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

48 Liverpool Street, Paddington

Paddington occupies a kind of interesting place on the Sydney suburb map. It’s often associated with the inner-east (particularly its neighbour, Darlinghurst), but (in my view, anyway), it’s really the place where the east ‘proper’ begins to bloom (did you just cringe when you read ‘bloom’ in that context? I did when I wrote it), and the suburb it’s most similar to is probably Woollahra (except it has more … stuff). My evidence? House prices (it’s pretty dear); cleanliness (it’s pretty clean); all-round lack of grime and inner-city grittiness (it’s pretty nice). I like both the inner urban spaces and the stately Paddington streets equally, so I don’t take a side … but Paddington sure is pretty. The best part about it is its streetscapes – they are extremely appealing. The terraces are grand; worker’s cottages are less common here. There is leafiness. The serenity (that phrase might conjure less affluent Australian postcodes, depending on your pop culture references). Lots of people know how to dress in this suburb (still not enough, unfortunately). Speaking of which, despite what newspapers have been saying in recent years (imagine the irony of newspapers criticising industry decline?), the shopping in Paddington is still excellent.

 

 

This house forms part of one of the abovementioned streetscapes. It’s testament to the quality of the 2004 renovation that it still looks so new. That’s no exaggeration – it’s a Victorian freestanding home, but lots of it looks brand new. I do miss the character a little. However, the owners were extremely sympathetic to the home’s original character and preserved all the features they could – right down to the intricate ceiling detailing that once featured above one of the home’s fireplaces. Another original fireplace is intact, and the original light sashes are in place (adore). The ceilings are high (one of my favourite things in houses), the bathroom has had a very cool timber floor makeover, and the seagrass mats (made to measure) suit the place perfectly.

 

 

A pretty awesome feature is on the top floor, which is used as a bedroom – a glass sliding frame (kind of like a sunroof on a car) can be pulled over the stairs to give the level privacy, something often lacking from loft spaces. Unfortunately, despite the owner helping me out with an ultra-powerful light, I wasn’t able to get a properly representative picture as it was a very dark, gloomy, rainy, miserable day (which is why the photos used in this post are the generous owner’s. Mine just didn’t match up in the dark!).

 

The refurbishment was intricately thought out, and was designed to take advantage of the property’s north-facing aspect. This is true right down to the lights; they were painted the same colour as the walls to “give you that unintrusive type of light”, according to the owner.

 

The kitchen is at the northern end of the home and therefore has natural light to spare (I struggled to word this sentence…still don’t think I quite made it, but I did my best). The travertine (heated) floors and limestone benches are nice touches, and the view out to the courtyard is a plus.

 

 

The house has most of the contemporary features you’d expect in an executive family home, but what really sets it off are its unique character details (the uneven-shaped lot, for instance, has resulted in an interesting floorplan) and its location in one of Paddington’s best pockets.

74 Sophia Street, Surry Hills

Surry Hills is one of my favourite suburbs, and this original terrace might have had the greatest emotional effect on me of all the houses I’ve featured on the blog (which isn’t to say they’re not all amazing. They are. You should totally go back and read about them when you’re done with this post). I’m not totally sure I can explain why – I’ve featured dilapidated terraces before – but something about this one is deeply evocative; hopefully the photos can express it better than I can verbally. It’s grungey and when you walk through it you’re transported to this untouched, decaying otherness. I completely adore it.

 

So, what are the points to note about the house? We’re looking at a three bedroom terrace with a courtyard (and vegetable patch. Win!), in addition to rear lane access. There is no parking, but hey, you’re in Surry Hills – you can get used to that.

 

The ‘terrace’ itself is a sunroom. I personally prefer when these are converted into terrace structures (ie open to the elements) as I think that looks prettier on houses like these; however, that would require really sensitive treatment in order to ensure it’s in keeping with the design of the house, if it were to be permitted. Plus, some people prefer sunrooms.

 

The plus side of the house being unrenovated, of course, is it retains every element of its heritage features, which the renovator will hopefully take full advantage of. High ceilings, French doors, wooden floorboards, ornate skirting boards and so on.

 

My favourite picture.

 

The current bathroom is an outhouse. It looks exquisite (to me, anyway); pink paint contrasted with square white tiles and a lopsided mirror. Fun fact; the house I grew up in only had an outhouse for a couple of years before my parents incorporated it into the house. So there you go.

 

The floorboards are original and have different shades and so forth. If possible I’d try polishing the floorboards as is to keep that ‘mismatched/contrast’ look. But keep two things in mind: I have no idea if this is possible, and I am a bit strange in general.

 

One of the rooms is quite interesting for its time; it has an interior window that looks into the kitchen in order to let light in. This is a common design element of modern-day one bedroom suite apartments. The obvious change here is to knock down that wall and create an open plan kitchen/dining/living area.

 

Two of the bedrooms are upstairs, one is downstairs. I’m not sure whether the floorplan will be significantly updated when the renovation is done, although a bathroom will obviously have to be included. There is fairly significant space in the back courtyard (it currently houses a bathroom and large laundry area), that could be utilised as a studio/teenager’s accommodation if you were that way inclined. I assume many people would prefer to keep the space for a back garden, but it doesn’t hurt to have room for more living space when you’re looking at a terrace home.

 

 

74 Sophia Street is on a cute street in Surry Hills close to the Holt Street end of the suburb (which is the part of the suburb I’m most familiar with. Hello, News Ltd building). That means it’s close to Holt Street dining, Central Station (can’t really get much more convenient than that, can it?) and everything else the area has on offer, which is quite a lot.

 

Laundry/outhouse.

 

It is going to auction. I would buy it if I could and leave it in its original condition as a kind of amazing doll house/squattersville. Ideas like that probably indicate that perhaps it’s for the best that I don’t have the money.

 

Does this not look like it could be in a '90s Marilyn Manson film clip?

The State Library of NSW has this neat picture of what Sophia Street looked like once upon a time. Most people (surely anyone who’s been there) know the suburb’s rags-to-riches story by now, although the people who know it most intimately are also aware that it still has its ‘characters’, its housing commission residences, its sad stories, and its dilapidated terraces. The original terraces afford those looking for inner-city living with an enviable opportunity, although their numbers are reducing all the time.

 

The reason this one stands out from the pack is, firstly, it looks plain interesting (look at the photo to the left – amazing!), and, secondly, its size; this is fairly large, as far as Surry Hills terraces go. Many of the houses in the area are worker’s cottages; this one has a wider, more ornate frontage (worker’s cottages also tend to just come straight up out of the footpath, with no front courtyard/dividing space) and more room to breathe.

 

The suburb has a median house price of around $960k, making it a bit cheaper than its neighbour, Darlinghurst. I can only imagine this is because Darlinghurst borders swanky Paddington. Surry Hills seems to offer a bit more space/parkland than its inner-city cousins Darlinghurst and Potts Point (okay, I’m not sure how Potts Point could be regarded as Surry’s ‘cousin’…but just go with me on this). It’s probably due to the way it was initially constructed; there was more of an emphasis on housing, whereas Potts Point was one of Sydney’s first centres of apartment living. In any case, the suburb is one of the most appealing inner-city post codes; it offers easy access to the city, a plethora of dining/bar options and oozes historic significance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australian Institute of Architects’ NSW Architecture Awards

Wilkinson Award winner: Tir na nOg.

 

 The NSW Architecture Awards were held recently, and the residential winners/commendations were so impressive that I’m compelled to show them to you.
 
 
Tir na nOg by Drew Heath Architects took out the Wilkinson Award (which was introduced in ’64 to recognise exemplary domestic architecture, according to the Awards’ Jury Citation). The architect’s aim was to create an ‘otherworld’, an admirably sweeping/ambitious plan for a piece of residential architecture. The building comprises a central courtyard, the existing cottage and a new building (billed as a ‘living box’, which is a term I quite like). The design creates an interplay between indoor/outdoor spaces. It manages to be both heavily constructed and organic due to the use of contrasting materials. The Jury Citation encapsulates the idea perfectly; “Its excellence resides in its eccentricity as much as its cohesion. Boundaries are blurred; inside to outside, public to private, old to new, grown to made – an otherworld.”
 
 
Several other residential projects were lauded at the Awards, and some pictures are here for your viewing pleasure. Cowshed House (excellent name) by Carterwilliamson Architects and Balmain House by Fox Johnston won Architecture Awards for alterations and additions. New Architecture awards were handed to Rory Brooks Architects for St Albans House; Marsh Cashman Koolloos Architects for Flipped House; Chenchow Little Architects for Stewart House; and Madeleine Blanchfield Architects for Gordons Bay Residence.
 
 
The Awards aren’t just significant for their exposure of NSW’s most interesting residential buildings (although that’s obviously the focus here); one of its most interesting facets is the focus on public/urban design, plus its examination of commercial buildings. While the latter can seem dull, some particularly well designed office towers in the CBD are demonstrative of how exciting commercial spaces can be (then there are arty studios and creative warehouses and whatever else thrown into the mix; commercial design can hit the heights of interesting architecture, and it’s incredibly varied). The AMP building was celebrated this year at the Awards, snaring the Award for Enduring Architecture.
 
 
Anyway, just look at the photos, they speak for themselves (which puts me in an awkward position, on reflection).
 
 
 

Cowshed House.

 

Stewart House.

 

 

170 Riley Street, Darlinghurst

A terrace with a plunge pool … how could I say no?

 

This house was redesigned by architects Weir Phillips about five years ago. It’s a good thing, too, because this particular firm has a focus on heritage services, meaning they reconfigure historic residences with a consideration for their character. There is nothing sadder than a terrace that’s had all its personality stripped away.

 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get out there for my inspection of this one, so I have stolen the agent’s photos and asked them some questions (this one is up on the market for $1.65m). So this is a miniature post. But that’s okay, because the photos are worth it alone.

 

The plunge pool area is particularly ingenious as it operates as a means of creating more natural light (yes, I do harp on about natural light in terraces. That’s because it’s super-important, and it’s one of the hardest aspects of a terrace renovation to pull off).

 

The terrace is well-located within Darlinghurst. Five minute walk to the city and pretty much anything else you should be interested in. Aside from a swim-able body of water, I guess, but hey, it has a plunge pool, so problem solved.

 

The front of the terrace is pretty, if not totally original. It’s also identical to its neighbour, which is interesting. It looks like a late 19th century/early 20th century Victorian.

 

One of the best aspects of the place is its size – three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It’s extremely rare to find three bathrooms in a terrace. The design has kept space and function in mind, incorporating open plan living areas, distinct sleeping zones and plentiful storage.

 

The staircase is another element of the home that enhances light, which is both clever and attractive. The narrow, steep staircase or spiral staircase typical of terraces is avoided, and the floating timber is an appealing contemporary touch.

 

 

The agent notes that an investor or professional are the most likely types of purchaser, but I think given the house’s space and facilities it wouldn’t be out of the question for an inner-city family to buy. They’re still a pretty rare breed, but they increasingly exist – the main impediment would be the lack of parking, but it wouldn’t be overly difficult to rent a nearby space (or park on the colourful back streets if they can find some that are untimed. I hear families love a bit of adventure).

 

 

 

138 Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo

It’s been a while, but here I am. This terrace marks the first time I’ve featured a place in Woolloomooloo, so it’s a premiere, of sorts. I was drawn to it due to its sandstone; there are sandstone terraces scattered around Sydney, and since it’s a pretty special building material I’m happy to be delving into it here. You find sandstone terraces around Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst as it was drawn from Woolloomooloo Bay.

 

This house is currently used as both a residence and as a slick office space, and it’s being sold as a mixed-zone proposition. It wouldn’t be particularly difficult to convert into a fully-fledged residence, if that was somebody’s bent, and the parking allotment (for two-three cars) gives it a point of difference compared to other terraces around. It’s currently on the market (as the first photo indicates!), with offers being sought just over the $1m range.

 

The bottom floor of the terrace, which contains the primary office/meeting zones, the kitchen and the bathroom, has been well-renovated as it, firstly, is spacious (transforming this area into living zones would give you a front room and a rear entertaining area leading on to the kitchen; not a bad set-up) and, secondly, is extremely well-lit, which (as I’m sure I’ve written numerous times!) is one of the central challenges when reconfiguring a terrace.

 

The rest of the floor plan is very vertical; there are three levels, the middle currently being used as a photography studio with another sitting area (which could become a master bedroom) and the attic being used as bedroom. If I were to convert the house, I would keep it to two bedrooms rather than three and use the area currently used as a photography studio as another living space; it’s fairly rare to have distinct living spaces across levels in terraces. This floorplan lends itself to the idea.

 

Convict stock bricks.

 

The office incorporates a feature wall made up of original convict stock bricks, which helps the house retain its links to its c1880s origins (plus, it looks plain good). The renovation has been done with a consideration of the place’s character and heritage, which means that its prettiest features mostly remain intact. In the office, what was once a fireplace is now being used as storage. Although it would be nice to see the original fireplace, it’s comforting to see the space being utilised with a nod to the past.

 

The terrace is located in an interesting spot. Woolloomooloo has been walking a fine line between the gentrified and urban decay for some time now. There are a host of clever little office spaces dotted around the area, and the terrace itself is within footsteps of Toby’s Estate, around the corner from Flour and Stone and skipping distance (if that’s your preferred mode of getting around) to Darlinghurst and the CBD. Then there is Finger Wharf. On the other hand, though, this suburb, moreso than most that have undergone the gentrification treatment, rubs shoulders with its past – there are still large portions of public housing, and unlike in, say, Newtown (don’t trust the sign – Newtown totally is about yuppie [and student...] life now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that), the suburb still has some, erm, spice. But that’s cool. There has to be something real left in Sydney, right?

 

Next time you’re in the area, take a walk through Darlinghurst and Potts Point before detouring your way into Woolloomooloo. The contrast is patent; even within Woolloomooloo, different streets offer completely disparate experiences. With the Wharf boasting the residence of some of Australia’s most famous celebrity-types, and its location smackbang to the east of the CBD on the bay, it’s an interesting wonder. That said, it’s probably only a few years off fully-fledged gentrification (how could it not be, with that location? The government doesn’t tend to hold on too tightly to these precincts – see Glebe as an example) and even higher prices (it’s currently the most affordable in the inner-east region, from my estimation), so its entry point will presumably start to exponentially rise in the mid-term future.