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Daniel North and Catherine Downie


It’s always a treat to photograph an architect’s own house, and today’s beautiful family home in Sydney is no exception.  This thoughtfully renovated Victorian house in Neutral Bay belongs to Catherine Downie & Daniel North of Downie North Architects, and their young daughter Eva.

20th January, 2016
Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 20th January 2016


This beautifully renovated semi-detached Victorian house in Neutral Bay belongs to architects Catherine Downie & Daniel North of Downie North Architects and their young daughter, Eva. The pair purchased their home three and a half years ago, after house hunting for close to twelve months. They were intent on finding a property they would be able to renovate, and with a Northern orientation. ‘We had lived in a South facing house for five years by this point, and were craving sunlight!’ says Daniel. After taking possession, Daniel and Catherine quickly set about planning a major renovation to accommodate their plans for a family. The result is a beautifully bright, breezy family home, with a strong connection to the outdoors.

Catherine and Daniel left the front half of the house (containing the bedrooms) more or less intact, but completely renovated the rear, creating an open plan living/dining/kitchen area which opens completely to a pretty rear courtyard. Two bathrooms were also renovated.  Despite making significant changes to the home, this renovation embraces many of the original Victorian features of the property, most notably the exposed red brick walls, which lend a wonderful texture to the new addition at the rear of the home. ‘We took a lot of cues from the original house, particularly the material palette, reclaiming the original bricks for the new external walls, which are exposed in the living area’ explains Daniel.

Daniel and Catherine cite a few key influences for their house design.  ‘The extensions allude to the Sydney School, but we are also interested in tropical modernism and traditional Japanese architecture’ says Daniel.  These influences are clearly visible in the floor to ceiling windows, particularly the high level windows in the living space, and the use of timber and other textural details.

Fundamentally though, both Daniel and Catherine prescribe to the central idea that the people who live in a space are the connecting theme. To this end, they have thoughtfully selected pieces of furniture, art and objects that have meaning them as a couple. For instance, the ’Daruma’, which has pride of place in the living room, was a honey moon purchase from Japan. ‘The idea is that you colour in one eye when you start your journey and colour in the other eye once you’ve completed it. We coloured in the eye when we started looking for the house, and only just coloured in the other now that we’ve finally finished the landscaping!’ says Daniel.

One of the lovely things about this renovation is how seamlessly the newer parts of the home link to the old. Though very contemporary, the new living and dining space at the rear of the home perfectly complement the existing structure, adding a new dimension without detracting from the home’s original charm. Crucially, the updates have enabled Catherine and Daniel to access wonderful natural light and views to the garden, trees and sky, which is so rare in most Victorian homes. ‘We love the sunlight in the morning, it comes streaming in through the high level windows – the house is sun drenched in winter and day lit in summer’ says Daniel, ‘we are very proud of the home we’ve made here’.


Architects Catherine Downie and Daniel North with their daughter Eva at home. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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