Australian House & Garden
THIS IS THE LIFE
Being surrounded by trees and abundant birdlife is just one of the joys of living in this apartment, says Ellie. But it’s not the only one. There’s returning home from the bustle of the beach to a light-filled oasis; watching the shadow play of the afternoon light in the kitchen; and cooking while easily interacting with guests as they sit nearby on the built-in seats or stools. The sense of community with other residents of the building is also a bonus.
By foot, it’s just five minutes from the sea. Two minutes if you’re a jogger. It’s in the heart of one of Sydney’s iconic beachside suburbs, and yet this two-bedroom apartment’s prime position – on the top floor of a circa 1930s red-brick walk-up – affords it a feeling of relative peace. From the outside, the building has a satisfyingly symmetrical charm. Exterior stairs march straight up from the street through the centre of the garden; inside, six high-ceilinged apartments spread over three floors, and on the rooftop, a communal terrace with an enviable view.
Gideon Silverman and his friend Shawn Greenblo bought the property in 2009. Ten years and one minor renovation later, however, it was in need of an update. By that stage Gideon was married and living here with his wife Ellie, an architect. Ellie designed a sympathetic transformation, working on the project with her then-colleague, Davin Turner of Studio Weave Architects.
Ellie and Davin were mindful of only changing the features they felt needed attention. Most important among these was the kitchen, which now has integrated appliances and is designed in sage tones, a nod to the gum trees outside the kitchen window. The trees are also reflected in the shiny surface of the Laminex Metaline splashback behind the sink and stove. “Since Davin and I were designing the apartment for Gideon and me to live in, we thought it was a fun opportunity to do something bolder than we might do for another client,” says Ellie.
Davin says having a designer who lived in the apartment and knew its intricacies was a major bonus. “We had just finished a renovation nearby and incorporated a lot of the same details into this project – the lovely oak elements in the furnishings, for example.”
The designers aimed to make small changes that would have big impact. Paying respect to the apartment’s history, the pair agreed to leave most of the period details – window architraves, ceiling roses, ceiling battens and door handles – in place. “The walls of any old apartment have a certain quality to them,” says Davin. “There are cracks and unevenness, but there are also lovely features such as ornate air vents, picture rails and skirting boards which indicate their age.” These were also left intact.
One major element that was updated, however, was the flooring. The existing pine boards were covered with striking herringbone parquetry, delivering a sense of grandeur that permeates the whole apartment.
With its newly streamlined kitchen and refreshed flooring, the interior beautifully blends the modern with the classic, offering its occupants both soul-soothing comfort and convenience.
Enhancing the inviting feel is the lovely connection with family in the decor: Ellie’s mother’s dining table and chairs with elegant tapestry seats sit easily in their new surroundings. “The dining chairs have been in my family for 28 years,” says Ellie. “Mum made those tapestries with the help of the ladies in her life when she was pregnant with my younger sister. The table and chairs came with a house she bought while living in Melbourne.”
Ellie and Davin divided the main bedroom at the rear of the apartment into two, creating a new second bedroom and a study that look south and enjoy a soft, even light for most of the day. A quirky triangular window in this bedroom allows a playful feeling of being in a treehouse.
Custom-made bench seats were installed under windows in both the kitchen and dining area. The one in the dining room includes three storage drawers and the kitchen one has a shelf underneath for cookbooks. Both window benches have American-oak bases that, along with the new flooring, add to the warmth of the kitchen and living rooms and break up the bold colour of the cabinetry.
Ellie says the renovation turned out even better than she and Gideon had hoped. “It’s really exciting,” she says. “The whole apartment feels completely different. Bigger, lighter and more open, especially in the living area.”
“THE WHOLE APARTMENT FEELS BIGGER, LIGHTER AND MORE OPEN.” Ellie Gutman, owner and co-architect