A theatrical reworking of an existing townhouse by Simon Pendal Architect uses colour and contrast to boldly define the series of spaces.
Simon Pendal consistently pursues beauty in design. He sets out to craft spaces that nurture the human spirit, considering intimacy and emotion to deliver environments that are atmospheric, purposeful and have a clear spatial intent.
Located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, North Perth Townhouse epitomizes these spatial preoccupations. It is a reimagining of a reproduction Georgian Mews townhouse interior and modest, north-facing courtyard, into a boldly articulated and sincere interior that is theatrical, experimental and undoubtedly beautiful. Binding together the existing, ornate qualities of the 147-square-metre home, the project is conceived as a series of “castings” that play on notions of embellishment and ornamentation, intensified by the use of colour.
A raked bulkhead and glossy, emerald-green frame mark the threshold to the kitchen, where a line is struck across the floor plane to articulate two triangulated spaces – a bold, emerald-toned preparation area and a white sitting corner. The intensity of the emerald triangle punctuates the room with a graphic potency, balanced by the fine detailing of white, scalloped shelves that sensitively edge the L-shaped green cabinetry. This white banding is maintained through the room in the form of an abstracted frieze, tenderly referencing the mouldings, castings and ornamentation inherent in the townhouse. The sitting corner opposite the kitchen offers an intimate space for respite. A window box draws in natural light tempered by sheer linen curtains, highlighting the subtle grain of the whitened timber panelling lining this alcove. This sitting volume balances the energy and activity of the kitchen.
The adjacent dining and living spaces are comparatively muted. The existing jarrah flooring is desaturated with a light wash of black stain, while the lounge is defined by a seamless and highly reflective black epoxy floor. Ornate skirtings, cornices and ceiling roses are thoughtfully retained and, against the restrained floor and wall surfaces, these “frilly” details become focal. The existing windows are finished with a projected white timber surround, which provides a crisp frame and ledge while masking the existing aluminum frames beneath.
The dining room opens to a high-walled courtyard that was once dominated by mechanical equipment. The courtyard now offers a quiet place to pause and delight in the warm, northern light. A small utility area has been blacked out with paint, giving presence to the lush, brick-paved courtyard, enlivened by a purple blossom tree and wall creepers that, over time, will brim the perimeter with soft green foliage. Glimpses of the courtyard are offered at critical openings from the kitchen, dining room and upper levels, drawing the elements of the project together.
The existing open-riser stair is sheathed in white timber, taking on a cranked, sculptural form from the lower level and binding together the risers, treads and handrail to form a white vessel. In this way, Simon has crafted a stairwell room, heightening the experience of ascending as the next casting unfurls. This vertical change in volume is marked by a line on the steel handrail, at the point where you move from the white stairwell into the inky blue lounge space above.
Carefully selected in collaboration with artist Jurek Wybraniec, the Prussian blue of the lounge room doors, timber flooring, walls, frames, ceilings and window treatments unites the surfaces to envelop the occupant in a thickened volume. The base plate of a fine steel balustrade is sized to align seamlessly with the timber floorboards; the ornate newel posts of the existing hand- rail are integrated to play on the townhouse’s castings and character, and leather strapping binds together the splayed posts for lateral support.
Within the Prussian blue lounge room, three white elements become luminous: the bright and beckoning stairwell volume, a fine pendant floating overhead and a whitened alcove to the main bedroom and bathroom, illuminated by a cast skylight. The chiaroscuro of these elements is artistically composed, taking on a cinematic quality through the stark contrast in light and shade.
Entering through the whitened alcove, the bedrooms are brightened with white walls and floorboards, while an exposed plywood window box adds a hint of warmth and texture. The raked ceilings of the bedrooms are thickened with insulation and edged with a second cornice, in a style Simon describes as “suburban baroque.” Two blackened niches abut the main bedroom; a wardrobe that can be concealed from the room with a white linen curtain, and a dressing room sliver that offers a private alcove and access to the ensuite. The ensuite is finished with warm, hexagonal floor tiles, vertical, brick-bond wall tiles and refined fixtures and fittings.
Views from the white main bedroom, to the darkened lounge and through to the whitened stair beyond offer deep contrasts in volumes, creating a sense of spatial tensioning as you move from one cast space to the next. This notion of unfurling spaces, and falling in and out of volumes, is a pervading concept in Simon’s work and one that has been explored remarkably in North Perth Townhouse, where his experimental approach is palpable.
The work gives meaning to the embellishments of the existing house, illustrating a maturity in Simon’s architectural approach while the notion of “cast spaces” emerges as a new spatial proposition, marking a significant contribution to his body of knowledge in practice and teaching. The immersive volumes of North Perth Townhouse are tempered with thoughtful details that give the project integrity, while Simon’s curation of space fosters a sense of enchantment and unexpectedness that is all too often absent in contemporary design.