THE HIGH LIFE
FROM THE OUTSIDE, AND FROM DOWN BELOW, IT LOOKS LIKE A GLEAMING CITY OFFICE TOWER, BUT ON THE 43RD FLOOR IS A JAW-DROPPING PIECE OF MODERN RESIDENTIAL DESIGN.
IT is the future of living in the sky. It is a private oasis in the middle of the city. It is the home of Bruce Wayne perched on top of a bank, watching over the busy streets as pedestrians bustle like ants, oblivious to what is above. However you describe the Sydney penthouse of property developer John Boyd and his wife Marly, it is undeniably extraordinary. The three-level apartment has no equal in Australia. It sits on the top of the ANZ Tower on Castlereagh Street in Sydney, 43 storeys up, with 360-degree views. It’s a space that could have otherwise accommodated four generous apartments, and is the only residence in the award-winning commercial building that Boyd developed over a decade before selling the tower to Grocon (and keeping the apartment).
“We have been talking about Batman all through the design process,” says interior architect Blainey North, who worked with the Boyds to create a home in the clouds from the challenging and unique space. “When you drive into the basement, you come into your own private lift and ride up into your apartment above a bank, which has views all around the city. It is totally private, it’s totally secure and it’s kind of like this life in the sky in the middle of the city.”
Everything inside the home is custom-made, from the 200-odd items of furniture to the huge handmade carpet in the lounge area, to the black lacquered timber bannisters and the marble bathroom fittings. It was all painstakingly handmade and all had to be carried up in a single goods lift. The dwelling took four years to complete from design to fitout. And finding the right interior architect to finish the job, after Richard Francis Jones and his firm designed the commercial building, proved to be a more challenging task than the couple had first anticipated.
It took a special vision to transform the bare concrete shell at the top of an office tower into a luxurious place to live, Marly Boyd says. “We had a few people look at it pre-Blainey and nobody could get their head around it – that probably added to the delay,” she tells WISH on one of the many couches in the formal lounge, which has floor-to-ceiling views over the harbour and right out to Bondi. “People who have seen it beforehand and now have seen it finished, they cannot believe it was the same place.”
North, who is Sydney-based, has done the interiors for private homes all over the world (including for Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban), offices (Russell Crowe among others), five-star hotels (Crown Casino) and even events and award shows in the US. When John Boyd contacted her it was with the intention of buying some of her custom-designed furniture for the penthouse. But from the moment North walked in, she fell in love with the cavernous space and the challenge of turning it into a home.
“I feel really comfortable designing this scale,” she says. “When I came into the main room, I thought ‘yes, I love this’. I feel great when I work in complicated spaces like this.” It didn’t take North long to convince John and Marly that she was the person to turn their dream into a reality. She saw that the penthouse needed some kind of architectural device to link all the different
“We have been talking about Batman all through the design process.”
“It has personality, it has homeliness, but it also pays great respect to the architecture.”
geometries, heights, volumes, and sizes of the rooms. “The idea I tabled with them at [the first meeting] is that I felt there needed to be some sort of connecting [motif] and so we developed this idea of the black ribbon. It outlines and connects all of the different levels and volumes together in one seamless line that allows your eye to follow from one area to another,” North explains.
This black ribbon – made of wood with six coats of lacquer by specialists who usually make guitars – comes down from the ceiling, traces the windows, turns into the bar unit, becomes the balustrade of the staircase, and runs into the bedrooms where it becomes the bedside tables. It even runs up to the top floor, where there is a cabana, two outdoor terraces and a pool.
“Previous designers were only able to chip it off room by room and that is where Blainey set herself apart from the rest,” Marly says. “She had a much greater vision for the apartment as a whole entity. And as you move around the apartment, you can feel that. It has personality, it has homeliness, but it also pays great respect to the architecture which was always important to us.”
The other challenge for the formal lounge is that it can be seen from every level of the house and therefore is viewed from many different angles. So not only did North have to design the area to look fabulous and feel comfortable while you are actually in it but also be mindful of what it looks like from above. Key to this was dividing the area into separate living and dining zones which were all connected by that incredible handmade carpet, which is 38m x 9m and covers the entire area.
“It had to be designed like a giant art piece,” North says. “It is actually the biggest rug in the southern hemisphere. We had to make it as one giant whole and they had to cut it exactly [into pieces]. Then they brought it in and they had to hand-sew it back together so it was one piece. One of the most amazing parts of the process was actually seeing the carpet when it was finished in the warehouse – it had to go into a special warehouse to be made because it was so big.”
Monochromatic and art deco aesthetics are apparent in the contemporary interiors throughout the apartment. North created an art deco-themed study for John, complete with repurposed vintage smoking chairs, cabinets and other pieces he has collected over the years. His bathroom is also a tribute to the art deco period, all black marble and an impressive steel bear statue to centre it. Marly’s bathroom, on the other hand, is all about light. In the corner of the building with floor-to-ceiling windows, the bathtub arguably has the best view in the penthouse, overlooking Hyde Park, the city and the harbour. It is one of Marly’s favourite rooms.
The more relaxed kitchen, dining and living areas can also be turned into a “winter garden” by opening the louvres on the windows. There are four bedrooms (including the master and nursery for their young son), a gym and an intimate “cigar room”, for smaller dinner parties, with antique French panelling on the walls.
And in a touch that sets the tone, visitors are greeted in the entrance hall with a built-in floor-to-ceiling wine fridge full of the world’s best bubbles. You will always be offered a glass of champagne, says Marly, smiling, when you visit the Boyds’ incredible home in the sky.