darkness …

Most read

Latest on site