Overlooking this once-dilapidated house in Sydney’s Paddington would have been easy to do.
A former working class inner-city suburb of ramshackle terraces, deemed a slum for redevelopment in the ’50s, it’s now home to some of the most expensive real estate per square metre in Sydney.
Second from the right, this terrace house was once dilapidated and easy to overlook
Cashing in on potential
It was never a grand house, but its size and position saw it bought and sold many times over the years, and with each new owner came additions and changes.
While fixer-upper projects in the area are often snapped up fast, this property didn’t lend itself well to the market, says architect Georgina Wilson.
‘When you entered this house, you felt confused. It had been added to and added to in quite a random fashion and had evolved to such a degree that it was very off-putting,’ says Georgina.
‘It was claustrophobic and dark, and even the physical act of walking around made you feel topsy-turvy, as there was such bad fall on all the floors.
‘One of the most confronting aspects was that the entire width, which was only five or six metres, was cut down the middle by a skinny additional wing tacked onto the back,’ she says.
But what others missed, the new owners saw. A 175sqm block in a great position, good streets front and rear, with an attic space and a partially excavated basement meaning there was significant volume already existing.
It needed a lot of work, but the price was right, so the project began.
Fusing old and new
The owners had clear ideas about what they needed, and with a growing family, flexibility was paramount.
‘What you need with toddlers is different to what you’ll need with school-aged kids. I wanted to maximise the potential in every space, so it could adapt as necessary,’ says Georgina.
The interior was gutted, leaving only the facade remaining.
‘I had no desire to make a huge architectural statement by designing something at odds with the period.
‘When you take apart one of these buildings, there’s layer upon layer of materials, as people have applied a Band-Aid solution over time, so when it gets to 100 years old, there’s really no way the building can take any more.’
The result is a totally reconfigured, vastly more efficient home, with the front sections respecting the heritage.
Reworking the layout
The plans included four bedrooms, three bathrooms, multiple living areas, open-plan kitchen, study, media room and outdoor space that could be used for entertaining and parking. The key to making it work was the basement.
‘Taking the laundry off the ground floor of the house meant that I could integrate that much-needed flexibility into the configuration,’ says Georgina.
‘In the basement, we had to achieve a decent ceiling height, but with all the playing around with floor levels, it became cramped down there.
‘The laundry is 4m long, so we just excavated a trench and still achieved the functional area needed and storage.’
The basement also provides for a media room and home office.
‘The beauty of these spaces is they can be used in so many ways as the family grows,’ says Georgina.
On ground level are the formal living and dining areas. There are three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and the attic has been converted into a master bedroom with ensuite.
Integrated joinery is a feature in all of the bedrooms.
‘It’s unobtrusive, and nothing impacts negatively on the space. We gave it a cutout detail for texture and to provide more ventilation.’
On street level, the two front rooms very much reflect the original layout and terrace style.
The basement houses a study, media room and the laundry, with capacity for a wine cellar
The study is a good distance from the television so work can get done without significant interruption
At the rear of the house, the courtyard offers a comfortable and private place for relaxing and entertaining.
Maximising the light
Facing east on a south-bearing hill, the property was dark and claustrophobic.
‘This is always a challenge with terraces and I knew I’d have to work it to get some natural light through the plan of the house,’ says Georgina.
She looked to borrow views throughout, so wherever you are inside, you always get an outlook.
Connecting the old part of the home with the new is a courtyard, bringing light, ventilation and a green aspect to the rooms around it.
‘Another problem with terraces is the train carriage effect, like you’re passing through one narrow room to the next, so we added a pop-up ceiling. It gives the roofline a different shape and draws the eye up,’ she says.
The stairwell can also be a dark and dominating area. The upper part is made of a lightweight steel that is mostly transparent, allowing light to stream down from the top windows.
Opening onto a leafy outlook, the front bedroom features the original doors and shutters.
The under-utilised attic has been transformed into a master bedroom
Small but ingenious, the ensuite was left open to the stairs to keep the floorplan light and airy
To maximise efficient use of space, the stairwell was stacked up through the levels of the building
Picking the materials
The clients had a strong preference for hardwearing and serviceable materials, so timber was an obvious choice.
There were layers of floor coverings, with carpet laid on lino and masonite, so it was stripped back to reveal the timber. It was badly damaged by white ants, which is common in a house of this age, so most had to be rebuilt.
The new floors are blackbutt with a matt burnishing oil finish.
‘We experimented with this quite a bit. We didn’t want anything highly varnished, but this oil sinks in so the timber develops a natural patina, then all it needs is buffing and re-oiling from time to time,’ says Georgina.
The colour choices throughout the house reflect the simplicity of the design. Steel trims are painted in a Dulux iron oxide protective coating in Bridge Grey and natural white paint is used on the walls.
Marble is used sparingly, on the kitchen island bench and highlighted in the main bathroom.
Clerestory windows were introduced into the kitchen, opening to the north to maximise on the natural light
On the original part of the stairs, the layers have been revealed to subtly reference the old house and its previous lives
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 edition of Handyman magazine