When architect Brad Swartz sat down to renovate a semi-detached, single storey property in Rosebery, an inner southern suburb of Sydney, the key ingredients were light and space. In that order.
Instead of going up, Brad directed his efforts outwards and inwards, expanding the footprint by a modest 13 square metres and streamlining the interior flow. The bones of the house remained the same, but four small bedrooms became three generous ones, and the open-plan living area was redefined with floor-to-ceiling sliding window walls, facing due north. Light was carefully directed through skylights and high picture windows.
The result is the Hat House: so named for the architectural roofline, which extends over the rear of the property, like the brim of a cap. The owners are young couple Blake and Jacinta Mills, who wanted a suburban terrace with that increasingly rare Sydney commodity: a sense of space.
Koskela was brought in to furnish the new living areas. The brief was: playful, modular and kid-friendly. Our Australian-made furniture complemented the home’s neutral colour palette and sustainability ambitions.
We sat down with Brad, Blake and Jacinta to discover how this project came to life.
How did you find this particular property?
Blake: We’d almost given up, to be honest. We were looking in the west and southern suburbs of Sydney, but we kept getting priced out of those areas. Eventually we were lucky enough to find this one in Rosebery.
Jacinta: The main thing that appealed was the space. The block is just under 300 square metres, which obviously isn’t huge, but it’s big for suburban Sydney. Compared to everything else in our price range, it felt massive. It had this big backyard, which we really liked, and some of the original features – like these tall ceilings – really added to that sense of space.
Blake: Well, not quite. The way the house was arranged, originally, it was one of those old houses, with the living room in the centre, and doors and hallways scattered around it. So it wasn’t a great layout. But we saw the potential. Most of the houses we were looking at were small and dark, and this one just had so much light.
Jacinta: The previous owners hadn’t done a great job decorating it, so maybe we were a bit lucky there. Some of the other buyers might have been put off. But we thought it was good for us, so we decided to go for it.
What was the renovation process like?
Jacinta: We lived in the house for about two years before the renovation started, which I think was a good move. We were also expecting a new baby, so we knew we needed bigger bedrooms and more space to grow into. Living there first, we were able to get a sense of the location, and what we liked and didn’t like about the house.
Blake: We ended up going with Brad [Swartz] for our architect. We work in the same building, and there was a general alignment in terms of design and aesthetics. We weren’t going to be able to do a massive renovation, so we wanted to utilise the existing space as much as possible. We knew from Brad’s previous work that he’s a master of maximising the space you’ve got.
When you start a project, you often don’t know where it’s going to land, but this house was always about creating a space at the back of the property. On our side was the fact that the house had great bones; they were really solid. All we had to do was re-configure the flow slightly.
Brad, what were your guiding principles with this project?
Brad: When you start a project, you often don’t know where it’s going to land, but this house was always about creating a space at the back of the property. On our side was the fact that the house had great bones; they were really solid. All we had to do was re-configure the flow slightly.
This is also a very sustainable way to build. Instead of gutting a property and starting from scratch, you learn to work with what you have. The bones of this property meant we could keep most of the existing structure, and that’s a very cost-effective way to renovate.
While it may be desirable to go totally off grid with rooftop solar, or design and build a new house with all the latest sustainability developments, by far the lowest impact option – especially in the city – is to work within the existing structure. To improve its energy efficiency and the way the spaces work.
Are there any other sustainable features?
Brad: The biggest design move was the huge, north-facing window. There’s a blind there that Blake and Jacinta can control, but that window more or less heats the whole back of the house. It feels like you’re already outside on a nice day.
When you’re doing a terraced house, highlight windows (or high picture windows) are also really important. With terrace houses, you often lose that openness and that view of the sky. It’s easy to feel trapped in. So we created a highlight window in the living space, to add more light.
Jacinta: We loved the playfulness, and also the flexibility. We settled on the Quadrant modular sofa, which has been great with the kids. You can configure it lots of different ways, or move it out of the way if you need more space. It’s really hard to find a sofa that doesn’t feel boxy, and this one just makes the living room feel so open.
Blake: It was important for us both to pick our favourite pieces. I think it works better when you have that contrast of styles. If it’s just one point of view, you often end up with a house that looks like every magazine and website – everything matches too perfectly. But we have this point of difference, and that really mixes things up.
Jacinta: I’m not very imaginative, but when Blake showed me photos of Koskela pieces in architectural houses, that really helped. I could see our home in my mind.
Architect: Brad Swartz / Photographer: Clinton Weaver