Dr Billy Gruner (artist, curator and owner of West Projects) and artist Sarah Keighery had no idea who designed their home when they first came across it 15 years ago. The couple were on a road trip to the Blue Mountains at the time, and the 1960s house stopped them in their tracks.
‘It was very futuristic looking. As a fan of Le Corbusier, it seemed similar,’ says Sarah. ‘It was love at first sight.’
Architect Ken Woolley eventually identified the house as the work of Nino Sydney – the Croatian-born architect and creator of the ‘beachcomber’, who worked as the chief architect for Lendlease for 12 years.
Following a profile on the house (cleverly titled ‘Finding Nino’) in 2013, Billy says other beachcomber owners began reaching out. Turns out, the architect had designed approximately 200 houses in this beachcomber style, 118 of which still stand today.
‘No one seemed to know who Nino was even a few years ago,’ says Billy. ‘The floodgates finally opened.’
Ever since, there’s been growing interest in beachcombers from architecture enthusiasts who applaud their futuristic rectangular shape, elevated position, and energy-efficient design. Nino was one of the first architects to create simple, affordable and practical designer homes accessible to the ordinary Australian.
Billy and Sarah are only the second owners of this Faulconbridge house, which needed some love at the time of purchasing. They eventually met with Nino, who assured Billy and Sarah that the house could be restored without a large budget or architect. ‘He told us to put our money away,’ says Billy.
Nino instead advised Sarah and Billy how to repair the home’s existing features, such as the ceiling beams damaged by white ants. The restoration was so successful, it went on to win the top prize at the 2015 National Trust Heritage Awards.
Not interested in disrupting the original design, Billy and Sarah are reluctantly selling their home in search of a studio and larger space for their work. The couple desperately hope the house will end up in the hands of another modernist enthusiast who will appreciate Nino’s forward thinking design for years to come.
‘It’s been a really gorgeous house to live in,’ says Sarah.
32 Russell Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW is for sale through Modern House.