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Historic Terrace House Wows Sydney Passer-bys

ARTICLE Jason Burgess PHOTOGRAPHY Castle+Beatty and ArchiShot

It is no wonder that this place has been dubbed the 'upside-down-back-to-front' house.

The clients brief to architects Shaun Carter and Lisa Merkesteyn of Carter Williamson Architects, called for a 'sense of joy and light.' With a young family, they wanted to maximise the use of their tight 4.5m wide site, while somehow forging a connection with the outdoors.

Opening the house up to take advantage of Sydney's favourable climate was a key driver. "The existing cottage had been so cold, damp and dark", Says Lisa. "We've used every opportunity to pull light into the house."

The home sits on an 180m² plot that effectively drops two stories and straddles both Hartley and Starling Streets, with access from either end. The original two-bedroom abode was disjointed and dysfunctional. Only salesmen ever knocked at the front door on Hartley Street, while family and friends all used the lower entrance adjacent to a shed on Starling Street. So circulation through the house flipped and Starling Street became the address.

Japanese design concepts were employed to create a series of entry thresholds. The entrance is now through a discreet 'stage door', which moves past the garage/laundry up to an outdoor courtyard. Straight ahead, floor-to-ceiling glass bi-folds welcome you to the open-plan living, dining and kitchen spaces.

"We wanted to create a continuous plane that would space both streets; this became the living level," says Lisa. "We then book-ended the courtyard with a studio space over the garage, that functions as a cinema, guest or playroom and a covered space for BBQs." The studio balcony; their bold red-tiled walls are mirrored upstairs in the green-tiled main bathroom offering a playful contrast to the black steel and white wall lies through the rest of the home.

A double-height floating staircase illuminated by stair-width louvre windows ascends from the living zone to the private spaces. A clever glass roofed 'sliver' lightwell delivers daylight to the middle bedroom and main bathroom upstairs, and the dining area below.

To meet conservation compliance, the facade on Hartley Street was the only wall to survive the demolition and is supported by a steel portal-frame. The room below (now the kitchen) was previously cavernous and dark, with boulders for walls. "We cut back some stone," explains Lisa, "then put in a retaining wall at seat height, plus bi-folds to make the existing sandstone wall of this lightwell feel like an extension to the kitchen." This was carefully planted to create a beautiful green space.

The home is designed to passively regulate itself through all seasons. The living spaces are well insulated by the thermal mass of the concrete slab floors and courtyard terrace. Solar panels offset energy usage in the home and an 8000L water tank concealed below the recycled timber deck, supplies the toilets, external taps and laundry. Much of the Ironbark timber used throughout was recycled from a salvaged bridge.

Creating three roomy bedrooms on a ribbon-sized lot meant doing away with an upstairs corridor. Given that the front door was never used, an enfilade room arrangement was agreed upon - Mum and Dad access the master suite via the central bedroom. Above both these bedrooms drops a voluminous hull-shaped, timber-clad ceiling that follows the curvature of a loft ensuite.

Accessed via a staircase screened by an in-built wardrobe wall in the master bedroom, this third-storey nest makes clever use of an otherwise empty space in a high-vaulted ceiling. Skylights take in the cityscape and the centrepiece of this luminous penny-tiled aerie is an enormous stone bath that weighs a whopping 500 kilograms when full. A crane lifted the bath into place before the roof was laid.

Bespoke joinery is a feature throughout, the windows and louvres are Western Red Cedar, with an oiled finish. The shimmering exterior of handmade glass tiles provides an easy clean, robust finish to this family sanctuary.

"Our clients are astonished at how light and airy their new home is. And they enjoy being able to watch their kids play from all the living areas," says Lisa.

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All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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