Belmont Street Residence
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Belmont Street Residence

David Boyle Architects

The clients' rationale was that if they were to invest the time and money on alterations and extensions to their home, they wanted to really see something for it. And they got it - the place elicits the looked-for "wow!" from even the most world-weary visitor. The rear extension of this house is a wonderful surprise and shows just how powerfully design can transform a space.

What appears as a flat site when viewed from the front of the house actually conceals a dramatic height variance as one moves through the house. David has devised a split-level program - with dramatic exposed steel beams and glass balustrades - to produce a series of distinctive yet inter-connecting spaces, each with its own material treatment.

For many years, the suburb of Alexandria in Sydney's south has had a bad rub. It has been the home of industrial wastelands, poor quality housing and low-lying flood lands jammed in between the airport and the city. However, the last decade has seen a Saab-Ied revolution with canny gentrifies moving in and buying up the cheaper housing stock. This particular house is located on a quiet residential street of old one and two-storey dwellings in varying stages of renovation, demolition and completed polite urban infill.

David's clients - and their pet rabbits - had moved from a flat in Glebe in search of more space. Both clients had their agendas for the new house - Ian wanted a wine cellar and Debbie wanted a hutch for her rabbits. And, of course, they both wanted that wow factor.

The sloping site, which falls from front to back and from side to side, presented the architect with the opportunity to use the natural topography to determine the building's levels. The existing front section of the house has been retained, complete with original timber flooring, and now accommodates the three bedrooms. The main bedroom on the eastern side of the house steps up to a new ensuite in a split level arrangement that allows sufficient height for the new kitchen underneath.

The ensuite sits in what David refers to as "the beacon", a small tower element with a pop-up roof that has high-level windows all around to let light in while maintaining privacy. At night, with the lights on, it glows like a lantern. This structure is clad in compressed fibre cement panels with a clear paint finish, a treatment which continues down to the dining space below. The main bathroom and separate toilet are concealed behind pivot doors cleverly embedded in a shared frame. In the wet areas the architect has used a layering of different colours to create a series of planar differences.

From the original front rooms, stairs lead down to a new living space that forms an intermediate level. Here, the room dimensions expand to the full width of the house before leading out to a timber deck and stairs that connect with the study at the rear of the site. A blue feature wall with recessed shelf and in-built concealed lighting provides a focal point in the living room.

Stepping down from the living room, one arrives at the lower level kitchen and dining space. These spaces are arranged on an exposed concrete slab that flows out to the rear courtyard via a large sliding timber-framed door. A sliding timber window forms a kitchen servery to the outdoor dining area. The kitchen ceiling rakes up to the north to maximise light gain.

From the courtyard the view back to the house shows a variety of roof forms, each expressing the spaces that they enclose below. There are slot windows in the roof that allow light to permeate down into the middle of the house. A large canopy extends across in front of all the roof forms and visually ties them all together, while also working as a sun shading device to the spaces beyond.

The whole rear of the site is organised in a loose horseshoe plan with the opening facing north. This enables the maximum amount of sun exposure to the internal courtyard while remaining fully private. The studio at the rear works as a visual barrier in blocking the view from the adjacent block of flats to the internal courtyard. The studio has been built as a curvaceous timber pod - and with its organic shape and black-stained textured timber finish it recalls the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It was the architect's intention to treat this as a tactile experience, with green vines growing all over it. When viewed from the rear lane the black box works in contrast, hovering above the white painted fibre cement panels that form the sliding garage door.

Having occupied the house for a full summer, the owners have realised they don't need air-conditioning - thanks to the building's good passive solar design and cross ventilation (particularly the small timer shutters on the side walls that open up and let the house breathe.

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