This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

An Architect’s Reworking Of Sir Roy Grounds’ Former Balmain Home

Architecture

In the early 1970s, a young architect named Stuart Whitelaw was engaged by Marr Grounds – a sculptor and lecturer in architecture who Stuart worked with at the University of Sydney – to design his personal home.

Upon seeing the proposed design, Marr Grounds’ father, famed architect Sir Roy Grounds, decided to buy the house next door, that Stuart was also designing. 

A long and complicated history ensued (which Stuart has extensively documented), but today, the latter of these two heritage-protected homes belongs to architect Conrad Johnston, director of Fox Johnston.

Conrad recently re-engineered the house for contemporary family life, turning what was originally  a two bedroom home into one with four-bedrooms and an additional two-bedroom granny flat. The updated home offers stronger connections to landscape and place, while maintaining the integrity of the heritage structure.

11th June, 2021

Sahara Cushion by Greg Natale. Gubi Collar pendant light from Cult. Banquet upholstery by Atelier Furniture. Acacia Rug (Galapagos) by Armadillo and Co.. Cesca Vintage Cantilever Chairs available at @retrofurnitureamigo. Sculpture Counterbalance No.27 by Odette Ireland available at Curatorial and Co. Roger McLay Kone chairs. ‘Macleay’ Cushion by Greg Natale. Artwork on banquet is ‘Poke’ by Stefania Reynolds. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Built in furniture was designed to maximise the home’s narrow plan. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The house wraps around a wild internal courtyard which can be viewed from all three levels through extensive glazing. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

‘The Flume’ side table available at Blu Dot. Sculpture available at Planet Furniture. Acacia Rug (Galapagos) by Armadillo and co. Table sculpture: ‘Intersction’ by Kate Banazi available at Curatorial and Co. Ming’s Heat arm chair from Cult. ‘Flume’ round coffee table available at Blu Dot. Wasirir 321 Cushion from Missoni Home. Spence and Lyda Joaquim Side Table by Tacchini available at Stylecraft. Plateau side table available at Blu Dot. Marble bowl by Greg Natale. Aquarius cushion by Greg Natale. Lampe de Marseille available at Cult. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Pinks, caramels and chocolatey browns make up the warm, rich colour palette. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The house opens up to the world outside via sliding glass doors. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Ceramic bowl form Planet Furniture. Large resin horn by Dinosaur Designs. Fruit bowl by Dinosaur Designs. Ceiling lights by Est Lighting and Tovo Lighting. 750 black high stools by Grazia and Co. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Blonde timber, charcoal ceilings and grey concrete create a dramatic interplay between light and dark in the kitchen. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Andora – Terrazo Rug by Armadillo and Co. Theia P by Marset at Est Lighting. Muse Velvet Ottoman by Sarah Ellison. Everett side plate available at Planet Furniture. Black and white vases by Alexandra Standen at Chalk Horse Gallery. Tidal chair cushion High Back by Tait. Outdoor Volley Chair, Frame Colour Dark Bronze Electro, Rope Colour Grey by Tait Outdoor. Volley Dining Table Mesh, Frame Colour Dark Bronze Electro by Tait Outdoor. ‘Muse’ velvet couch by Sarah Ellison. Windhoek #160 Pouf by MISSONI HOME at Spence and Lyda. Coffee table book from Oscar & Friends. Resin bold pearl vase by Dinosaur Designs. Terracotta Vase by Garden life. Wasirir 321 Cushion by Missoni Home from Spence and Lyda. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

LA vibes with these washed white surfaces, smooth concrete, and low plush furniture. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Pockets of landscaped garden intervene the architecture at every opportunity, here overshadowed by an enormous existing tree! Photo – Anson Smart.

Perfect sunny light filters through the top sitting room. Pillow cases by Cultiver. Coffee table books available at Oscar & Friends. High vase available at Dinosaur Designs. Ceiling light by Est Lighting. Modernist armchair with fur hide by Great Dane. Plateau coffee table available at Blu Dot. Throw available at Saarde. Smaller vase available from Greg Natale. Upholstery by Atelier Furniture. Large Resin ‘Beetle Bowl’ by Dinosaur Designs. ‘Sequence’ round table available at Cult. Summer Swivel chair by Grazia & co. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The view from the pool! Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The view out over the bay catches neighbouring palms. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Pillow cases by Cultiver. Bedside table by Hans J. Wegner. Bedside at Great Dane. Voltra by Est Lighting. Armchair Dark by Great. ‘Drane’ pillow cases by Cultiver. ‘Kadir’ linen cushion by Saarde. Olive flat sheet by Cultiver. King fit sheet by Cultiver. Vintage vase available at Rudi Rocket. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Blonde timber and magenta tiles characterise the main bathroom. Inax Yuki tiles by Artedomus. Terrazzo tiles from Onsite. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

A view down the corridor showcases the feast of muted colours and textures in the house. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

A shower wedge! Inax Yuki tiles by Artedomus. Terrazzo tiles from Onsite.Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Luxe vibes in this rich red bathroom. The tiles are offset by the skylight and pastel terrazzo. Inax Yuki tiles by Artedomus. Terrazzo tiles from Onsite. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The views across Parramatta River feel close enough to touch. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The pool juts out to the edge of the property, almost hanging over the water! Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Perfect Sydney light bounces off the house and the water. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

The street frontage betrays none of the delihts that lie beyond! Custom brass sign made by Simon Bethune at 175 Design. Photo – Anson Smart. Styling – Stanwix Studios

Amelia Barnes
Friday 11th June 2021

‘It has been transformed from a two-bedroom home that was very difficult to live into a four-bedroom (with an additional two-bedroom granny flat) family home that connects with the landscape.’ – Conrad Johnston

Director of Fox Johnston architects, Conrad Johnston, knew this 1970s Balmain home was not fit for his young family… yet. The property had a predominantly south-facing aspect and only two bedrooms, but the general location and architectural challenge of reinvigorating such a compelling, historically signficant home proved too intriguing for Conrad to pass up.

‘The qualities of the house which attracted us were the materiality, the large glazed sections, the siting and the rawness of the expression,’ he says. ‘The primary sense of the house was texture and natural light – these are the two ingredients which are key to residential architecture in my view.’ 

The house was originally designed by architect Stuart Whitelaw for one of Australia’s most renowned architects, Sir Roy Grounds, and his wife Lady Alice Bettine Grounds.

Built at a 45 degree angle to the street, the home zig-zags along its southern boundary to accommodate existing side-step trees and sandstone outcrops. Its three-storey concrete pillar and slab construction was infilled with floor-to-ceiling fixed glass. 

Except for a 1980s garage addition, the original design remained largely intact at the time of Conrad’s purchasing. That being said, the timber cladding and windows were beyond repair, and much of the original interior had been covered up and painted. 

There was also the issue of an uninsulated roof, and the house having no openable windows to the south and west facades, resulting in extreme heat gain in summer and loss in winter.

Given the home’s heritage significance, a series of clever yet sympathetic updates were devised to overcome these issues and improve liveability.

Conrad’s interventions focused on restoring the superstructure; better connecting the home to the landscape; converting lower-ground space (previously housing an air-conditioning plant) into two bedrooms; replacing the ‘80s garage with a new structure and apartment for multigenerational living; and softening the geometry of the original grid design. 

The pool is a new addition offering prime views across Parramatta River, while the internal courtyard was planted with rainforest species. 

The most challenging element of this project was enlarging the feel of the rigid 3.4 metre wide house, which has been achieved via a new ground floor plane. ‘The other device was to build in all the furniture and to treat the fit out as one would fit out a narrow boat.  The furniture is built in and pushed to the perimeter, creating the illusion of extra space and maximising the narrow floor plate,’ says Conrad. 

While from the outset the home appears relatively unchanged, Conrad says the impact of the changes for his family have been dramatic.

‘It has been transformed from a two-bedroom home that was very difficult to live into a four-bedroom (with an additional two-bedroom granny flat) family home that connects with the landscape, performs very well environmentally, and offers a robust and textural home that will be suitable for the extended family into the future.’ 

This Week

Creative People

How Powerhouse Designer, Yuwaalaraay Woman Lucy Simpson Is Making Waves

How the Sydney based designer weaves stories of Country and culture into her collaborations with leading brands, such as JAG and Breville.
Jirra Lulla Harvey

Architecture

A Brazilian-Inspired Update Of A 1920s Brisbane Cottage

Bowen by Shaun Lockyer Architects elevates a 1920s cottage with a stunning renovation and addition.

Studio Visit

Dani McKenzie’s Detailed Paintings Look Like Familiar Photographs

The Melbourne artist recreates local streetscapes and everyday scenes, filled with intimate reminders of our own inner-worlds.
Christina Karras

Sustainable Homes

How An Architect Turned This 1930s Bungalow Into A Sustainable Family Haven

Architect Emily Sandstrom's warm family home runs off solar power, with a vegetable garden and impressive entertaining area hidden inside!
Christina Karras

Homes

An Owner-Designed Renovation Of A 1970s South Yarra Apartment

How designers Lola Digby-Diercks and Sebastian Owen completely transformed their South Yarra apartment in just six months.

Interiors

An Off-Grid, Modern Country Farmhouse In Regional Victoria

Step inside a newly built farmhouse that's fully off the grid, with all the classic features of an old country home.
Christina Karras
  4 hours ago

On The Market

A Rare Robin Boyd House Is Available To Rent

You could be the next tenant of this house, designed by Australia's most famous architect.

Design Eye

How to Create Fun + Playful Interiors, With Studio Joy’s Kristel Marshall

The Melbourne designer shares how to balance minimalism and maximalism with playful colours and bold furniture – in a way that won't date!...
Christina Karras

Interiors

Before + After: A Dated Brick Home Turned Coastal Holiday Pad

Dark timber and dated tiles have been replaced with light and bright interiors in this Mornington Peninsula beach house.
Christina Karras

Shopping

Shop The Chunky, Colourful Furniture You’ve Seen All Over The Internet

Meet the tradie brothers behind FEARON, who have been making quirky, must-have furniture that blends fun with functionality!
Christina Karras

Family

Journalist Nas Campanella On Parenting With Blindness + Building Disability Awareness

How ABC journalist Nas Campanella navigates motherhood as a person living with blindness and Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

Homes

A Cosy Retro Rental In Melbourne’s North West

Dog lovers Michelle Campbell and Katy Louise share their warm and welcoming rented home in Maidstone.

Creative People

A Noosa Design Studio's Chic New Office, Inside A Former 80s Club

CLO Studios' have transformed an old music club into their dreamy new office space, and it's filled with eclectic design inspiration!
Christina Karras

Art

10 Emerging, Affordable Artists You Need To Have On Your Watchlist!

From ethereal still lifes to striking ceramic work, and meticulous soft pastel drawings, these are the artists to start collecting now!

Art

9 Unmissable Exhibitions To See In 2023!

From NGV's Alexander McQueen exhibition, to a showcase of Frida Kahlo's works, here are the must-see exhibitions of the coming year.
Christina Karras
  12 hours ago

Similar Stories

Architecture

This Clever + Compact Bondi Home Feels Like A Never-Ending Holiday!

Fox Johnston architects managed to expand the footprint of this small and narrow Sydney site to create a generous, private haven!
02:40

Architecture

A Masterful Update Of New Zealand’s Famous Brake House

Inside the recently renovated Brake House (1976) – one of New Zealand’s most famous homes – featuring locally made wool carpets by Bre...

Architecture

A New Life For A Legacy Robin Boyd Home

The Richardson House in Toorak was designed by Robin Boyd in 1955. A jaw-dropping new renovation by Jolson restores it to its former glory!
Sasha Gattermayr

This Week

Architecture

A Brazilian-Inspired Update Of A 1920s Brisbane Cottage

Bowen by Shaun Lockyer Architects elevates a 1920s cottage with a stunning renovation and addition.

Creative People

A Noosa Design Studio's Chic New Office, Inside A Former 80s Club

CLO Studios' have transformed an old music club into their dreamy new office space, and it's filled with eclectic design inspiration!
Christina Karras

Art

9 Unmissable Exhibitions To See In 2023!

From NGV's Alexander McQueen exhibition, to a showcase of Frida Kahlo's works, here are the must-see exhibitions of the coming year.
Christina Karras
  12 hours ago

Art

10 Emerging, Affordable Artists You Need To Have On Your Watchlist!

From ethereal still lifes to striking ceramic work, and meticulous soft pastel drawings, these are the artists to start collecting now!

Interiors

An Off-Grid, Modern Country Farmhouse In Regional Victoria

Step inside a newly built farmhouse that's fully off the grid, with all the classic features of an old country home.
Christina Karras
  4 hours ago

Studio Visit

Dani McKenzie’s Detailed Paintings Look Like Familiar Photographs

The Melbourne artist recreates local streetscapes and everyday scenes, filled with intimate reminders of our own inner-worlds.
Christina Karras

Homes

A Cosy Retro Rental In Melbourne’s North West

Dog lovers Michelle Campbell and Katy Louise share their warm and welcoming rented home in Maidstone.

Family

Journalist Nas Campanella On Parenting With Blindness + Building Disability Awareness

How ABC journalist Nas Campanella navigates motherhood as a person living with blindness and Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

Design Eye

How to Create Fun + Playful Interiors, With Studio Joy’s Kristel Marshall

The Melbourne designer shares how to balance minimalism and maximalism with playful colours and bold furniture – in a way that won't date!...
Christina Karras

Interiors

Before + After: A Dated Brick Home Turned Coastal Holiday Pad

Dark timber and dated tiles have been replaced with light and bright interiors in this Mornington Peninsula beach house.
Christina Karras

Shopping

Shop The Chunky, Colourful Furniture You’ve Seen All Over The Internet

Meet the tradie brothers behind FEARON, who have been making quirky, must-have furniture that blends fun with functionality!
Christina Karras

Sustainable Homes

How An Architect Turned This 1930s Bungalow Into A Sustainable Family Haven

Architect Emily Sandstrom's warm family home runs off solar power, with a vegetable garden and impressive entertaining area hidden inside!
Christina Karras

Creative People

How Powerhouse Designer, Yuwaalaraay Woman Lucy Simpson Is Making Waves

How the Sydney based designer weaves stories of Country and culture into her collaborations with leading brands, such as JAG and Breville.
Jirra Lulla Harvey

On The Market

A Rare Robin Boyd House Is Available To Rent

You could be the next tenant of this house, designed by Australia's most famous architect.

Homes

An Owner-Designed Renovation Of A 1970s South Yarra Apartment

How designers Lola Digby-Diercks and Sebastian Owen completely transformed their South Yarra apartment in just six months.

Similar Stories

Architecture

This Clever + Compact Bondi Home Feels Like A Never-Ending Holiday!

Fox Johnston architects managed to expand the footprint of this small and narrow Sydney site to create a generous, private haven!
02:40

Architecture

A Masterful Update Of New Zealand’s Famous Brake House

Inside New Zealand’s iconic 1976 Brake House, featuring locally made wool carpets by Bremworth.

Architecture

A New Life For A Legacy Robin Boyd Home

The Richardson House in Toorak was designed by Robin Boyd in 1955. A jaw-dropping new renovation by Jolson restores it to its former glory!
Sasha Gattermayr

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