Architect Christopher Polly reinvents a compact sandstone cottage as a light-filled courtyard house.
Architect Christopher Polly has undertaken a thoughtful study in light and space, transforming a cramped one-bedroom home in Sydney’s inner west into an uplifting family haven. When the clients purchased the existing two-level residence, which had been partially renovated, a development application for extensions to the house had already been approved. It had been home to a couple that was starting a family and “needed more flexibility and space,” says owner Megan Ripper. However, the new owners chose to appoint their own architect.
The new design strategy revolved around the two key themes of retention and invention. “We picked up the lines in plan and section from the front of the existing sandstone residence, together with an extension of some of the key existing materials and finishes,” says Christopher.
While an original entry hallway and a front bedroom were left largely untouched, the cluttered rear ground-level zone, housing a small kitchen, laundry and bathroom, was demolished. It was remodelled with a new centrally located, enlarged bathroom, laundry and storage zone, while at the rear, a fluid, light-infusing addition was constructed to enclose an open-plan living, dining and kitchen area. One of the key priorities was to open up the house, both internally and externally, to the upgraded rear courtyard. A steel structure was introduced, allowing the architect to create large, expansive rooms with significant openings to the outside. The steel columns and beams support the building and make it evident where the new addition has been introduced.
The daytime hub of the house is the downstairs living area. A limited palette, a white polyurethane wall of cabinets and integrated appliances, floating perimeter cabinetry and a central dining table work to make this zone feel bigger than it is. A generous timber doorsill doubles as additional seating while providing a clever transitional step up to the courtyard and garden zones, which feature a selection of native species and a recycled blackbutt deck at one end. Rear sliding glass doors framed in western red cedar further expand the connection between the interior and exterior spaces.
The ground-floor living space is framed at one side by an open-riser timber and glass stair, which sits in a large sculpted void with a cantilevered balcony overhead. The stair seamlessly connects the ground-floor living space to the first-floor bedroom and living zones. The upper level, which originally housed the main living space and front verandah, now accommodates a new main bedroom, a third bedroom and a bathroom, with some minor internal room alterations having been made to enhance the original living area (now used more as a secluded evening space).
The new two-storey, rear glazed wall, whose pitched profile continues through from the original home, enhances the delightful outlook over existing tree canopies and elevated district views while maximizing the natural daylight. Smooth white walls and cathedral ceilings reflect light into the full depth of the home. The upper portion of the interior walls on this level is lined with lightweight translucent polycarbonate panels, which further assists in transmitting and reflecting light and take on a lantern-like quality when backlit in the evening. Clever, cost-effective design solutions are evident elsewhere in the lighting palette, with energy-efficient uplighting, used in a combination of concealed and exposed locations, providing “flexibility for changing patterns of use,” says Christopher. A sense of quiet retreat is created in the main bedroom, where beautifully detailed and finished, custom-made pivoting windows in western red cedar offer “varying degrees of openness and enclosure.”
The sensitive combination of materials, textures and colours ensures that the new sections retain some memory of the old. In the rear extension, fine steel plate elements painted black contrast with weatherboard cladding and a variety of western red cedar window and door openings.
“Demolished materials were reused where possible, combined with sustainable product selection to minimize the carbon input,” says Christopher. Recycled blackbutt flooring is used throughout the enlarged ground floor area and on the stair case elements, while on the upper level, charcoal walnut stain to the existing pine flooring enriches the entire first floor. The crisp white and light-grey-toned bathrooms extend the neutral palette, creating a restrained, peaceful mood.
This project demonstrates a strong consideration of sustainable design initiatives that will ensure the home is comfortable to live in, year round, with minimal energy input. High-performance glazing to the rear facade reduces heat gain from direct sunlight in the warmer months and minimizes heat loss when the temperature drops outside. Extensive passive cross-ventilation and cooling, upper-level skylights over the circulation area, an external retractable blind to the north, water-saving fittings and low-energy lighting are also used.
Above all, the retention of the existing built form, where possible, has produced the benefits of a low-energy footprint with a strong sense of place, and a rich layering of time that is evident in the elegant architecture.