Hidden Treasure

Review of apartment at Bondi by John Cockings Associates, HOUSES Magazine, Vol.38, 2004.

Everone seems to have an opinion about Bondi. There has been a lot of attention about the place in the last few years especially when it was most notably featured on “The Block”, one of the television programmes that give people the impression renovating is easy. For all the hype about its glamour however, this suburb can be a pretty ugly place. And that’s not just the wannabe celebrities and pierced try-hards hanging around in printed t-shirts. Away from the spectacular beach the streets are predominantly treeless, bathed in a mixture of sand and dirt, and lined with poorly designed ‘flat’ buildings. The irony is though that many luxurious secrets lurk behind these ordinary facades. One such secret is this apartment that has been refurbished by John Cockings and Associates. The non-descript building overlooking the beach suggests nothing of the sophisticated interiors of its top floor apartment.

The apartment had been previously renovated without an architect and the owners were not happy with the results. They had seen the work of John Cockings who was called in to remediate and improve upon the existing situation. Essentially the brief was to open up the spaces and create a more light filled space. Nothing new there: it’s the sort of breadand- butter brief that keeps architects in business. That’s not to say that it called for a formula solution of mood lighting and feature walls. Being the on the top floor of the building there was the potential to utilise the roof space. JCA’s original concept was to cut a large a large hole in the ceiling and create a central void and mezzanine over the living room, using the height of the available roof. The client didn’t proceed that way, tending instead to use this space as a separate attic office area that can be accessed from a pull down ladder.

The other advantage of being on the top floor is that there are no neighbours and there is both a front and back door to the apartment due to the earlier requirement for two separate stairs. The wall between has been opened up and now it is possible to access either entry, the back door leading through to the outdoor terrace which is a definite advantage when coming back from the beach with sandy feet.

The focus of the apartment is known as ‘the Den’ and it is the owner’s favourite space. This is the area formerly occupied by the old recessed sunroom and it had previously been enclosed with dodgy windows that leaked when they copped the full brunt of the southerly winds from across the ocean. New aluminium framed windows have been installed and the glass is self-cleaning, a necessity for this high-salt environment.  As it had previously been an external room there was no cavity in the walls so bricks had to be cut down to prevent water ingress.  Instead of stepping down to the sunroom there is now a step up to the den and this simple change of levels provides a sense of separation from the main living space. A structural column and low wall also helps to define the space. The den consists of a large daybed, curved in plan and covered in cushions. It occupies the full width of the former sunroom and stretches across the front of the large windows.  There is only the ocean and New Zealand beyond. On the day we visit the wind is howling and the ocean is churned up and this cosy space invites curling up with a book.  Admittedly it’s all a bit 70’s, even calling it ‘the den’, a fact the owner concedes that he doesn’t mind while also admitting to a Kramer-esque love of ‘levels’.

The rest of the living space has been simply white washed and the spotted gum timber flooring throughout contributes to the relaxed beach atmosphere. Some internal walls have been removed and the original fireplace, which the architect describes as being in the ‘hacienda’ style, strangely angled and asymmetrical, has been tidied up and flanked with immaculate white polyurethane joinery housing media equipment.  The white theme continues for the kitchen and bathroom.  The kitchen is adjacent to living space and leads out to the outdoor terrace while the bathroom is a celebration of luxurious bathing.  A large vanity basin and cabinetry are central in the room with the combined bath and shower tucked behind.  They are closed off behind a watertight sliding glass door that seals it off for some serious splashing potential.  Large white wall and floor tiles simplify the relatively small room and enhance the sense of space.

The existing roof terrace attached on the northern side of the apartment was re-waterproofed and revamped.

The sandstone planters were scooped out to create bird baths and feeding bays for local birds and new turf was laid. The laundry doubles as a luxurious dog kennel and second bedroom while there is also a tool shed enclosed behind an opaque glass door. All the essential features of a back garden are here in this private outdoor space.  It is an apartment that has benefited from the sophisticated detailed design skill of the architects. All details have been thought about, all junctions resolved. The bedroom door is frameless and the door hinges are set into the floor. Subtleties such as the recessing of light and power switches flush with the wall surface give a degree of refinement as does the continuous floor level between inside and terrace. A linear stormwater drain across the aluminium sliding doors negates the need for a step down. The architects have designed several custom-made items of furniture, including joinery in the bedroom that is of a woven timber veneer.

This project is typical of the practice’s work that now includes a solid back-catalogue of refined residential projects with highly crafted interiors and custom made furniture. It illustrates the high level of design skill that a professional architect can bring to a project and shows that an interior makeover can achieve so much more than those depicted on home renovation programmes. Maybe there is hope for Bondi after all for with interiors as good as this it’s only time before the exteriors improve as well.