Spoiled for Space | Sydney, Australia
ARTICLE Anja Kussler PHOTOGRAPHY Katherine Lu
Streamlined modern spaces with broad connections to the outside, balance the desire to complement the original terrace spaces, which were reinstated with traditional, textural details in a modern colour palette.
Creating multi-functional spaces and visual connection to the outdoors, were two main driving factors in Architect Jodie Niven Choi's game plan to convert her family's Darlinghurst Terrace heritage home in Sydney. The inspired project involved stripping the tired-looking two-storey, two-bedroom, one-bathroom existing building back to its original brickwork shell, and transforming it into an airy, modern three-storey, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom abode with two living areas.
"Our brief was to create a private and sophisticated family home with a series of flexible spaces designed for a variety of uses inside and out," Jodie explains. "And one that catered for family members of all ages, and for our changing needs as our kids grew."
The space factor
Jodie's strong focus on expanding and cleverly utilising limited space, stems from her own experience. At the time she and husband Ivan bought the Darlinghurst Terrace home, the couple were living in a small two-bedroom Sydney-side apartment within a converted Victorian Terrace house.
"We had no connection to the outdoors and as our family grew, first with the arrival of our son Asher, and then our daughter Isla two years later (just eight weeks before construction started!), the space became increasingly claustrophobic."
Hence the main push behind every planning and design decision was to open up the floor area and make every space multi-functional.
"Our focus was not only on increasing the floor space, but also on opening up the house to light, glimpses of sky and the exterior wherever possible. I saw it as a home that we could peel open in summer and retreat within in winter."
The transformation of the original parking area into a second living area is a prime example of a beautifully executed, light-drenched, flexible space. Here, stacking timber bi-fold doors were used to separate the raised parking area from the lower courtyard, with the upper level performing double duty as an outdoor entertaining space.
Atmospheric lighting and integrated speakers that wirelessly connected to the home's audio system were installed, and custom outdoor curtains that can be pulled across to conceal the garage door added.
"That way, when set up with a large outdoor table for an alfresco dinner party or used as a 'performance space' by the kids, the area felt more like part of the home," Jodie says. "We nicknamed it the 'Stage', and certainly used it that way!"
As far as design changes go, Jodie says the original Terrace home had been stripped of much of its original character and suffered from a poor east-west orientation, leaving it dark and cold. In order to give it a new lease of life, she provided a softened minimal design and pared back a black-and-white colour palette to complement the reintroduced traditional, textural cornices, skirting and fireplace surrounds of the original Terrace.
"The original floor boards were in poor condition, so it was an easy decision to stain these black," she says. "The crisp black and white balances the traditional and modern, and highlights the traditional detail as a textural element."
A life(style)-changing result
It took nine months to complete the makeover. In the process Jodie faced a number of challenges, such as the fact that the building was set on a small, steeply sloped site, that she had an eight-week-old baby and a two-year-old with a broken leg in tow, and that Ivan's job as a business consultant frequently took him out of town.
The alterations provided Jodie and her loved ones with the lifestyle improvements they'd dreamed of.
"Having the ability to change our home to suit our changing social and living needs on a day-to-day - or mood-to-mood - basis gave us a sense of real freedom," Jodie enthuses. "I think we realised that this flexibility is at the core of what is important to us as a family."
Jodie adds that her children and her husband have also recognised how important the outside connection in a home is to them, including glimpses of sky, "it may just have something to do with the way Australians live as one with the outdoors, but those connections to the sky are good for our souls."
Being spoiled for space, Jodie says her kids fell in love with their new home almost instantly and surprised her with the elements they each fancied the most. Asher was lucky to have the upstairs rear bedroom, featuring a seamless balcony and retractable louvre screen, which made it easy to block out light and noise at night.
By day, this bedroom became the kids' favourite playground, with the doors stacked back and the louvres retraced, so they could play and run around inside and out on the balcony, overlooking the timber screen doors to the 'stage', and the borrowed greenery of a large adjoining tree.
"In reality it is quite a narrow space," Jodie explains. "But with careful detailing we were able to provide a large, open outdoor room, rather than a bedroom with a narrow attached balcony." Having recently sold their Terrace home, Jodie says she and her family really miss that special space, "particularly due to the way it lifted our moods. The kids still refer to it fondly as the Balcony House."
Jodie says the 'Stage' was another favourite place for the kids to run and play. "It gave us so much flexibility too - we would pull the timber doors across when we used the space to park the car, giving us a lovely warm backdrop to the smaller courtyard area from inside. And when we had the doors stacked back, the 'Stage' would act as an extension of our interior spaces.
The sale of their Darlinghurst Terrace conversion ultimately made it possible for the Niven Choi family to buy another Victorian Terrace on a much larger site and in a quieter street in the same area. Jodie's final words: "While we were all very sad to leave our first real family home and made some great memories there, we are looking forward to the excitement of creating another new home together.