A Tiny 1900s Workers Cottage, Sympathetically Restored For A New Era

Stewart Smith of Smith Architects was determined to retain the original structure of this tiny workers cottage in Blackheath, NSW. So much so, instead of extending it – he stripped back the ‘tacked on’ rooms, to downsize the 50sqm building to its original 28sqm footprint.

With nods to its history (plus some 21st century updates!), Little Black Cabin demonstrates how a derelict building can be salvaged and updated for modern life, to live another 100 years.

Bea Taylor

Contrast of light and dark materials brings depth to the compact space. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

The front of the cabin features the original bullnose roof. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

A large square window on the back side of the cabin maximises light in the small space. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

The 28sqm cabin’s kitchen feels large beyond its compact design. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

The kitchen features Blackbutt solid and veneer cabinets built by Woodview Joinery and KWB Kitchens. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

The cabin’s original exterior walls are exposed on the interior, a nod to the building’s history. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

Smith Architects retained the original internal floors, with no finish added. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

Verdant green tiles in the bathroom reflects the little cabin’s surroundings. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

Double-glazed windows help to future-proof the little cabin. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

Recycled bricks from the original building have been used at the base of the structure. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

Shou sugi ban-charred cladding wraps the exterior of the restored cottage. Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

The bull-nose roof that was originally at the back of the house has been flipped to the front by Smith Architects.  Photo by – Clinton Weaver.

Bea Taylor
7th of February 2022

When architect Stewart Smith of Smith Architects first laid eyes on the early 1900s workers cottage in Blackheath, NSW, it was dilapidated and almost in ruins. Despite its size, the property presented an enormous task to restore, for Stewart was determined to retain the original form and character of the cottage.   

For Stewart, restoring this home meant making it not bigger, but smaller. With a commitment to returning the home to its original scale, he took the 50sqm gable-roofed cottage with its two rooms, covered back deck and its later addition of a living room and kitchen tacked on to the front, and downsized it by almost half.  

After removing the kitchen and living space, which were in a dire condition, the  skeleton of the original two-room cottage was revealed. This then acted as the framework for the build of Little Black Cabin

Retaining the original structure allowed Stewart to salvage the building’s character. ‘We love saving old buildings,’ he says. ‘They have character and history that can’t be reproduced. It’s also best sustainable practice to reuse the materials.’ 

Smith Architects kept the existing timber wall frame of the cottage, and built a skeleton around it to hold the house together – and keep it stable in the high wind region. They then wrapped the exterior in charred timber cladding, which is BAL 29 fire rated. This allowed them to insulate the building and expose the original frame on the interior; ‘exposing the building’s history,’ Stewart explains. Recycled bricks from the original structure were also reused for the rebuild.

Naturally, being a 28sqm house, everything here has a place and nothing is superfluous. ‘Every nook, cupboard and shelf has a purpose,’ says Stewart. Long drawers under the bed allow for extra storage, as does an outdoor laundry cupboard. Inside the kitchen, small appliances, a drawer fridge and two-burner cooktop do the trick. 

Whilst none of the original cottage is visible from the exterior, the interior pays homage to its history. As Stewart explains, the objective was to give new life to the historic, yet dilapidated, cottage, ‘and let it age again for another 100 years.’ 

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