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, Rozelle and Balmain



I wasn’t intending to take these snaps, but having spent the day in Balmain yesterday, I couldn’t resist documenting some of the pretty houses I saw with my iPhone. Since I spent so long in the suburb checking out the (pretty impressive, by the way) dining scene and reading the news, I found myself wishing I had brought my camera along in order to doorknock on some doors and get a nice, long post out of the day. I was too tired yesterday morning to have that foresight, but I’m glad I semi-salvaged the situation.





I have explored a house in Balmain before on the blog, but Rozelle/Balmain (to be honest, I don’t know where the one starts and the other begins – I go by the signs on shopfronts) definitely deserve to be highlighted, if only because there is such diversity in the housing styles. ‘What diversity?’ You might say. ‘They’re all just cramped old places.’ A lot are Victorian terraces, but some are brick, some are weatherboard, and some aren’t from that era at all – there are freestanding Federations and nondescript brown brick workers’ houses that look like they were built in the ’50s lining the cramped, snakey streets.



An incredibly cute pair.



Darling St, Balmain is worth visiting. It houses some of Sydney’s brightest spots – awarded delis (the deli on Darling Street is well worth a visit – it has some very trendy, hard-to-find brands of ice cream, great varieties of vanilla paste, orange blossom water and rosewater, and glass bottles of milk, my favourite item), celebrated bakeries (including Adriano Zumbo’s shopfront), quirky wine bars, and it leads down to one of Sydney’s most spectacular views at Thornton Park. The price of buying property in Balmain is, accordingly, hefty, but definitely worth it for those who want good local joints and a quick trip into the CBD (although Victoria Street’s traffic regularly exceeds nightmarish proportions).





There were sad parts to the suburb, too. I walked past some unmistakable housing commission apartment blocks. I actually walked up to one of them to explore, but didn’t get very far when a person emerged and looked at me with a wary expression. I was also surprised to find beggars at Balmain. It was easy to make assumptions about who I thought was part of Balmain’s new, gentrified crowd, and who I thought was part of the old, government-assisted population. Whether I was right or not, on the suburb’s periphery it can present a melancholy contrast.



Yet to be handed back its old glory.


The Reynell Terraces, The Rocks



Warehouse conversions have always excited me. I think it’s the combination of their rich history and the inevitable industrial tinge – there’s something infinitely appealing to me about the ‘soft industrial’ design style spearheaded by Megan Morton in Home Love. This week’s post is on The Reynell Terraces, so named as they have been built out of a 1913 warehouse known as the Walter Reynell & Sons building at The Rocks.





Timber beams are probably the most characteristic aspect of conversions – while strong and structural, they somehow don’t overwhelm converted warehouse spaces (which I find can be a risk with timber). This is probably due to the immense proportions of many formerly industrial spaces – high ceilings and solid columns temper the beams, which become the unifying feature of many converted places.





The Kann Finch Group, the architects, have infused modernity into the terraces by decking them out with lavish finishes, including Zimbabwe black granite benchtops, glass balustrades, Miele appliances and Carrara marble.





The terraces are strata titled, so they walk the line between house and apartment. That being said, from my knowledge there are very few properties in The Rocks precinct and surrounds that have torrens title.





It’s difficult to say too much as the pictures speak for themselves: compellingly pretty, the terraces achieve contemporary luxury while retaining an intriguing link to Sydney’s industrial history. They’re testament to the transformation of The Rocks, which held an entirely different role and demographic at the time that the original building was erected.



Weekend Round-Up

Okay, so it’s a little late for a post relating to the weekend. So shoot me!


I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to write a ’round-up’ of any properties I happen to see on the weekend, as well as the weekend property sections of The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. While I like the latter’s in-depth articles on Sydney property, the former provides a good view of the national market (which can sometimes be difficult to gauge from Sydney – although I always seem to be watching the Melbourne market).


This weekend, Tony and I attended an auction in Waverton. Our main reason for doing so was that I had been going on – and on – about it – a 64 square metre apartment with lock-up garage and balcony right near Waverton’s village and railway station. The best part? It had offers around $400,000 listed as its price range. ‘This might be a good investment!’ I thought to myself, particularly given how ‘slow’ the property market supposedly is at the moment and poor auction clearance rates.


But things didn’t quite go to plan. There were scores of people at the auction, and it ended up reaching almost $500,000 (with an opening bid of $400,000). The rental yield was estimated by the agent as $410 partially renovated (it is completely unrenovated at the moment), and $450 fully renovated, so a rental yield well below 5%.


Below are a few pictures I snapped on my iPhone of the apartment, which was built in 1968.






I’ve picked one interesting article from each broadsheet’s property section to dissect.


Sydney Morning Herald, Antony Lawes, ‘Grass is Not Always Greener in the Suburbs’, February 11-12, pp 8-9.

This story discusses families with children increasingly choosing to live within the inner-city rather than branch out into suburbia. I have no doubt that the city is becoming a more family-friendly location. I think the big factor in this that the article misses is gentrification. Although still harbouring some pretty undesirable precincts, Sydney’s CBD and surrounding suburbs have had substantial demographic shifts.


The sentence that I really disagree with, which quotes talent from UNSW, states that “There is the extra time that families spend driving the kids around because they can’t walk to school or to the shops, which is ‘bad for their health because they’re not as active’”. Firstly, kids shouldn’t be walking the city streets alone. I honestly can’t think of anything more horrifying, particularly around Surry Hills where, although I love it, I sometimes find myself encountering scary people. Secondly, why are the sports fields and shops suddenly so much closer in the city? There aren’t many sports fields near the city. At all. I’ve never seen a tennis court in the city. I think there’s an indoor one somewhere. Maybe. You’d probably be driving your kids to Centennial Park to play tennis. Also, there are shops in suburban areas. Every upper north shore suburb barring Warrawee and Killara has a village. So do many lower north shore suburbs – Mosman (which, being within 10km of the city, is actually  closer to the CBD than a number of the suburbs mentioned in the articles – but suburbs over the bridge seem to be designated strictly ‘suburban’) has an expansive shopping strip. Most suburbs have something, and some suburbs (like Hurstville, Parramatta or Eastgardens) have a lot. It seems a bit ridiculous to assert that the CBD is the only place you can walk to the shops. And why are the schools suddenly closer? That depends entirely on where your kid goes to school. Many kids walk to school from their house. They don’t have to live in the city.


Yeah, I picked that sentence apart a bit, but I just really disliked it.


Also, some of the suburbs that are chosen to be featured in the article don’t really make sense. Chippendale is inner-city, definitely. I’ll take Waterloo at a stretch (I lived at Alexandria for three years, and it wasn’t exactly a stroll into the CBD). But Arncliffe? Canterbury?! Botany? Wareemba? Wareemba is one suburb farther away from the city than my suburb. It’s not ‘far away’ by any stretch, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would call it inner-city. These suburbs are just that – suburbs. They’re part of the suburbia parents are apparently decrying. Of the 14 suburbs that are listed in the break-out box, I’d consider one to be inner-city. The guide seems to assert that if a suburb is less than 10km from the CBD, it is inner-city. But by that logic, you’d include most of the lower north shore and eastern suburbs.


I think the article is making an interesting point, but it would’ve been great reading about families occupying inner-city apartments and terraces in places like Dawes Point, Surry Hills and Ultimo (suburbs that really are inner-city). While this article asserts that buyers are interested in “city convenience”, from reading the story, I get the impression they just enjoy inner-suburbia, not actual city living.


The Australian, Lisa Allen, ‘A Makeover to Sell is Probably Wasted’, February 11-12, p 7.

This article quotes an agent based in Sydney’s inner-west, who claims that it’s a bad idea to do a big renovation before selling a house. This is contrasted, though, with another agent, who claims that a renovation done well and without too many personal affectations should be worthwhile. I like the balance of opinions. I think it’s a complex issue that depends on the house in question. Minor renovations are considered a winner in the article.


The inner-west agent says that renovating the kitchen and bathroom can be a waste of money. I tend to disagree with that. Unless you’re selling a renovator (which should be priced accordingly), I think sprucing up those rooms is always a good idea if the property is old. An old house has many features that weather time well – high ceilings, ornate fireplaces, timber floorboards – but an old kitchen and bathroom can be off-putting depending on the price range.

5 Strickland Street, Rose Bay



This is a bit of a milestone for The House Hunter, as it’s the blog’s first ‘proper’ eastern suburbs property. When I say proper, I mean it’s in one of the suburbs in the east’s ‘incredibly expensive, well-heeled, prestigious’ district. Rose Bay is a particularly fitting way to introduce the blog to this area, as I worked there for a year and this house is located just up the road from my old office.


The house is particularly interesting in light of its location. In contrast to the imposing residences lining New South Head Road (a road that is quite a rarity – although it’s a main road, it’s one of Sydney’s most expensive strips as it sits on Rose Bay), 5 Strickland Street is a sustainable house built on an old school site.



The current owners, Cameron Rosen and Daphna Tal, built the house on sustainable principles. The house has been publicly noted for its eco-friendly features, including by the Daily Telegraph. While Cameron took care of the construction, Daphna was in charge of the home’s interiors. One of the prettiest (and most impressive) areas of the house, which has been decorated by Daphna, is its central courtyard. It acts as the home’s heart – it is accessed by two separate areas on the ground floor, while  a balcony from the main bedroom on the second floor also looks out onto the area.


Daphna said that she didn’t take inspiration from any particular stylists, instead preferring her own style. “I like it to be earthy, I like it to feel very homely, yet stylish.”



As well as sourcing products from eco-friendly suppliers, Daphna utilised cut-offs and recyled materials, including the house’s timber – which is from a decommissioned Percy Allan bridge - and the materials that were used for the lamp shades and cushions, which are cut-offs.



It’s noticeable that the couple have used neutral tones throughout the house, which helps to achieve the earthy feel that Daphna described. Cameron said that the paint colours used were also chosen with sustainability in mind. “We’ve kept a uniform palette as we won’t be the only owners in the house’s lifetime,” he explained.


There were issues associated with sourcing green material for the house. The couple were stringent in sourcing sustainable materials, which made the task more difficult.


“It was challenging as far as trying to find sustainable products. It depends on your eye and what you’re trying to create. There is enough stuff, I’d say, but it’s still challenging. It depends on how ethically minded you are,” Daphna said.



The canopy above, which covers the backyard’s pergola, blooms in summer – blocking the harsh sun – and withers in winter, allowing the easterly light in.


Cameron and Daphna note that there can be some confusion when sourcing ecological products when it comes to suppliers.


“If you go the certified route, there’s a choice, but it’s limited,” Cameron said. “Then there’s the wannabes – those that don’t want to be certified but follow the path of a clean process.”


“Or can’t afford to be certified. It’s very expensive,” Daphna said.


“Then there’s those who greenwash,” Cameron adds.


The most inspiring aspect of the house is its regimented design strategy – each aspect of it was meticulously planned and executed for a very specific goal.



‘Elizabeth Farm’, 70 Alice Street, Rosehill

What I believe was intended to be the front of Elizabeth Farm, which faces away from the street frontage.


Elizabeth Farm has a number of intriguing points. It’s Australia’s oldest standing homestead, according to the Historic Houses Trust, having been constructed in 1793. It’s also one of the artefacts that date from Parramatta’s surprising early colonial history.
I say ‘surprising’ as I didn’t realise that Parramatta and its surrounding suburbs (and Elizabeth Farm is located in a surrounding suburb – Rosehill) had an early colonial history. I thought that the western suburbs were all relatively new (post-1900) and that many of the houses were fibro, weatherboard or new brick veneers. Apparently, this was extremely ignorant of me, at least when it comes to the suburbs dotting the Parramatta district. In Rosehill, you’re most likely to come across Federation brick beauties - some with well-kept, pretty front gardens, and others that are crying out for restoration.
Elizabeth Farm, located on a street in Rosehill that is towered over by Parramatta’s growing CBD, is one of a number of heritage houses open to the public in the area.

One of the main house's verandahs.


My favourite element of the house is its sunrooms, which sit off the drawing room and what seems to have been the formal living or dining room. The house is split into two wings, which is interesting. Unfortunately, the bedrooms are quite dark, and aside from the high ceilings and floorboards, don’t offer much visual appeal.


One of the house's sunrooms.

The floors stood out. I’m accustomed to seeing ornate ceilings, but I’ve never before seen ornate floor patterns (where the floor wasn’t tiled).



The house’s owners – Elizabeth and John Macarthur – came to Australia in the Second Fleet. Macarthur, who is lauded for his furtherance of Australia’s pastoral industry, was granted 100 acres in the area. He was a pretty wiley guy, and in his time managed to secure a landholding of almost 1,300, with Elizabeth Farm comprising 300 of them. He cultivated the land while still acting as inspector of public works, and on his resignation, some authorities were taken aback that he had been engaging in such large-scale farming while still on duty.



Ceiling in servants' quarters



Macarthur was arrested at one point for injuring the Lieutenant-General in a duel, which I feel provides some insight into his character. Much more dramatic than your average 18th century colonial home tale!


The house was remodelled in 1826, but didn’t reach completion by the time of Macarthur’s death. In his later years, he succumbed to insanity, making renovations frenetic.  Without delving into its complete history (which, while interesting, is lengthy), the house was saved from demolition in the 1970s. People had been trying to preserve the house since 1968, when it was in a state of dereliction. The dilapidated room that remains in the house acts as evidence of its ruinous state.





In 1977, it became NSW’s first property to be protected by a conservation order. Unfortunately, a heritage listing cannot always save an important home, as one recent incident demonstrates. The Heritage House has pieced together aspects of the house’s history through photographs, intending the interior of the house to look like it did at the time it was lived in.



Lovely (and historic!) toy.




I couldn't resist uploading this. What a strapping young man.

As you would expect from a farm, the property has a big overgrown vegetable patch. The land size is still large (although certainly not 300 acres – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any 300 acre blocks anywhere near the Sydney metropolitan area). This house, more than any I’ve viewed, presents a queer contrast – it sits awkwardly in a suburb that seems to be trying to move on from its rich historical underpinnings. That’s one of the things that makes the house so attractive; it’s not surrounded on either side by similar homes. It stands apart, and acts as a little historical breakaway – something that stands out from the rest of the street.