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A Breezy Waterside Oasis, Designed For Multi-Generational Living

Sustainable Homes

It took four years between purchasing the 260 square-metre plot in the harbourside suburb of Birchgrove (5 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD) and passing the plans through council, for architect Emili Fox of Fox Johnston to finally build her own family home.

By incorporating a not-so-traditional ‘granny flat’ into the lower storey of the sloping block, and some seriously impressive sustainability credentials, this multi-level waterfront residence is a testing ground for modern urban multigenerational living!

21st July, 2020

A view from the southern deck through the barrel of the communal living zone. Photo – Anson Smart.

The breezy, open-plan residence is organised around the internal courtyard at the centre. Photo – Anson Smart.

The south-facing upper deck looks out over the harbour and city skyline! Photo – Anson Smart.

A minimalist palette of plywood and concrete is the perfect domestic backdrop to sublime natural views. Photo – Brett Boardman.

The main residence sits on the upper two floors of the dwelling, atop the self-contained apartment below. Photo – Anson Smart.

The ground floor makes the most of the north-facing frontage, placing the patio garden at the front to inject the house with natural light and leaving the harbour views to speak for themselves at the rear! Photo – Anson Smart.

The upper top-most storey houses sleeping quarters and cuts a slick roofline .Photo – Brett Boardman.

Sasha Gattermayr
Tuesday 21st July 2020

‘At first my husband joked that I’d designed a hotel! But he now realises how well the arrangement works.’ – Emili Fox.

To say architect Emili Fox of Fox Johnston’s own home transformation was a challenge is an understatement. Emili and her husband, photographer Reiner Schuster, occupied the near-derelict existing house for the first four years before embarking upon their dream home project that could accommodate their own young family, with the potential of at least one set of parents down the track. While its location in a densely packed Sydney suburb on a steep slope has its benefits (hello harbour views), the site was tricky to work with.

The resulting building comprises two residences with separate access points. Below the main residence sits an apartment that can either be opened to the residence above, or fully locked off.  This forms a podium for the generous double-storey main house, where the breezy lower level opens seamlessly to a sunny courtyard, almost like an extension of the living room. You wouldn’t know you were in the middle of suburban Sydney!

‘The house is designed to work in the hot summer months by closing down during the day, and opening up again once the temperature outside starts to fall,’ explains Emili of the home’s mechanics, likening its workings to a human respiratory system, inhaling and exhaling according to its surroundings. This neat anatomical metaphor works well when considering the home’s stellar environmental credentials, another key criteria Emili set for herself in the design process.

With solar panels, rainwater tanks and a grey-water recycling system, the house is 92% off-grid. The ample use of concrete awards the dwelling a dense thermal mass, allowing it to store warm or cool air depending on the season, while operable glazing helps regulate indoor temperatures.

A mix of raw and recycled materials make up the robust interiors palette, and the classic combination of exposed concrete and plywood joinery lends texture and interest to the open plan spaces. The potential austerity of these solid materials is offset by carefully plotted green spaces, which punctuate the floorplan of both upper and lower levels, inside and out. The top floor sleeping quarters overlook a rooftop cactus garden, and the main communal living area is bookended by the lush green northern patio and breathtaking southern deck overlooking the water.

‘The design gives as much connection or separation as we all need’, explains Emili. ‘At first my husband joked that I’d designed a hotel! But he now realises how well the arrangement works.’

Multi-generational living at its finest!

Discover more projects from Fox Johnston here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net