Conceptually, this grand old two-storey terrace house explores the specificity of modern design ideals within the constraints of a heritage project. Located in a tight-knit row of protected buildings in the heart of Sydney’s inner city, the property was originally built in 1915 and subsequently used as a boarding house before being purchased seventeen years ago by its current owner. Its heritage classification meant that during its recent renovation by Louise Nettleton Architects, the facade and the majority of the structure had to be retained in their original form, so “maximizing the site usage in an efficient and sustainable way from boundary to boundary was crucial,” Louise says.
The double-fronted L-shaped plan comprises ground-floor living, dining and kitchen areas, which wrap around a sun-drenched, north-facing courtyard, and three bedrooms, a study and two bathrooms on the upper level. The front entry opens to a hallway where an original wide opening was reinstated to provide a generous flow through to the more formal living zone, which was extended to incorporate the former eastern external side passage. An external door and additional window were also reinstated and beautifully frame the new banksia plants in the courtyard garden.
The extension revealed the absence of proper footings in the clay foundations, leading to extensive structural underpinning along the existing detached side wall. Every ceiling throughout each level had to be replaced, many of the walls required structural bracing, repairing and patching, and there was no insulation in the roof. Once the structural modifications and repair work were completed, existing floorboards were sanded and stained a rich, dark brown and the walls painted a deep brown/green that beautifully sets off the owners’ extensive art and furniture collection.
Beyond the entry hall the house steps down to the rear of the property, where the modernized dining and kitchen areas have been transformed. Some original internal walls have been removed, external openings enlarged and more windows added to flood the interior with natural light and seamlessly connect the space with the courtyard alongside. The colour and texture of the eco-friendly bamboo cabinetry in the kitchen references the wider use of wood throughout the home, and sliding doors painted a burnt red have a subtle dialogue with the weathered hues of the original brickwork (as do other accent furniture pieces and finishes throughout the home). The original hardwood floors were matched with new
dark-stained tallowwood flooring.
A compact new powder room behind the kitchen enjoys an unexpected picture window that frames the iconic Horizon Apartments building by Harry Seidler. Alongside the powder room a stairway leads down to a new basement cellar.
The elegant, solid-hardwood timber staircase leading upstairs from the entry hall was left in its original condition. Terrace houses are often dark through their core and “prior to renovation the upper level was virtually devoid of natural light,” says Louise. The solution was to introduce three new skylights, which flood the home with natural light through the central circulation zone and south-orientated second bedroom. A new lineal second bathroom, which sits above the extended living zone, is dually accessed from the main and second bedrooms, and from the expansive shower zone enjoys delightful views over the courtyard below.
A third bedroom and a home office are located towards the northern perimeter and open onto a compact, private elevated courtyard complete with a vegetable and herb garden that takes good advantage of the city and district views.
The approach to the detailed design was to consider the brick, timber and stone of the existing house and create a dialogue between old and new. Louise introduced crisp white built-in polyurethane cabinetry or shelving elements in most rooms, which helps to draw the spaces together while retaining plenty of wall space for artworks. The red accents downstairs continue upstairs in the refurbished main bathroom, with bold, deep-red glass mosaic tiles creating a dramatic statement off the white hallway. Rich tones and textures along with oversized items, such as the traditional antique Japanese tansu storage cabinet in the dining room, enhance the eclectic narrative of the interior.
The new timber-clad, charcoal-toned side addition has been designed to step back from the original street facade, minimizing its presence along the descending sweep of the street vista and respecting the existing heritage-significant built form. To the rear, the courtyard garden integrates huge, original sandstone footing blocks, forming a path of stepping stones up to the weathered timber deck.
Sustainable design has been well integrated into the project and includes the use of ecologically sourced and recycled materials, cross-ventilation and ceiling fans on both levels, wall-hung hydronic gas-fired heating, low-energy pendant lighting, and a two-thousand-litre water tank concealed under the outdoor deck for garden irrigation. Beautifully detailed sliding timber shutters help manage solar penetration and heat gain/loss through external windows, ensuring the space stays cool in the warmer months and well insulated in winter. The roof was also fully insulated beneath the retained original roof sheeting.
While the house has been opened up and unified with great success, and what Louise calls the “boarding house effect” has been overcome, the quiet sense of history and intimacy has also been retained, making the house an ideal place for contemplation and repose.
Products and materials
- Existing roofing; Velux aluminium skylights.
- External walls
- Stained Western red cedar cladding; existing bricks.
- Internal walls
- Painted Dulux ‘Walnut Hull’ and Murobond ‘Pure Natural Red’.
- Windows and doors
- Lidco clear anodized louvres; stained Western red cedar sliding external shutters designed by Louise Nettleton and made by Caporns; Halliday and Baillie shutter locks and flush pulls; Viridian SmartGlass glazing; painted sliding external doors.
- Existing flooring, sanded and stained; Boral tallowwood flooring; The Natural Floorcovering Centre rugs.
- Gardens at Night copper garden bollard.
- AEG induction hob, oven, steam oven and dishwasher; stainless steel Electrolux fridge; Vola tapware; Debrich Custom Joinery stainless steel benchtops and stained moso bamboo cupboards.
- Vola tapware; Academy Tiles wall and floor tiles; Reece white stone basins; Duravit Happy D basin and Starck 3 toilets; Vola bidet hose; DC Short heated towel rail.
- Heating and cooling
- Ceiling fans.
- External elements
- Merbau Australia Decking decking; boundary wall and planter boxes painted Murobond Murowash ‘Nickel’.
- Sedia sofa; Poul Kjærholm PK22 chairs; Hans Wegner sofa and Series 7 dining chairs; dining table designed by Louise Nettleton and made by Australian Architectural Hardwoods.
- Louise Nettleton Architect
Sydney, NSW, Australia
- Project Team
- Louise Nettleton, Anna Moldt
Engineer SDA Structures
Landscaping Belinda Pulver with Louise Nettleton Architects
- Site details
Site area 160 m2
Building area 225 m2
Category Residential buildings
Type Alts and adds, Houses, Residential
- Project Details
Design, documentation 26 months
Construction 9 months