Castlecrag was at the top of my list when I was planning which suburbs to visit in my attempt to find amazing houses. I drove to the suburb with the vague idea that I’d find one of Walter Burley Griffin’s famous designs.
When I arrived, I realised this was a little naive – there is only a smattering of the architect’s houses in the heritage-designated area. I was also quite intimidated at the prospect of sneaking past wrought iron gates in an effort to interview wildly wealthy people without even having made a call in advance.
Then I came to this, well, castle, which is aptly known as ‘Camelot House’ and is located at 3 The Bastion. (Something to note about Castlecrag is that a number of its streets have awesome names, like The Parapet and The Bulwark.) After plucking up some courage, I tentatively knocked at the door. The sound of three dogs barking and running with the owner as she came to see who it was made me think I had no chance of talking to anybody – I’m not scared of dogs, but I imagine it’d be a hassle talking to some random girl who’s shown up on your doorstep about your house when your dogs are trying to escape.
But Simone, the owner, was amazing – she graciously showed me through the house, letting me in on its history and allowing me to climb the narrow stairs to see the view from the roof (even though there was a cryptic ‘Do not climb’ sign blocking off the stairway). Many thanks to Simone for being so obliging.
When I asked about any renovations (the house has a modern, heritage-approved extension), Simone commented that she and her family had “wanted to keep it intrinsic,” which is very fitting with what Griffin described as his “idealistic” attempt to “conserve … all the remarkable natural features of” Castlecrag. The sandstone cliffs that jut out from the sides of Castlecrag make the sandstone walls of Camelot House seem like they come straight out of the ground.
Simone explained that the house was once a theatre, with plays being held on what is now the back verandah, and audiences being seated in the space where the pool now is. She described it as part of Castlecrag’s “Bohemian past.”
Interestingly, the house was actually designed by Griffin’s partner, Eric Nicolls. According to the Castlecrag Progress Association, Nicholls was commissioned to carry on Griffin’s work after the latter’s death in 1932. Camelot was the most well-known house Nicolls designed, with John Graham in Sydney Architecture describing it as having “A thematic design whimsically responding to the romantic layout of Castlecrag.”
Standing on the roof, it became apparent to me how successful Nicholls was at making Camelot part of the landscape – looking down at the harbour view, it felt as though the house was a natural part of the sandstone cliffs overlooking the bushland valley.