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An Extraordinary Transformation For This Heritage Sandstone Home

Architecture

When presented with an 1870s sandstone cottage, how do you faithfully extend and restore the original structure, without resorting to imitation? 

This was the challenge posed to Benn + Penna Architecture in this alterations and additions project in Sydney’s Balmain East. The clients were hoping for the very dilapidated, original structure to be restored, and a more recently added lean-to to be replaced. 

Benn + Penna conceived the new extension as an augmented duplicate of the existing cottage, with cement akin in weight and texture to sandstone. The complete home is a cohesive, protected space with interiors that feel as though carved from the one rock.

29th May, 2020

1870s sandstone meets contemporary concrete in Balmain Rock. Photo – Tom Ferguson

In the original house, a specialist stonemason was brought on to restore the sandstone walls, while the roof and verandah were renewed to contain the main living room. Photo – Tom Ferguson

Architect Andrew Benn was inspired by the sense of solidity and sanctuary of the existing house – qualities he wished to mirror in the new addition. Photo – Tom Ferguson

When the current owners purchased this home, the original sandstone portion was very dilapidated.  Photo – Tom Ferguson

The site is small and narrow, only accessible via two narrow laneways that imposed many logistical challenges during the construction period and in configuring a harmonious plan. Photo – Tom Ferguson

Walls, openings and spaces are ‘carved’ away from the concrete mass in the new addition. Photo – Tom Ferguson

The pavilion contains the new kitchen, dining space, bedrooms, bathrooms and a void space. Photo – Tom Ferguson

Conceptually the pavilion is conceived as an augmented duplicate of the existing cottage, similar in its geometry, proportion and scale. Photo – Tom Ferguson

A void invites in natural light. Photo – Tom Ferguson

The house is for a couple who were downsizing, with a desire for better-connected family zones to accommodate for contemporary living. Photo – Tom Ferguson

Concrete alludes to the existing sandstone cottage, akin in its weight and desired patina. Photo – Tom Ferguson

The high thermal mass in concrete walls delay the release and absorption of heat when needed, keeping the house calm and comfortable year-round. Photo – Tom Ferguson

Amelia Barnes
Friday 29th May 2020

‘Its surfaces slightly kink and turn to frame each space in an interesting manner, and entices the dweller to discover what lies beyond the next wall.’ – Andrew Benn

When the current owners purchased this property in Sydney’s Balmain East, the site consisted of a very rundown 1870s sandstone cottage, alongside a poor lean-to extension. Engaging Benn + Penna Architecture to redesign the property, they set out to carefully renew the existing cottage, with a new pavilion to house the majority of the footprint. 

Benn + Penna’s overall intent was for the existing and new structures of the project to act as equals. Director Andrew Benn explains, ‘Our vision was to discover an addition that would not detract from the existing cottage, nor allow for the cottage to completely stand out on the site. I wanted the additions to complement, and harmoniously coexist with the cottage.’

In the original house, a specialist stonemason was brought on to restore the sandstone walls, while the roof and verandah were renewed to contain the main living room. ‘In a setting where there is limited access to natural light through windows, the ceiling is transformed into a truncated light well that traces the form of the existing hipped roof, drawing in natural daylight into the space,’ Andrew says. 

Andrew was inspired by the sense of solidity and sanctuary of the existing house – qualities he wished to mirror in the new addition. ‘There was a feeling of both protection and enclosure in the cottage,’ he explains. The new extension was eventually devised as an augmented duplicate, carved from concrete that is similar in its geometry, proportion and scale to sandstone. ‘It alludes to the existing cottage – akin in its weight and desired patina – but contemporary in its appearance and construction technique,’ says Andrew of the concrete addition.

Physically connecting the new and old areas is a carefully designed linking path that underpins the home’s unfolding plan – Andrew’s favourite element of the project. Within the house, spaces reveal themselves with subtly angled walls and a variety of ceiling heights, to make a rich experience of spatial expansion and contraction. Andrew describes the layout saying, ‘Its surfaces slightly kink and turn to frame each space in an interesting manner, and entices the dweller to discover what lies beyond the next wall.’ 

There are two outdoor areas on the property – the first being a courtyard garden in the centre of the property, between the old cottage and the new pavilion. This area strategically interweaves garden elements within the building form, while the rear garden is deliberately concealed from most of the living spaces, awaiting to be discovered.

Andrew says this project hopes to remind people of ageless building techniques, and to revive the use of lasting materials and robust constructions that will last generations.

See more Benn + Penna Architecture projects here.

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