A home tour which re-defines family living

This home takes family living to a new level, built on the lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation by Mattbuild, and designed by Commonplace. Ten years in the making, the property was originally a small cottage, purchased by two friends with big ambitions to build a home together for their families.

Commonplace is a young architecture firm, working on a portfolio of homes that have an emphasis on sustainable living and human-centric design. Founders, Fiona and Kellie enjoy finding the beauty in everyday spaces and certainly achieved that in this St Peters home.

Like any family home, this one was built on the foundations of open communication and compromise. It’s a testament to the friends, families and architects involved that they were able to execute a project with this level of ambition: two unique homes with different design details, which share a wall and land.

Koskela was lucky enough to furnish this beautiful home with our Australian-made furniture, homewares and rugs. From living rooms, to bedrooms, each space is highly considered and designed for optimal functionality and family time. 

We spoke with Commonplace to pick their brain about this project, along with the challenges and successes that came with it!

This project is close to your heart, can you tell us a little about the background?

Commonplace is made up of Kellie + Fiona – and one of our first jobs was with Fiona’s older sister Rebecca and friend Chontelle.

In 2010 Rebecca and Chontelle, purchased a dilapidated, weatherboard cottage in the Inner West with long term goal of re-developing so both friends had a home of their own. The plan was to demolish the single dwelling, build two semis and subdivide the block. It took over ten years from purchase to moving into their new homes with their partners and young children.

This project was of great interest to us – it involved non-standard ownership structures, intergenerational living arrangements, no garages (the location is close to multiple transport hubs) plus clients that love colour! 

We absolutely love the idea of buying a house with a friend and then sub-dividing it, do you see this becoming a trend in the industry?

We wish it would become a trend! Projects where the owners are the developers and intend to live in the area should lead to better results for the local fabric. The homes are well built, have lower running costs and are built with more consideration of neighbours. It removes significant real estate agent and marketing costs and allows owners to tailor their home to their specific needs. Two families working together is like a micro-version of the German concept Baugruppe or the homegrown Nightingale developments.

As a way of tackling Sydney’s housing market, you would think we would see it more often but it is considered a novelty. Almost five years on, Rebecca and Chontelle would recommend the approach to others. It was a big undertaking, but the key was honest communication, proper documentation and commitment to the long-term vision. Commonplace was so happy to be part of a ‘success’ story.

It is worth noting that its symptomatic of Australia’s housing affordability crisis that this sort of unconventional approach is required for two professionals to enter the housing market. Housing Affordability should be a prominent election issue and if anyone’s interested in this topic, we recommend Peter Mares’ book “No Place Like Home”. It examines the numerous negative impacts of inequality in such a fundamental area of the economy.

What do you love most about the design process?

Collaboration – we want our clients to be able to see themselves, their quirks, their family in their homes. We also collaborate and learn so much from every consultant and builder we work with – it’s a long road from concept to completion and we appreciate the efforts of all involved.

Were there any road bumps or challenges along the way with this project?

There were classic Inner West challenges: a tight site that doesn’t have great orientation, difficult access and airplane noise controls. All challenges the clients understood when purchasing the property.

The project-specific challenge was designing two dwellings that were mirrored as much as possible to maximise efficiency and reduce costs but also individually unique to cater to two clients with different family structures and aesthetics.

 We expect it would have been a less colourful and more identical project if the objective was speculative development.

The process required compromise and clear communication. It helped to have two pragmatic and calm clients.

What inspired you to go out and co-create your own practice?

The desire to make the decisions about the types of projects we take on and developing our own design language. We met whilst working at Carter Williamson Architects and it was an amazing and supportive environment (and still is!) – and so we have a long history of friendship and have definitely developed a short-hand working together.

What’s one thing you think everyone should do to their homes to make them more liveable/beautiful/functional?

Good lighting. Especially if the home is lit by grids of downlights we recommend investing in floor and table lamps, it’s more flattering and creates a cosier, moodier vibe. This is a relatively inexpensive, construction-free approach that significantly alters the feeling of a space. And importantly it is also a really powerful option available to renters who have less control over their home environment.

What’s one small thing you can do to your home to make it feel more inviting without spending any money?

Kellie can’t walk anywhere without breaking off a branch – so our recommendation is to forage! Bring a little of the outside inside with flowers, leaves, herbs whatever is closest and easiest can bring life to any space.

Did you have any sustainability considerations for the build? And did this feed into the materials you chose?

Considering the impact of development begins at concept and as a practice we’re earnestly striving to improve our knowledge and do better with every project.

For this site the existing house offered little fabric for reuse or retaining - it was poorly maintained and held together by lino and asbestos! The project at a macro level is sustainable as it improves the density of the local area. It replaces one single dwelling with two dwellings that are modest in footprint and floor area.

The driving focus was on maximising the amenity (light, outlook, generous floor to ceiling heights) but not the size of the homes. The aircraft noise controls means the home is well insulated with thick glass and well sealed doors and windows which assists thermal performance – and energy spent heating and cooling is offset by PV cells. Likewise sustainability informed the material selection. We used recycled bricks and recycled Australian timber for the doors and windows, low-VOC finishes including Bauwerk Lime-wash paint to the walls and Osmo oil to timber flooring, and wherever possible we minimised joinery (to varying success).

We also used Australian makers for lights, taps, tiles and so on. These decisions resulted in colourful, robust finishes that work well with family life.