Review of house at Paddington by Indyk Architects, HOUSES Magazine, Vol.39, 2004.

The serenity.  It can come in different forms for different people.  For the occupants of this terrace house in Sydney’s inner east they can thank Shelley Indyk of Indyk Associates for the remodelling that has resulted in an arrangement of calm serene spaces with a unique connection to landscape.

Having begun life as a typical Victorian terrace with a series of inward looking cellular spaces it was time for a makeover to respond to contemporary living.  Nothing unique there: everyone in town’s in the midst of a renovation frenzy. However unlike many others, where the designers bombard a small space with an abundance of disparate materials, Shelley’s sophisticated approach here was to use a restrained palette of concrete, steel, glass and timber. An advantageous siting has been well utilised with the house sitting on an elevated sloping site looking north across a valley to a park on the opposite hillside. Apart from the solar advantages of the northern aspect allowing sunlight deep into the living spaces, the architect has adopted an approach of framing the view of the adjacent parklands. The result is that with the clever manipulation of space and openings, the view from inside the house is entirely of green space. And this is not just an intimate courtyard kind of green space, but rather, a middle distance view, with no other buildings visible. It was important for Shelley to extend the expanse of space and the park into the house so that the occupants could retreat from the densely populated suburb to the calm inside.

Only the front of the house was retained with all the action happening beyond. From the street the only indication of intervention is the elegantly detailed steel security gate and the timber slatted meter cupboards. Facadism you might think but not entirely inappropriate. Timber floors had warped and dipped and what remained was a run down warren of confused spaces. In a reversal of conventional roles, it was council that initially wanted retention of the timber framing as an integrated structure rather than just the streetscape stage-set approach that dominates contemporary town planning. With the removal of the timber frame, a new structural diaphragm in the form of a steel portal frame fixed to the original brick party walls, was introduced for stability. Elements of the steel have been left exposed as an expression of this function. With the party walls stable, Shelley was free to adjust floor levels and open up vertical spaces.

The house is arranged over three levels with the main living spaces being at street (middle) level. Upstairs the main bedroom and en suite are housed whilst downstairs is a secondary lving space, study and bedroom. All floors are linked in a lineal stair running down one of the party walls. Large vertical timber elements transcend floors and morph from balustrades to bench seating. All floors are cross-ventilated and open on to terraces to the north.

The client wanted a concrete and glass house and that is exactly what this is. All new floor slabs have been inserted and the burnished finish has been waxed and polished. Concrete extends out on each floor to the north to form terraces. However what sets this house apart is that the underside of the slabs have also been left exposed, again waxed and polished. A more conventional approach would have seen suspended plasterboard ceilings throughout. The benefits are that the floors and ceilings are both read as simple horizontal planes, eternally linked and the sense of the material, concrete, ever present. Of course this sort of experience does not come easily. A high level of design in the setout of services and lighting was required. Bulkheads have been installed to cover plumbing lines but conduits and light fittings have been cast in to the slabs and aligned with joints. Downlights are cast into the stepped concrete soffit of the stair. Under the stair a steel framed desk is suspended from the wall.

The northern façade opens on each level to the terrace and view beyond with a large counter-balanced overhead door. At three metres wide and three metres high, the door is a massive element that transforms the scale of the space where the opening up of the house is almost ritualistic. Shelley likens the drama of opening this aperture to that of a camera shutter. When open overhead, the door creates a large horizontal plane that continues the eye out to the landscape without obstruction. The advantage of this form of opening is that when closed there are no vertical stiles to obstruct views, as in bi-fold doors. As these products are typically used in industrial situations, the mechanism can be fairly crude. In particular the counterweight is a rough unrefined chunk of metal which contrasts with the sleek glass and timber framed case that was designed for its housing. It is an honest approach to materiality that is consistent with the architecture.

The other internal material employed is jarrah timber for all the joineryand this was essential for giving the house its visual warmth. Similarly bathrooms are treated as opulent retreats, almost jewelled boxes. Fully tiled in rich ruby-coloured mosaics, the roof of the ensuite bathroom opens to the sky by remote switching for the ultimate bathing experience. Being a fully internal room, opaque glass walls have been used at both ends for illumination. Though narrow, the room actually feels very spacious.

The middle level terrace is terminated with a full width fishpond that is fed by roof water runoff. A neatly detailed integrated track from the roof follows the party wall to the water with overflows continuing down into the stormwater system. A fixed bench goes across the pond which the owner describes this as her favourite place of the house. Having started with six goldfish there are now thirty flourishing residents that have survived nibbling of the family cat.  The kitchen at the front of the house is separated from the adjacent entry by a sculpted concrete upstand. Stainless steel benchtops and jarrah veneer cupboards contribute to the rich palette. As an indication of the crafted approach, every piece of veneer was hand picked by the architect. Overhead a jarrah bulkhead defines the kitchen zone and conceals the plumbing above.

Shelley describes this as her purest residential work to date, a fact easy to understand when one experiences the masterful handling of the restrained palette and the manipulation of space. In fact she was so happy with the way the project turned out that she wants to move in to the house herself. Tell her she’s dreaming.