Mid-century marvels

Syd­ney’s iconic houses re­veal their trea­sures

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At first glance, there’s noth­ing to see as you ap­proach this property. In­deed, when the 1300sq m block came up for sale in the 1950s it was the last to sell thanks to the slope of the site and a creek that ran right through the mid­dle of it.

How­ever, for ar­chi­tect Rus­sell Jack and his wife Pamela the site in the mid­dle of leafy Wahroonga was the ideal plat­form to ex­plore their ideas about liv­ing com­fort­ably and mod­estly among na­ture.

The Jack House, as it is known, is part of Syd­ney Liv­ing Mu­seum’s Iconic Aus­tralian Houses ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of Syd­ney from April 12, cu­rated by Karen McCart­ney, au­thor of Iconic Aus­tralian Houses.

Along with five other sig­nif­i­cant mid-century houses, the award-win­ning Jack House will open to vis­i­tors on May 10.

It is owned by An­nal­isa Ca­purro, who lives in the unique tim­ber home with her 10-year-old daugh­ter In­dia.

When Rus­sell de­cided it was time to move on in 2009, he took spe­cial care to find the right per­son, in­ter­view­ing prospec­tive buy­ers.

An in­te­rior de­signer, writer and ed­u­ca­tor at En­more De­sign Cen­tre, An­nal­isa had been col­lect­ing mid-century fur­ni­ture for 20 years when she re­alised her ‘dream home’ was on the mar­ket.

“I did not re­alise I was be­ing in­ter­viewed at the time,” An­nal­isa says. “Rus­sell told me months later that oth­ers were in­ter­ested. It had a ‘meant to be’ feel­ing about it.”

Se­cret ap­peal

The ap­peal of this house is not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous. Not vis­i­ble from the street, en­try is via an open arch­way po­si­tioned in the mid­dle of an L-shaped sin­gle level house.

To the right, the bath­room and a se­ries of bed­rooms open off the hall­way and face on to a gen­er­ous tim­ber deck over­look­ing a bush gar­den now full of es­tab­lished trees and ferns.

To the left of the airy foyer, the kitchen, din­ing and liv­ing ar­eas un­fold to cre­ate a choice of in­ti­mate spa­ces with easy ac­cess to light and cross ven­ti­la­tion.

The whole struc­ture has been built on a plat­form, show­cas­ing the orig­i­nal rock at the en­try­way and leav­ing the creek to run undis­turbed di­rectly un­der the house and site.

The house ref­er­ences Frank Lloyd Wright’s fa­mous Falling­wa­ter house, built in the US in 1936 over a wa­ter­fall.

But while Rus­sell ad­mired the work of his con­tem­po­raries, his re­sponse to the site was very per­sonal.

Hu­man league

A keen pro­po­nent of ‘hu­man­ised’ spa­ces, Rus­sell in­tro­duced richly pat­terned wall­pa­pers along with built-in join­ery.

“The fact that it has wall­pa­per makes it rare be­cause dec­o­ra­tion was a dirty word among ar­chi­tects at this time,” An­nal­isa says.

“But Rus­sell was very in­de­pen­dent and he had this idea of ‘hu­man­is­ing mod­ernism’ and mak­ing the home en­vi­ron­ment warmer and more us­able, so dec­o­ra­tion was im­por­tant.”

Al­though it is not large by to­day’s stan­dards, it’s a very easy house to live in.

“The win­dows and doors slide into the walls so it re­ally opens up, which strength­ens the con­nec­tion to na­ture,” An­nal­isa says.

“It has floor-to-ceil­ing glass and walls that don’t meet the ceil­ings so the rooms feel so much big­ger than they are. At the same time, you get a sense of in­ti­macy.”

While Rus­sell and Pamela de­cided some years ago to en­close a tiled pa­tio to form a liv­ing room, An­nal­isa has done very lit­tle to the house, apart from re­plac­ing some tim­ber lou­vres out­side her bed­room.

“When some­thing is done so well, why would you change it?” she says. “It’s so well de­signed for its site and it be­longs here.”

Even the orig­i­nal kitchen, com­plete with lam­i­nate splash­back and tim­ber cup­board doors, re­mains in­tact.

Fash­ion fol­lows func­tion

While state leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect prop­er­ties is use­ful, An­nal­isa says fash­ion plays a big­ger part in sav­ing Syd­ney’s mid-century homes.

“I can’t thank (TV show) Mad Men enough for mak­ing this ar­chi­tec­ture fash­ion­able again,” she says. “Mid-century fash­ion is so pop­u­lar that I have stu­dents who wear 1950s cloth­ing to class. If people love it, they are go­ing to look af­ter it.”

Cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion, Karen

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