Annerley House: Meet the Owner Working with an Architect
The owner of a Brisbane cottage finds joy in a small yet transformational addition that celebrates her love for her garden.
WORKING WITH AN ARCHITECT
When Tamsin Cull engaged Zuzana and Nicholas Architects to renovate her small cottage in Annerley, Brisbane, she longed for a design that would nurture her love for her garden. Georgia Birks speaks with Tamsin about her experience of working with an architect.
Georgia Birks Tell us a bit about yourself and what the original house was like.
Tamsin Cull Brisbane has been my home-town since I was at university. I went away for a few years for postgraduate study and work but otherwise I’ve lived in my home in Annerley since 2007 – I’ve always loved the house and the area. The original house was a very small cottage, which had been added to in the 1960s with a “handyman”-style extension. It had a tiny little window out to the garden from the kitchen. I knew that I wanted to change that, to make the transition into the garden as easy as possible.
GB When did you decide to engage an architect? TC In 2018 I decided that I wanted to do the renovation. At first, I thought the logical thing to do was to raise the house. I spoke with some building designers who would do that, but there wasn't a lot of conversation about how my family lived and how we engaged with the space. I left those conversations not feeling totally convinced. I was also very conscious of cost.
The reality is that any building project these days is probably more expensive than you think it’s going to be. I wanted an architect who could work within the parameters of my budget. I did some further research and spoke to a friend of mine who recommended Nicholas and Zuzana. When I met with Nicholas and Zuzana, I immediately felt like we had a good rapport: their approach was to not intervene with the house more than they needed to and they were very interested in my ideas.
GB What was your brief to Zuzana and Nicholas?
TC My brief was to connect the interior spaces to the garden in order to generate more space. I knew the house wasn’t going to be really big, so it needed rooms that were versatile and able to grow as my family grew. The windows in these cottages on small inner-city blocks are often aligned with those of the neighbours, so I wanted privacy, but I didn’t want to be completely shut off from the street, either. I still wanted to feel connected to the neighbourhood.
GB You mentioned that budget was an important part of your brief. How did you maintain a budget that worked for you?
TC Going for quality over quantity. It really was about not trying to make things any bigger than they needed to be. This then allowed me to spend on quality finishes: because I only have one bathroom, I was able to use little Italian floor tiles. That wouldn’t have been possible if I had wanted three bathrooms.
GB Connecting the interior spaces to the garden is a strong design driver in your brief and led you to collaborate with a landscape designer. What was that process like?
TC It was probably halfway through the design process that I said to Nicholas and Zuzana that I really wanted to think about the garden as part of the whole project. I wanted the garden to be in harmony with the house. A friend of mine had just finished a renovation and she had worked with Jonathan Kopinski for the landscape design of her house. When I mentioned this to Nicholas and Zuzana, they laughed and said “he’s a good friend of ours and that’s a great idea.” Jonathan and I shared ideas and he came back with this beautiful design, which was about extending the architectural plan itself. Jonathan and I then spent a whole week planting the garden together, as I was determined to complete the landscape before moving the family in – I didn’t want to bring children and a dog into a big dirt pit.
GB What are your highlights from the architectural process?
TC I would certainly say [Zuzana and Nicholas] were pretty amazing in terms of how responsive they were to my suggestions. I love their aesthetic but they were quite encouraging of my ideas, particularly about colour. The conversations were respectful and it wasn’t a case of, “this is what you should do because I’m the architect.” However, occasionally they would politely say, “actually I think it should be this way …” That's how you know you've got a good relationship.
GB Was working with an architect what you expected?
TC I would say it’s given me an enormous respect and appreciation for what architects do. There is so much more to it than I had ever realized. The way they think about light, spaces and the integration of new and old was absolutely worth it. Also, there was a drawing for everything. The builders were very complimentary when they talked about Zuzana and Nicholas’s documentation.
GB What advice would you give to someone thinking about using an architect, and would you do it again?
TC I would definitely do it again. I would advise people to think about the aesthetic you’re after and investigate the architect’s completed projects. You need to find someone you have a real affinity with in that regard. What is equally important is finding someone that you can imagine yourself having a really good working relationship with.
GB You did a lot of research to find the right architect. Would you recommend this process for those looking to engage an architect?
TC Yes. You want to actually like the person because you’re going to have a lot to do with them – you could be working together for a couple of years. It’s funny, I would liken my relationship with my architects to being a little bit like my relationship with my obstetrician [laughs]. You just see so much of them because you are preparing for a big life event!
“I would say it’s given me an enormous respect and appreciation for what architects do. There is so much more to it than I had ever realized.”