A traditional Federation frontage conceals modern design magic
Having lived in Balmain for many years, a young family of six loved their view of Sydney Harbour but were ready to stretch out. They had outgrown their home on a typically tight site on the inner-west peninsular and set their sights on a generous block in Haberfield.
The old Federation house on the block was in relatively good condition, but the family were keen on renovating and extending it. Architect Sam Crawford was brought on board to champion change on the home, which sits in a heritage conservation area.
The house had been dramatically altered in the 1990s by the previous owners who turned the four-room cottage into an eight-room house with living areas at the rear.
“It was quite an expansive house with five bedrooms and multiple living spaces that did not interconnect or flow,” Sam says.
He wanted to remove the problematic addon and create contemporary living spaces in its place. They included a new open-plan kitchen, living and dining room, media room and an attic conversion for a child’s room.
“We used sound insulation so he can play loud music and play the guitar,” Sam says. “Rubber padding made the room acoustically isolated.”
The real challenge was working with council, who did not want to sway from the traditional form of the house. Sam agreed, but he was keen to give the new addition a modern feel.
“We also think heritage is very important, in particular the view from the street,” Sam says. “Anything that is of value in the building itself was retained, but this house had already been dramatically altered.”
Making an entrance
The front facade was restored in keeping with the rest of the street, including the formal entry, with a side entry added past the driveway for family and friends.
“If you go through the side, you enter the middle of the house where the living rooms are,” says Sam. “There are cupboards for the kids to put their shoes and bags before they enter the house. If you enter through the front
of the house, visitors have to walk past the front bedrooms, which is not ideal.”
Council initially objected, as it put the garage further down the driveway. The lowceiling garage in the back corner of the block has since been repurposed into a vaulted cabana space, says Sam, “deliberately contained to create a sanctuary and recreation area adjacent to the pool.”
The side entry was eventually signed off, but only if was a stand-alone structure that could easily be torn down should the current owners choose to move on.
“The council had the idea that someone might want to drive through the backyard one day, so that entrance we built is not fixed to the concrete wall,” Sam says.
The home exemplifies modern architecture in its second half, in contrast to the heritage features upfront.
“I think it’s important that new work is expressed as new, and it only amplifies the strength of the original design,” says Sam.
“The extension is in concrete, which was also challenged by council. We argued that the rear was not visible from the street, so it did not have to be in the same brick as the original house. Concrete is a perfectly good material.”
The curved cement hallway in the new part of the home signifies where the extension begins, leading into an open-plan kitchen and dining room, which looks out to an L-shaped courtyard with a pond. The owners, who have four children ranging from primary to high school age, wanted the pond as a focal point in the courtyard and something that the youngest children could engage in.
“They can splash their hands in it and the pond has a reflective base — trees light up around it at night and it’s lovely,” Sam says.
The owners were also instrumental in sourcing materials that are new to the market, such as Valchromat, a timber composite for the kitchen cabinets, and wood flooring by Austrian company Admonter.
“There is underfloor heating in all the rooms, and there are not too many timbers that can handle the heat,” says Sam.
“But this one can.”
Raw concrete is the star of the new part of the house which has a direct connection to the garden.
The kitchen joinery is made of Valchromat, an alternate to MDF.