One component of a subdivision, this new house by David Boyle Architect is a subtle mix of rustic and modern, with warm and textured spaces.
This site in the Sydney inner suburb of Marrickville originally held a single house. The brief for architect David Boyle was to subdivide the site and create two side-by-side residences, of which the eastern one is the subject of this review.
The tone of the house is set on approach from the street. A facade of plywood panels, with horizontal battens interspersed with carefully proportioned and positioned windows, indicates a concern with craft, materiality, junction and composition. There is a subtle juxtaposition of rustic and modern – for example, the fibre cement grey and white panelling contrasts with the timber front wall. A conventional hipped roof sits over the eastern part of the house, dipping respectfully towards its neighbour. On the other side the roof is more playful, in response to the more specific and idiosyncratic brief for that side of the project. This contrast gives the building its charm, not in a nostalgic way, but in a way that is at once contextual and distinctly modern.
The brief requirement to use a lightweight form of construction posed a considerable challenge given its location directly under the Sydney Airport flight path. Wall and ceiling construction was dictated by stringent and specific acoustic requirements to dampen noise. While not a visible aspect of the house, this was a critical factor in the design and construction process. This aspect is not trivial, since it demonstrates David’s skill in dealing with lightweight materials, his understanding of their properties and control of their application.
The materiality that is expressed externally is a key element of the experience internally. As with many semidetached layouts, two bedrooms and a bathroom are located at the front of the house, distinguished in this case by large sliding doors that extend the rooms into the hallway and provide it with borrowed light. Exposed timber beams and face brick immediately evoke a sense of warmth that continues in the rest of the house. At the end of the passage a change in floor level indicates the transition into the living spaces. Here one is greeted by natural timber benches and joinery, complemented by recycled narrow floorboards, further heightening the tactile experience of the house. The change in level is a deliberate choice, which has two effects. Firstly, it avoids the long “run-through” feel of semidetached houses; secondly, it lifts the rear deck above the level of the backyard. Not only is there a positive practical outcome to this, but it breaks the long-held perception that a seamless spatial flow from internal to external is a critical requirement. The experience of space is of greater importance to David.
Windows and light are used in various ways to delineate, contain or expand spaces. At the rear David has deliberately avoided the use of folding doors, instead favouring a composed elevation of glass with delicate timber transoms and mullions. This allows spaces either side to be used and furnished without hindering the visual connection from inside to outside. Similarly, the long, high-level, east-facing window above the kitchen accentuates the horizontal plane of the interior and expands the space outwards, while a skylight, above the stairs leading to the first floor, allows light to fall vertically. This light draws one up to the second level, which contains one bedroom and an unexpected centrepiece – the bathroom, dressed entirely in blue, with mosaics for the floor and panels of water-resistant laminate for walls and ceiling. The playfulness with which David addresses this room – avoiding both overly serious and extremely mundane treatments – is not only refreshing but reflective of ingenuity and concern with experience. David comfortably adopts a level of experimentation in his work that is intentional but not indulgent. This is reflected in various elements throughout the house, in particular the party wall, where he has partially painted the exposed brickwork, reflecting unconventionally that “There is not enough patterning in architecture today.”
These elements of the unexpected, when combined with a sensitive appreciation of materiality and skilful composition, create an experience that is altogether delightful.