Past + Present Coincide In This Army Drill House Conversion

When there aren’t any formal heritage restrictions placed on a Federation-era building, it’s down to well-intentioned owners, the right architects, and sheer luck that its history and character can be protected.

Luckily for this Sydney drill house, all those stars aligned. Tobias Partners came on board with enthusiastic and willing homeowners to reverse an unsympathetic 1980s conversion, and restore this rare redbrick construction to its former glory (with some contemporary additions, of course).

Sasha Gattermayr

Inventive interior additions allow the roofline to be kept to its original silhouette. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The original brick archway intersects with contemporary wood panelling. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The primary drill hall space contains the living, dining and kitchen areas. Photo – Justin Alexander.

North facing light has ben maximised at all opportunities. Photo – Justin Alexander.

An ample kitchen overlooks the rest of the living area. Photo – Justin Alexander.

You can feel the double height volume in the entertainment area. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The master bedroom. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The guest loft. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The master wing bathroom looks out onto the north-facing garden. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The master wing. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The patio sits atop the master wing and looks out over the north-facing garden. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The master wing is its own extension. Photo – Justin Alexander.

Sasha Gattermayr
28th of February 2020

Drill halls are impressive, solid, purpose-built buildings that were erected in preparation for the First World War (which sounds cynical and pessimistic considering this one was built in 1905, nine years before World War One broke out). This one in Sydney’s inner west is no different.

‘There was so much craft in the original building, and one of the challenges was to uncover the detail carefully,’ says Richard Peters of Tobias Partners, the principal architect and designer. The character of the building was so strong and so central to the brief that skilled tradespeople were engaged to craft the new additions. In order to keep the industrial feel of the original structure, Richard elected to use materials as both structure and finish where possible. Oak floors, laminated plywood joinery, pre-cast concrete and stainless steel bench tops, stone paving, face brickwork in the new façade elements, galvanised steel windows, and clear anodised aluminium for the sliding doors were chosen carefully, and installed by hand selected craftspeople.

‘Surprisingly there weren’t any formal heritage restrictions placed on the building, although we obviously saw huge merit in maintaining key elements of the building’s history and craftsmanship,’ states Richard. The detailed brick archway, exposed steel roof trusses and slate roof were all restored before ‘stitching in’ a contemporary layer. This comprised of a living, dining and entertaining area in the main drill hall, while two mezzanine lofts installed into the cavernous space above housed separate guest and study wings. Slotting them into this double height volume meant the original roofline was retained, allowing the hall to keep its principal 1905 form.

While capitalising on the site’s unique opportunities allowed for the original facade and silhouette to be kept, it meant the designs had to expand the ground level of the building. A new lower level extends beyond the original floorplan to house the bedroom, bathroom and living room that make up the master wing. The area underneath the existing drill hall was excavated to create a laundry, dressing room and wine cellar. A private wing was added to house the master suite while a new north facing terrace connects the kitchen and main living area to the garden.

Richard is delighted with the result. ‘We have been able to save the best elements of the building, pare everything back and carefully insert new spaces that highlight the past by celebrating the new.’

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