It is not often that an architect is commissioned to restore a house from the 19th century and design one fit for the 21st on the same block of land.
Jorge Hrdina worked on the two projects sequentially, beginning with the restoration and extension of the existing Queen Anne house, then designing a new one: the pavilion, which in August won the the Master Builders Association award for best building over $4 million.
“This area of Mosman in Sydney was favoured by shipping merchants as it is a high point and they could view the ships coming in through The Heads,” Hrdina says. The land around the existing property had been subdivided in 1919, so when the house next door came up for sale the client saw the opportunity to acquire it and restore something of the original curtilage of the house.
“One of the key discussions with the local council was our desire to reduce the number of buildings on the two sites, which between them had two garages, a shed, two swimming pools and two houses,” the architect tells WISH. “We planned to consolidate and rationalise the site while creating a pavilion that appeared to float, had a transparent quality and integrated greenery into the footprint.”
The first task was to address the existing heritage-listed house, which had a “poor-quality” 70s extension tacked on the back. This was removed and the house extended in the style of the original façade. To the untrained eye it is impossible to tell where old ends and new begins. This style of house, more accurately known as Federation Queen Anne, was a popular architectural genre in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide between 1890 and 1910, defined by intricate fretwork on generous verandas, motifs such as circular windows and a penchant for turrets and towers.
“It was an exercise in research and discovery,” says Hrdina, who engaged heritage experts to help with the restoration and to find tradesmen skilled in working with slate roof shingles, lattice, turned timber, parquet and intricate plasterwork.
“What I learnt from the exercise of the restoration was this tremendous respect for craftsmanship then and now,” the architect says. “It is one of the connecting forces between the two buildings.”
The house features painted brick, timber and singles in tones of mushroom and off-white, which mitigates some of the decorative flourishes. The use of sandstone in the house and the pavilion links the two across time.
The intention behind the pavilion was to expand contemporary family living; designed for entertaining by the pool, it has a large media room, a small self-contained apartment, amenities for showering and a roof garden that maximises the view.
During the excavation to create a wine cellar, the builder hit a water table, which put paid to the original notion that the garage would be subterranean. The cars are now in the southwestern wing in a transparent parking area enclosed by unframed sliding glass panels.
A tour of the pavilion reveals how his ability with enduring materials defines the space. The concrete beams are dappled and imperfect; rough-hewn sandstone cladding dresses the structural core while slabs of smooth, honed sandstone are laid throughout the ground level. Stained blackbutt timbers, oak treads for the stairs and bluestone for bench tops, form the limited material palette keeping the pavilion unfussy and a touch raw. “I didn’t want it to feel overly luxurious in terms of the finishes and fittings’, says Hrdina.
The apartment is small and streamlined, taking many of its cues from boat design. Doors slide, the toilet is hidden in a lidded bench, storage discreetly lines the perimeter with bluestone ledges and perforated copper panels, while a wardrobe wall seamlessly segues into the kitchen space. Sunlight streams in from the windows overlooking the street while north-facing glazing provides pleasing framed views of the original house.
“We were determined that the pavilion would be a significant piece of modern architecture in what is essentially a conservation area,” Hrdina says. And it was clearly the subject of plenty of community debate. “The tradies could hear the comments of locals walking by – some were for, some against – but as it neared completion we like to think it swung in our favour.”
The original house had a roof garden, so the council gave the nod to one on the pavilion roof. It is a simply designed space, reflecting the building’s slimline footprint, and is generously planted to soften the architecture and the views over the surrounding rooflines towards Sydney’s eastern suburbs. From the opposite aspect the spire of St Mary’s Cathedral comes into view.
A kitchenette in the media room is designed so that drinks can easily be brought up to the roof garden. “Yes, we have tried to think of everything,” Hrdina says, “but in a way that is serviceable and honest. We want it to be enjoyed by family and friends, to be robust and to get better with time and use.” With a over a century’s age difference between the two buildings, it has some catching up to do.
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