Text description provided by the architects. This project is the renovation of a house, one of two semi-detached single-story dwellings located in Sydney’s densely inhabited inner west. Broadly speaking it is about the making of a new whole by retention of one half of a structure and reconfiguration of the other. Approach to the house remains via the small formal front garden, up three generous steps, and onto a narrow porch. A centrally placed casement window and offset front door punctuate the painted brick elevation. Within, the front rooms have been retained with minimal intervention allowing a continued manner of a dwelling.
Through the door adjusting eyes encounter the darkened space of a formal sitting room with symmetrically located fireplace on the southern wall. On axis with the front door, a long hall leads past two bedrooms. The high ceilings, small windows, and wonderfully lean vertical timber construction establish the character typical of a Sydney terrace. Cool in both summer and winter, and dark even on the brightest of days, these spaces offer the initial experience of homecoming and become a counterpoint for the character of the rear addition.
At the end of the existing hall, a small opening twists to the sky bringing gentle light through the upper level and into the center of the long plan. The light washes down a 45 degree splayed plywood panel. Visible from the dark front rooms and immediately upon entry it announces the differing quality of the spaces ahead.
Moving towards this quiet light, the thin sliver of a brighter room beyond gradually widens with the shifting perspective. Shunted off the previous axial alignment, and past a discreet bathroom, the great communal room of the house is revealed. Light filled, this is a combined kitchen and dining space of slightly smaller area than the lean-to it replaces. Here the elegant vertical proportions and lean timber construction techniques of the front part of the house are reinterpreted.
Continuing the homecoming journey the room increases to six meters in height reaching upwards at its far end. The number and size of windows also increase gradually to this point allowing the internal space to expand horizontally as well as vertically and for the light levels to approach that of the external environment. Turning 180 degrees and up a narrow stair concealed behind a ply lined wall, the level above contains a master bedroom and ensuite, with a tiny window looking back across the roof to the park. This moment completes the journey within to the most private realm of the house.
As architects, our remit required the systematic removal of any kind of material and spatial excess. In collaboration with our wonderful clients, this rigorous process resulted not in spaces of austere minimalism but those enriched by surprising material and spatial juxtapositions. This engagement with the refreshingly direct solution to a given problem reminds us of the way our grandparent's generation built their rudimentary structures, perhaps most succinctly described as, with pride and neat timber joints.
Though a humble construction the aspiration for this project was large. Extremes of cost, time and size were matched by those of trust, curiosity, and sophistication in our conversations with client, builder, and council. As a result, the collective offering is what we like to think of as soft and lean; a wonderful place to live.