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.’