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

104 Robert Street, Islington (Newcastle)

 

Architect Joey Trongchittham reinterpreted a 1940s weatherboard in Islington, an inner-city suburb of Newcastle once considered the ‘badlands’ but, like all inner-hubs, now undergoing regeneration. Playing with bright colors while keeping the home’s best features, including the original mismatched wooden floorboards, he made a contemporary home for his young family that retains vintage accents.

 

Is the bicycle further evidence of Newcastle becoming ultra-hip?

 

Joey drew on his work with architectural practice Husk when reimagining the space, seeking to ensure the home met his exacting standards. “It‘s easy to take shortcuts and do things badly then cover it up with bog and paint but to do a proper job requires careful planning and attention to detail. Our property is a small urban block and there is not a lot of room to store materials or waste, so everything had to be carefully planned and sequenced,” he says.

 

The home’s original floorboards have been shellacked, and the different shades and levels of wear make sure the home keeps its pretty cottage feel in the midst of its contemporary additions.

 

Studio … and part of Joey's arm.

My favourite room is definitely the studio built out the back – it comes with a fantastic loft-space and an en suite, with ultra-modern finishings (polished concrete floors – massive win!) and built-in cabinetry custom-designed for the space.

 

The home, on a fairly nondescript street three kilometers from Newcastle’s central business district, was an easy choice for the family. It popped up for sale in a nearby area and had the right foundations for Joey’s designs. “The house was built on top of an old concrete tennis court that was originally part of the property next door. This made it a pretty safe bet with no rising damp or pests. We were also won over by the agent’s sales pitch of a low maintenance yard,” Joey says.

 

The studio's frontage.

 

The studio's sleeping quarters.

 

The kitchen is the house’s sleekest space, with Joey’s tendency towards minimalism highlighted by the clear surfaces. It’s their favorite room. “We both love our food and I cooked professionally for several years before I was an architect. The new kitchen is my laboratory and I’m like a mad scientist concocting new experiments all the time.”

 

 

 

 

More important to me than the modern accents and contemporary feel – although these add to the appeal, and are carried off particularly well in the kitchen and cute hidden laundry area – are the pretty, vintage spaces, which can most obviously be seen in the couple’s daughter’s room. Bunting instantly gives a child’s room a preppy, playful feel.

 

 

The building that once occupied the site was the caretaker’s residence of an old birthing hospital that has long been demolished. The driveway was the cart access lane used for picking up bodies from the morgue. “If the walls could talk, they’d have a lot to say. We’re happy that they don’t.”

 

The couple is currently focusing on “suppressing the mess” due to the arrival of their baby daughter. “Apart from artworks, we avoid collecting too many things that are made just to sit on a shelf and go out of fashion. We prefer to buy well designed functional things that last or give new life to preloved items that have been discarded,” Joey says. Their furniture choices are practical but deliberate, and he says their favorite places to shop for the home are the butcher and the bottle shop!

 

 

The back deck.

 

Newcastle East, The Hill, Cooks Hill

 

This is a mini-post – which means it’s on a smattering of houses, rather than focusing on one – but it’s a necessary one, as Newcastle is lined with outstanding homes to ogle. Referred to by the government as a “heritage city by the sea”, Newcastle’s architecture is evidence of the boom the city experienced in the nineteenth century through coal mining and industrial development.

 

 

While Newcastle is still New South Wales’ second most populous city, it has experienced urban decline for some time now, which was evidenced by the closure of its city-centre David Jones store and a developer pulling out of a proposed redevelopment of the Newcastle CBD. Although I believe that redeveloping the retail precinct in Newcastle’s CBD is imperative (it’s a ghost town at the moment), the developer apparently wanted to dispose of the railway, which seems to be a pretty ridiculous idea – who wants to destroy a railway line? Whenever I’ve lived in a suburb that doesn’t have a railway station, I have cursed this fact and dreamt of living near one.

 

 

Newcastle has a lot of potential, and I think it could become a viable second city for New South Wales – like San Francisco, it’s built on steep hills; it has railway infrastructure; it is packed with incredible heritage buildings; its beaches are stunning; and it already has a number of great places to drink and dine. All it needs now is increased work opportunities, I presume, and these are already being provided to some extent by mining companies and some professional services firms that have set up shop in the region.

 

My favourite

 

434 King Street, Newcastle West

 

Miss Porter’s House, firstly, has a very cute name. It’s the only residential property in the area, and, apparently, that has always been the case – the suburb went from industrial to “administrative” (National Trust 2000), without any houses aside from Miss Porter’s being built in the district … well, ever.

 

 

The Edwardian home, built in 1909, has a bare brick face. The ceilings are decorated with bespoke patterned timber. I’m accustomed to seeing pressed metal ceilings in homes of this age, which makes the timber a surprise. While the home is in good shape and was updated in the 1970s, there is some paint flicking from the walls in the bedrooms – which, along with the period furniture, clothing and personal artefacts contained in each room, help to place the visitor within the historic context of the building.

 

 

I was a little disappointed when I arrived at the house. Don’t let that dissuade you from continuing to read, it does get better. I was just surprised that the National Trust had chosen Miss Porter’s House to be a museum when Newcastle has some sprawling mansions in its ranks, as well as scores of impressively pretty terraces marching up and down the undulating roads in the city’s inner east.

 

 

The best part about the house, from my angle, is its location – it’s out of place, which is what makes it interesting. The tiny backyard, replete with plants and boasting a shed, pushes it up against a fence that borders the backyards of large commercial buildings, while the face of the house looks out onto King St, surely one of Newcastle’s largest arteries.

 

The house’s story and level of preservation also make it remarkable. It is a freestanding ‘terrace’ – it seems like an oxymoron, but I don’t feel any other description would befit the house. Florence’s last surviving daughter, Hazel, lived in the home until she passed away in 1997, and left it to the National Trust in order to save the site from potential redevelopment.

 

 

While different in architectural style and scope, it’s somewhat similar to Como House – it became a ‘woman’s’ home after Florence’s husband died at only 41 years of age.