a harbourside vi s ion fulfilled
When this Sydney home was in the early stage of construction in 2002, owner David Curtis admits that it “looked like a car park” with its cavernous concrete shell and soaring columns. But in the hands of leading architect Alex Popov, Northbridge House would become so much more.
Popov’s vision for the new home on the city’s lower north shore was inspired by the work of US architect Louis Kahn, specifically the vaulted pavilions of his 1972 masterpiece, Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Like Kahn, Popov was interested in the use of concrete to create dramatic spaces that play with light. “We’d admired Alex’s work,” says David’s wife Joan. “We wanted to use concrete and he was very keen to go with that. We had the same aesthetic.”
The Curtises had purchased the site as expatriates in 2001. A 10-minute drive across the bridge to the CBD, it had unrivalled views of Middle Harbour and direct access to the water. Returning to Australia after a five-year stint in Japan, the couple decided to demolish the run-down 1930s house on the 2000sqm site.
The jetty – accessed via an inclinator from the tennis court – was retained.
The Curtises’ brief to Popov was for a beautifully simple house, like the Japanese architecture they had come to admire. But they also wanted a functional, durable and flexible family home with five bedrooms and four bathrooms.
“While we were interested in the overall design and tranquillity, the reality was that we have young, sporty kids and we needed a house that looked good, felt good and worked,” Joan says. “It couldn’t be precious. We needed something that was indestructible and practical.”
The result is an elegant home with a modest street presence that slopes down to the harbour shore via three vaults. The first contains the entry, sitting room and master bedroom. The second comprises the courtyard, kitchen, dining and pool, which cantilevers over a three-storey void and lies under two huge ceiling windows that allow light into the centre of the home. The third vault includes a formal living area and stairs to the children’s rooms, family room and manicured lawn below.
Popov, who received a commendation from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects for the project in 2005, worked with Joan to introduce materials that complement and moderate the concrete. “The use of teak features throughout and the blue tiles in the pool, for example, along with other discrete elements, really softened the home and made it something special,” David explains.
Luxury extras include underfloor heating, a temperature-controlled wine cellar and sliding doors and walls. David’s favourite aspect of the home is the second vault with its indoor magnolia, reminiscent of Japan’s internal gardens.
“I had no idea how significant the tree in the courtyard would be,” he says. “It’s beside the pool, with the open hole in the roof above… I call it the ‘wellness centre’ because I sit there on my day bed, having a cup of tea feeling relaxed and inspired.”