A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.

Various, near Kippax Street, Surry Hills



I can’t go a week without capturing some architectural gems, so I took my camera to work yesterday and snapped some pictures. I wasn’t overrun with time, so these photos are a tiny snapshot of a block in the quite large suburb. This is definitely not my only post on Surry Hills – it’s just a teaser. I’m still searching for the right house to feature there.


This is, by the way, my first post published through my iPad – I bought an excellent attachment that allows me to transfer photos from my camera straight onto my beautiful tablet.


The sorbet-coloured terraces march up and down Surry Hills’ hilly streets, which I find extremely pretty. The contrast in the shades ensures that each facade makes its own impression on the viewer.





While Surry Hills is an expensive area, I find it difficult to agree with people who argue it’s been gentrified. I mean, it’s certainly different to what it once was – but I wouldn’t equate it with Paddington yet. Its food and bar scene is definitely its best quality – there is always something of a high standard near by (even one of its sandwich shops, City Edge Cafe, is excellent), and the presence of The Winery cements the suburb’s boutique cuisine and beverage credibility.


But for every renovated terrace, there are ten unrenovated ones.




Its upmarket design stores also provide the suburb with a more genteel flavour, but its grimey, raw undercurrents are still there – the pathways are in cracked disrepair, you’re almost certain to see someone who you suspect has a drug problem, and on a grey day the lines of tiny worker’s cottages can make Surry Hills look sombre.




The houses here are generally Victorian, and range from one-storey attached cottages; two-storey worker’s terraces (more common), which are easily identifiable as they tend to be built directly on the pathway (they have no patio and iron lace fence blocking them from the street) and lack the ornate front yard dividing walls that afford larger terraces privacy from neighbours; larger terraces that presumably belonged to the middle class; and the occasional large Victorian house. A more modern development has been the conversion of warehouses into industrial-tinged modern residences.




I noticed that there is a love heart motif that runs through the suburb’s unrenovated places. My evidence is in the first and last images. Older houses tend to have unexpected features that come out and grab you. That is what makes them so appealing.



Anna Carey’s work, Gold Coast

Love Shadow
Notice anything different about the above house? This is not an ordinary House Hunter post (as you may be able to tell from the picture), so I’m quite excited. Anna Carey, who recently appeared in Inside Out magazine, agreed to take me through the process of creating her amazing architectural models, which are part postmodern art and part loving renditions of Gold Coast houses.
 Anna, who has a Bachelor of Visual Media with Honours from the Queensland College of Art, found that her studies in fine art have influenced the direction she has taken.
“Creating models of domestic Gold Coast architecture and then photographing them isn’t the most common art technique, and I don’t think I would be creating this kind of work if it wasn’t for the constant support and way of thinking I learnt from art school,” Anna explains.
One of the reasons I am so drawn to Anna’s work is that, while she uses her design and art skills and I use words, we seem to share a fascination with changing architectural landscapes and the decay and loss of old homes.


Anna captures this interest perfectly, noting that “I was drawn to the familiar disappearing houses around me. The houses that I grew up with that hold many memories were being demolished quicker than I could count, which brought up many mixed feelings.”
“I needed to investigate my ideas further, and ever since I have been observing my immediate urban landscape. I have become fascinated by the rapid development and [by] exploring what these new postmodern spatial experiences mean.”
As you can see in the photos, the architectural replicas are stunningly true-to-life. Unsurprisingly, then, they require a complex process of design and construction.
“I start off with a memory and imagination of a particular space. I draw out a draft of a floor plan … From there, I move on to the 3D work, which is created through a range of materials such as paper, foam core, lino or paint. I create each wall [one] at a time and then piece it all together at the end.
“As I create the work, new memories and ideas emerge [and] as a result, the model continues to change through the process of memory retrieval.”


Notably, Anna does not photograph the houses she seeks to represent, which adds to the uniqueness of each piece. “The model becomes a documentation of my struggle with memory and imagination. The models are unfinished and fragmented just like memory itself.”
Philosophical ideas relating to memory and imagination thus reverberate through Anna’s work. Like all great art, the pieces are not only aesthetically engaging, but also create commentaries that the audience can respond to.
No one architectural style is favoured by Anna, who says “It is the inhabitants and the experiences that take place within the spaces that are important. … Living on the Gold Coast, the architecture that holds these experiences is post-war 1950s domestic architecture.
“If I was living in another city at another time, the style of architecture that I depict [might have been] completely different.”
Anna’s works can be found through Artereal gallery in Sydney’s Rozelle. She has also had her work featured in national exhibitions, and has been finalist at some noteworthy award ceremonies, including the Queensland Regional Art Awards.
Anna sees the Gold Coast as the perfect subject for her art. “It is a unique, new, postmodern city. Instead of a planned city with a centre core, it has evolved through dreams and imagination,” she says.



When asked about her ambitions for the project, Anna emphasises that she wants it to be thought-provoking.

“I want people to reflect on their contemporary spatial experiences within transient space, which is filled with feelings of illusion and displacement. I create transient, familiar architecture space as it opens a dialogue. It brings out what we know, what we don’t know and what we have in common, which is what creates culture.”

Mount View, 102 Grosvenor Street, North Wahroonga

Impressive facade



This post is a lucky one – I didn’t know I’d be seeing this house, and I didn’t actually visit it for the blog. But when I was in there I had to start snapping pictures (plus the people I was with had noted before we went inside that I should include it in my blog. They were correct). These are, resultantly, iPhone photos, but I’m pretty happy with them nonetheless.



South-facing bedroom



This post is particularly noteworthy as I’ve realised it’s my first on an Upper North Shore residence, and Wahroonga (okay … North Wahroonga) is probably the best place to start due to its awe-inspiring houses.


I assumed 102 Grosvenor Street would have a heritage history, and, thankfully, it does. It was conveniently recorded by the Ku-Ring-Gai Historical Society in their January/February 2009 newsletter. According to the newsletter, Mount View is an Arts and Crafts-style home constructed in 1904. It was originally on a four acre landholding before being subdivided in 2007 – if you go by the house, you can see where the subdivisions have taken place, as there are new homes lining the street it is on.



My guess would be that the staircase's window was modernised in the '70s



It once had a garage, which you can see evidence of in the (still extensive) yard (there is a large flat concrete paved area). I’m not exactly sure where or why that went. There is still a pool (currently covered), and a tennis court was also removed at some point.



The house was updated in the mid-1970s, although much of it appears to be in original condition. The bathrooms appear to be a result of modernisation – the most apt word to describe them is definitely ‘retro’. Extremely fun to look at and photograph – in fact, aside from the manor’s impressive facade, the pink bathroom may be my favourite room in the house. Interestingly, the bathrooms are located extremely close together on the house’s upper storey.



Pink-and-grey bathroom


Blue-and-white bathroom



The property last sold in late 2010 for $2 million. It’s currently on the rental market. It would be a glorious property to restore – I only wish I was the person who had the opportunity to restore it.

Como House, South Yarra, Part Two

Servant's bells



It may seem silly dedicating two posts to the one house – but once you get to the end of this one, you’ll be glad I did.


While I normally post photographs chronologically (according to the order I saw the house in), a picture of Como House’s back wall is in first position as it’s my favourite. There were levers throughout the house that, when pulled down, caused one of these bells to chime. They were used to call the servants. Each bell had a different sound so that the servants knew which room of the house to attend to.



Ballroom mirrors



These mirrors hang from the wall of the ballroom. In many ways, this room is the centrepiece of the house. It is where the Armytage family held regular dances. It connects the house to one of its pristine gardens via French doors. More pertinently, the ballroom is gigantic – so much so that the collection of French antiques, grand piano and chandelier are not enough to reduce its vastness. In fact, it feels kind of empty.


It was in the ballroom that, after a mini-inquisition by me, the tour guide informed us that the Armytage family is no longer necessarily a paragon of wealth, although it does count journalist Samantha Armytage in its ranks. By the mid-twentieth century, only two elderly sisters remained at the property. There was talk of the government resuming the land and turning it into a nursing home. As a result, the sisters sold the house and its land for half its value to the National Trust (a non-government heritage organisation that still manages the estate today). They then donated the proceeds back to the National Trust. While this is spruiked as a positive – and for people like me, it certainly is a positive – I find it incredibly sad that the family’s estate was essentially wrested from their hands, and without any gain for themselves. The sisters donated their belongings to the trust in order to preserve the house’s authenticity.



The chandelier is composed of 1,325 pieces of crystal


Antique mirror and light in Como House's ballroom


Lever to ring the servant's bell



As the house was lived in by women and children for so long, only one room in the house has any evidence of ‘male-inspired’ decor: the billiard room. Its masculine design even informs the lever for the servant’s bell, which has a decorative black shell rather than the transparent crystal used in other rooms.



Billiard room


Lever to ring servant's bell in billiard room



Security was a significant problem on the estate. Caroline’s first means of defence was standing on the top verandah and shooting at strange noises. They were a little bit cowboy in the nineteenth century. Their alternative security system was the below tunnel, which had two doors – an ordinary one and a super-heavy, impenetrable steel one. As my partner noted, you can’t actually close the door from the inside of the tunnel, so I presume that one of the servants had the enviable job of standing outside and locking the door, leaving themselves as bait for the intruder.



Security tunnel



A back verandah was converted into a sunroom, which provided the only natural light for one of the bedrooms. The bedroom in question has bathing jugs, which were used until the early twentieth century in the house as the sewerage system wasn’t hooked up in Melbourne until then. One of the servants had to refresh and dispose of the water.





Bathing jugs



The main bedroom was typical of the rest of the rooms in the house – expansive and overfilled with intricate furniture and artefacts. I haven’t posted photographs of the nanny’s or children’s bedrooms as they are fairly standard. The nanny, interestingly, was one of only two servants who slept in the house itself. The rest slept in the servants’ quarters, or were day servants.



Master bedroom


Hallway skylight



One of the house’s highlights (for me, anyway) is its original bathroom (I have never seen an original Victorian bathroom before – most unrenovated homes still seem to have had their bathroom renovated in the ’60s or ’70s). Due to the Armytage family’s affluence, Como House was one of the first properties in the city to have a bathroom. Space from one of the bedrooms was used to build the bathroom, which was constructed in the early twentieth century. Weirdly, the condition is so good that it almost looks like a heritage-inspired contemporary hipster design.



Victorian bathroom


The shower only had cold water. Apparently, only men showered, so they felt connecting the hot water was unnecessary. Women bathed.




The servants were not entitled to use the main stairs – they were strictly confined to the servants’ stairs.



Servants' stairs



The servants’ area, which was located to the rear of the property, consisted of a well-equipped multi-room kitchen, sleeping quarters and a laundry. While the sleeping quarters are not particularly exciting (although they also weren’t awful), the servants’ area of the house contains some of its gems, particularly the kitchen, which houses a number of the mansion’s most interesting artefacts.



Kitchen table



Victorian shopping list


Servants' quarters



Como House provokes a mixed emotional response. While its grandness is awe-inspiring, treading through the house and seeing it set up as it originally was results in a sweet, sad nostalgia, particularly given the fact that the estate ultimately had to be given away to be preserved. While the mansion is breathtaking, it is also fighting against age, a difficult thing to do when monetary resources are so scant.



Nothing stays new forever

Como House, 16 Como Avenue, South Yarra, Part One


Como House has something extremely valuable to me (aside from the incredible architecture, original furniture and five acres of gardens): it’s a bit of a riches-to-rags story. These stories intrigue me greatly.


There are so many incredible pictures of the house that I can’t possibly fit all of the relevant content into one post. So it will be divided into parts. It’s worth it, trust me.


Como House was originally built in 1847, although at that time it only consisted of the bottom storey. It is an early Victorian house in the Regency and Italianate styles. It was constructed by the Williams, and named after the lake at which the couple became engaged (interestingly, a number of nearby landmarks, including a shopping centre, have ‘Como’ in their title). The second storey was added by the Browns in 1859. The Armytage family subsequently purchased the property, and added the wing shown in the below picture in the 1870s. The Armytage family brings life to the house’s story, particularly as most of the furniture in the mansion was owned by the Armytages (the National Trust has gone out of its way to preserve the property’s authenticity).


Wing added by the Armytage family


The Armytage family was one of Australia’s wealthiest, owning multiple properties and cattle stations. The house is filled with their antique furniture, much of which is French.


Dining room


Front hall


One of the house’s most interesting rooms is the drawing room, which, according to the National Trust’s tour guide, was once called the ‘withdrawing room’, as the women would withdraw to it after dinner (leaving the men to drink port and smoke cigars in the dining room). The room is strewn with antiques from China, Venice and France, many of which Caroline brought home after a three year global sojourn. The trip was precipitated by the premature death of her husband. She took her nine children (the tenth child had passed away) and two cows (to provide milk to her baby) along for the ride.






The downstairs living area is one of the house’s most appealing spaces, particularly with its sun room. It is also one of the mansion’s rooms that boasts a crystal door handle.


Sun room