Sydney’s iconic houses reveal their treasures
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.”
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.
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