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

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

I journeyed to Europe recently. And the architecture there is bangin’. Pretty much all of my travel photos are of buildings (surprise, surprise) – and here they are, for your viewing pleasure. I hit up Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin and Brussels, and will be featuring a post on each, so hopefully you’re keen to scope out some more international posts. One of the defining aspects of Amsterdam is the fact that it boasts both seventeenth century and contemporary architecture of significance – it’s a place where design is cared about and preserved, especially given it’s such a tourist draw. Some of its prominent buildings were listed in the Arch Daily article I linked to in the previous sentence (and I’ve featured some of those here), but I loved the fact that every street was pretty in Amsterdam.

 

 

Buildings that are rare/non-existent in Australia (centuries old, grand, stately) are ubiquitous in Amsterdam, which was my first stop. It’s all pretty buildings and canals (developed in the 17th century) and bicycles. … And ‘coffee shops’. And windmills! The streets in Centrum and the surrounding inner-city neighbourhoods like Jordaan and Westerpark are lined with storeys-tall terraces. Interestingly, when I got the chance to peer in one (like the stalker I am), I noticed (and this is obviously anecdotal) that the Dutch appear to put a significant amount of effort into interior design, which warms the cockles of my heart.

 

 

Now, while I was there, I inevitably thought to myself ‘I wonder how much a place here goes for…?’ Bit dated now, but the New York Times did a nifty (very well titled!) article on house hunting in the city mid-last year. Here you go. Some quick points – difficult to buy a house (rather than an apartment), the ones that are available are dear/exclusive, it’s fairly reasonably priced for a European city with stagnating values of late, and prices vary from $200k – $6m+. Parking is a rare commodity…coming from Sydney’s inner-east, I can only empathise.

 

 

 

The metro.

 

Metro.

 

I'm not totally sure what this is…but I liked it.

 

 

ARCAM.

 

I also visited Rembrandt House, which was constructed at the beginning of the seventeenth century and is now kind of anachronistic as it sits on what appeared to be one of Amsterdam’s most updated/modern inner-city streets. But no matter, it’s still cool. Especially the beds (see below). Rembrandt was, of course, in case anyone needs the background, a Dutch painter considered one of the ‘greats’. I’m not going to take you through all the details because that link above shares a fair bit of information and, hey, you may want to visit it, but I will say that he ended up losing the house as he couldn’t make the mortgage payments and moving into rented accommodation. Quite a modern type of downfall. He was earning a good living as a successful artist, but the saying is ‘more money, more problems’, right? (I personally find that ‘less money, more problems’ rings true for me, though.)

 

Rembrandt House.

 

Rembrandt House.

 

And I’ll leave you with this one, because I also love (g00d) street art:

 

110 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay

 

Usually I prefer to write about places I hunt out myself, but sometimes one is sent to me that I really like. This is one of those times. It’s a block of apartments up for sale in one of my favourite suburbs (as I’ve noted before), Elizabeth Bay. It’s on the harbour, it’s curvy, it’s strata-titled…All wins.

 

It contains four two-storey apartments, which is pretty contemporary for a block built in the early ’70s, although it sounds like some remodelling may have occurred, and is listed on the Australian Institute of Architects’ register of Significant Architecture in NSW.

 

 

The piece I was sent said it’s being marketed at around the $30 million mark (which figures) by Stuart Cox of Savills, who said “I doubt that an entire block of apartments in this prime location will become available again in my lifetime” and described it as a “trophy asset”.

 

May I please have this view?

 

This little article provides some perspective on the construction. The tower-like build was precipitated by the narrowness of the block (unsurprising in the area). Every floor has harbour views, and there’s basement parking for up to 12 cars, a serious boon in an area in which I have personally driven around for an hour without finding anywhere legal to park my car. It’s been thoroughly updated (as the pictures demonstrate) - both in terms of the individual apartments and the common areas – so the primary question is what the purchaser will do with the block. It’s an intriguing proposition.

 

 

Various, Singapore

 

Singapore! Colonial Victorian terraces, cutting edge modern-day architecture, quirky high-rise public housing blocks…it has it all.

 

This is my first international post (well, aside from a post I did on UK tiny houses, but I didn’t actually visit the UK for that post), which makes me pretty excited. It also marks the first time I’ve been overseas since I visited Hong Kong in 2011, which was way too long a gap.

 

I schlepped through the streets of Chinatown and Little India, where I found the types of places that particularly interest me; historically rich, colourful, character places stacked on tightly packed, buzzing streets. You realise pretty quickly that Singapore is serious about architecture and design. It’s evident in landmarks like the Art + Science Museum and Singapore Art Museum (by the way, the plethora of museums and galleries is also indicative of this national interest in design I’m describing), and also in the homes lining the sides of the road. Singapore just looks nice.

 

It’s a small place with a large population, a financial hub with huge port facilities and a magnet for business. It makes money. It’s also expensive; probably the only place I’ve visited that seems on par/dearer than Sydney.

 

Air-conditioning is serious business in Singapore.

 

Interestingly, it has a kind of similar residential real estate profile to Australia, with speculation of a housing bubble and predictions that the value of property will decrease 10-15%. Unlike Australia, and placing it in a similar basket to Hong Kong, a large segment of the population lives in government-subsidised housing; Wallpaper‘s travel guide pegs the figure at 82%.

 

 

In love with these stairs.

 

Singapore has an interesting feel about it. It’s generally considered the gateway into Asia, and I can understand that perspective. It’s culturally between Sydney and Hong Kong; diverse enough to keep your interest but similar enough that there isn’t a great degree of culture shock. The combination of different cultural influences in Singapore’s national identity is appealing; it’s kind of a bricolage of different conventions and ideas that have come together to form something holistic. I’m trying to avoid the use of the term ‘melting pot’, given that’s such a corny phrase…oh look, I just used it.

 

One of my favourite districts is Chinatown. It has a certain whimsy that other global Chinatowns – from Sydney to San Francisco – don’t seem to capture quite as well, plus the neatness that Singapore is characterised by. Along with pockets of Victorian housing and boutique hotels, Singapore’s Chinatown is spotted by little eathouses – eating is a serious item on the national agenda. If you ask Singaporeans what you should do while you’re there, I can guarantee you they’ll recommend you sample some hometown cuisine. (How silly will I look if you do ask a Singaporean question and they don’t mention food at all?)

 

Little India is very distinct from Chinatown, adopting the profile of its namesake and bursting out with colourful shopfronts and cheap little hideaway restaurants. I really wanted to sample the sweet treats because they looked amazing with their pretty pinks and gold foils, but there was a pigeon running through the shop and my OCD brain immediately shut down the idea. Damn it. I must try these mysterious sweets at some point. Feel free to hook me up if you have a good suggestion in Sydney. I, in return, can provide you with a list of about 50 bakeries I am obsessed with. But they’ll probably hurt your back pocket. And your scales.

 

 

Given my sensitivity to the cold, the heat in Singapore is something I relished. Pretty much nothing excites me more than the prospect of trekking around in 30 degree temperatures looking at interesting buildings, with the prospect of good food and decent shopping in a clean environment afterwards. So in that regard, Singapore is one of my favourite places. It caters to me almost as though it knows me. Also, Singapore Art Museum introduced me to a piece of work so fantastic that I cannot stop talking about it – ‘Superbarbara Saving the World’. Check it.

 

 

I haven’t focused on the CBD architecture here, and could dedicate an entire extra post to it. The financial district (and woah, what a financial district – virtually every big name in the banking world has an office in Singapore) is full of clean lines and impressive contemporary skyscrapers, with the skyline dominated by the Art + Science Museum, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. The country is a melding of old and new, with the CBD taking its cues from cutting edge modernity and the residential districts divided between colonial British influences and eye-catching high density blocks that dominate some streetscapes.

 

Chinatown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinatown

 

Little India. Such colour.

 

High density living. Public housing flats. Rochor Centre. Built in 1977. It's set to be demolished.

 

CBD.

 

Where we stayed. Oh yeah.

York & George, Sydney CBD

 

There’s a new residential/commercial development set to go up on York/George Streets in the mid-city part of the Sydney CBD, and since Sydney’s CBD doesn’t have a whole lot of residential space I went down to take a look (my interest was piqued, obviously). I think it’s time the city became a place to live in rather than just work and play; then it’ll start to have the kind of ‘up all night, something always on’ vibe that cities like Hong Kong have.  Not in a ‘messily lined up in front of the ivy’ sense, but in a real, vibrant way. Michael Wiseman from Fife, the developer, and Katie Pickford from the development’s PR team took me through the display suite, which is open to the public on York.

 

Unfortunately, with the loss of my old laptop came the loss of all my editing software, but I’ll be getting that back soonish. Thankfully, I have my awesome new DSLR – which I am in love with – so the shots should still be of a better standard than they were with my trusty old point and shoot.

 

Some quick facts. 39 levels, mixed use (commercial, retail and residential), and a combination of studios, one, two and three bedrooms (mostly two bedrooms). Aside from the cityscape, there’ll be some pretty snazzy views of Circular Quay and Darling Harbour, and its location is obviously a mecca for transport, work, dining, drinking and shopping convenience. Being in the city, parking is at a premium; there are 13 parking spaces. I think Sydney is becoming the kind of place where people are becoming willing to forgo a car provided they’re in a place that’s close enough to what’s important to them, and that has easy public transport options; like Michael said, the city’s not a “ghost town”, and its residents have direct access to all its amenities. “It’s got lots of restaurants and bars, and things have been changing in that part of town,” he says.

 

I, personally, am obsessed with my car and park up to three kilometres from my apartment in the inner-east just to have some kind of access to it, but, hey – no one ever said I was normal. Good luck getting a parking spot in my suburb, by the way. I get excited when I find an illegal spot on my street I can use while I sprint in to grab something I’ve forgotten.

 

The city is generally earmarked for office space. Unlike other large cities, Sydney city has generally been a ‘work’ place, not a ‘living’ place, as I indicated earlier, but it’s transparent that demand has been changing and buyers/renters are looking to kill the commute. “The commercial market’s a bit quiet in the city, whereas the residential’s strong, so that was a big motivation for us to go across to resi,” Michael said.

 

The residential tower will be on York Street, and the models of the exterior look pretty impressive – it’s kind of similar to Seidler’s Horizon Tower insofar as it has a ‘weave’ appearance, but it’s done in an ultra-contemporary, geometric way.

 

The design is what you’d expect of a new inner-city development; on point, modern, high end finishes that’ll appeal to a well-heeled buyer. And buyers have been buying; 80% of apartments have sold off-the-plan since hitting the market in November.

 

Developments like this one and Central Park (which is down near my uni, and thus not exactly ‘centre of the city’ like this one) excite me because they show that developers are sensing that demand for city space is changing. It’s transitioning from a commercial place to an all-rounder place. That is cool. Since the people renting and buying these spaces also tend to be pretty well-paid, a fair amount of emphasis is placed on the architectural aspects of these buildings, which affirms my interest. York & George is based on two character buildings that are being restored as part of the process, for instance. The living spaces use floorboards and an open plan layout to enhance the feel and functionality of the apartments, and sizeable in-built wardrobes are a rarity in the centre of town (as I can confirm…oh my god, I need more storage desperately). So I guess my point is, the city is developing a network of resi space, connecting up from the park to the Quay to mid-city down to Chinatown, and I think that the result of this is going to be a new social fabric in a place a lot of spend a lot of our lives in.

 

 

49 Great Buckingham Street, Redfern

So this one is really half a house, which is what made me so interested in it. There’s a fantastic sense of eeriness about it – particularly in the contrast between the still semi-intact front rooms and the construction site behind. It’s a grand Victorian terrace frontage in one of Redfern’s best streets that’s had the back stripped off it in order to rebuild, but the owners changed their minds and decided to exit, leaving an unusual proposition for redevelopers and owner-occupiers looking to build a home they can customise.

 

There’s something a little overpowering about standing in a shell of a room – exposed brick walls, the works – looking out at the bare bones of the structure while standing underneath an ornate ceiling with its light setting still attached. It reminds you of what it once was.

 

A little context to the area. This gem is in Redfern’s most coveted pocket, right near the park and rubbing shoulders with Surry Hills (a spot that agents sometimes call ‘Redfern East’. NB: no such suburb exists. Maybe it should, to be fair, because the suburb is pretty diverse). The street is leafy and wide. It’s very clean-safe-inner-city-living. As someone who spent three years in Alexandria, I can say with confidence that Redfern is a suburb with many faces. This is its wealthiest. It’s not an up-and-coming part; it’s well and truly there already. We’re talking low-mid seven figures for an entry level terrace.

 

David Servi, the listing agent, noted that it’s difficult to ascertain value here given the nature of the offering. “You’ve got to work back from what you think the finished product will be worth,” he said. It’s being auctioned on 2 November – I just realised I can’t make it, which is unfortunate as I’d love to see how the bidding progresses and what this one ends up being priced at.

 

I thought you might be interested in seeing what it once was, and luckily the sold listing is still up.

 

Redfern has (unsurprisingly to anyone who’s been interested in the inner-city market over the past decade or so) been increasingly positioned as a sub-set of the Surry lifestyle; it contains my favourite diner (Milk Bar by Cafe Ish – they have malteser pie and rosewater milkshakes. Unbeatable) hole-in-the-wall cafes (Nookie) and small bars (The Dock, amongst others). If you’re priced out of the east side and are looking at how to enter the market here as affordably as possible, you’ll probably have to start looking a bit further south, because even The Block has started to exceed the $800k mark. Darlington’s seen its median jump over that point, too. Waterloo still has a median in the low $700k zone, and has one of the inner-south’s best eating and design strips (Danks Street, everyone’s perennial favourite). It also offers easy access to the eastern suburbs and a pretty simple commute to the city. The only thing to be wary of is the tract of high-density apartment blocks that have sprouted up there over the past decade, and the suicide towers, which can be a little spooky.