The Epic Contemporary Revival Of A Pre-Federation Homestead

When we covered the winners of this year’s Tasmanian Architecture Awards, one project on the shortlist particularly caught our attention. With a striking hybrid exterior and a floorplan that fused heritage architecture with contemporary additions, The Symmons Plains House by Cumulus Studio (the team behind the iconic Pumphouse Point Hotel restoration!) is a historic piece of pre-Federation architecture updated to capture awe and inspiration.

As well as restoring the austere Georgian homestead built in 1839 to its former glory, Cumulus Studio were required to make comfortable contemporary adjustments for the residence’s new custodians – a family of seven!

Sasha Gattermayr

The facade of the fully restored Georgian mansion on the historic Symmons Plains Estate. The house was erected in 1839. Photo – Anjie Blair.

Reinforced brick outbuildings now form new wings to the residence. Photo – Anjie Blair.

A glass tube connects the previously disparate group of heritage buildings into one large home. Photo – Anjie Blair.

The contemporary interventions house a series of new living spaces. Photo – Anjie Blair.

Georgian homes are traditionally segmented and not conducive to open plan living. While designing the restoration, Cumulus Studio took opening up the interiors without altering the exteriors into account. Photo – Anjie Blair.

A muted material palette highlights the grandeur of the house’s heritage bones. Bar stools made locally by Simon Ancher. Photo – Anjie Blair.

Bespoke steel detailing is the standout feature in the repurposed outbuildings. Black bench made locally by Simon Ancher. Photo – Anjie Blair.

Two intersections where old architecture meets a new intervention. Photo – Anjie Blair.

Previously uninhabitable outbuildings used for storage in a former life have been reinvigorated as new wings. Photo – Anjie Blair.

One wing of the new residence overlooks the pool. Photo – Anjie Blair.

Specialist stonemasons were commissioned from England to restore the old buildings using traditional lime mortar techniques. Photo – Anjie Blair.

The contemporary glass tube joining the brick outbuildings to the rear wing of the original residence can only be seen from the back of the property! Photo – Anjie Blair.

Sasha Gattermayr
14th of July 2020

The chance to design a contemporary addition to a heritage homestead on this scale is a rare one in Australia’s smallest state, namely because there’s limited heritage architecture to restore. But even for the architects behind the iconic Pumphouse Point Hotel restoration, the Symmons Plains Estate in the tiny town of Perth 20 kilometres south of Launceston (population just under 3,000!) was a unique proposition.

‘We understood the significance of the building within a broader Tasmanian context and wanted to see it restored,’ says Director of Cumulus Studio and principal architect, Todd Henderson. ‘We spent a lot of time thinking about options for open, contemporary living within a building that is essentially the antithesis of that.’

Georgian homes are typically divided into distinct rooms and recessive spaces, making it difficult to transform them to suit modern, open-plan living. In order to avoid ending up with a mock-heritage ambience, Todd and his team worked closely with Heritage Tasmania and a private heritage consultant on the plans for renewing the vast homestead. Specialist stonemasons were commissioned from England to assist with the exterior work, bringing with them traditional techniques for working with lime mortar.

‘Some of the concrete slabs we removed had used everything from bed spring to bits of old fence as reinforcement, which made it really difficult to chip away,’ recalls Todd of the beginnings of the restoration phase. Taking care to disturb as little of the existing brickwork as possible, structural interventions were kept to a minimum, with the architects opting to update and extend where possible rather than re-build. Clumsy, mid-century add-ons were removed in favour of the underlying heritage spaces they concealed, revitalising forgotten outbuildings previously utilised for storage and farm vehicles as new living zones.

The resulting structure is an exciting hybrid residence which accentuates the contrast between traditional architecture and contemporary design. A series of open glazed boxes connect the rear wing of the original home to the outbuildings, and house contemporary living spaces in the conduit space. While also providing connection to the outdoors, this glass tunnel unites the previously disparate cluster of brick buildings in a single residence. The bespoke steel detailing throughout is particularly notable (that floating staircase!) for its consistency with the functional, utilitarian material palette typical of pre-Federation brick farm buildings.

By opting to update and reactivate existing structures on the site, Cumulus Studio’s designs allow new contemporary insertions to sit cohesively beside the heritage buildings that inspired them. It’s the kind of sympathetic architecture that breathes new life into historical buildings for generations to come!

Discover more projects from Cumulus Studio here.

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