This 1900s Cottage’s Charming Renovation Celebrates Timber At Every Turn

Before its renovation, this timber cottage in Balmain East had rotted weatherboards, a leaky roof and lights that turned into ‘fountains’ when it rained!

But the major reconstruction works gave Kitty Lee Architecture the opportunity to sympathetically rethink the layout of the house for modern living. The transformative renovation now successfully balances the original charm of the building with functional and contemporary features, tied together with rich timber interiors.

Christina Karras

Ferndale Cottage has been recently transformed in a renovation designed by Kitty Lee Architecture.

The vision behind the Balmain East home was to celebrate the beauty and versatility of timber’.

The kitchen cabinets are made spotted gum veneer to match the new spotted gum floorboards on the ground floor.

The new living space opens to a lush courtyard.

A timber portal was designed to frame and protect the new timber-framed doors.

Pared-back interiors ensure the timber features are the hero of the renovation.

The timber batons line the curved capsule of the guest bathroom.

The design cleverly conceals the bathroom, with bespoke handles that ‘spark joy’ when the secret room is revealed!

The new spaces are light and open.

A look into main bedroom, with timber-panelling on the walls.

A workspace is neatly positioned on the first floor.

There’s also a terrace tucked into the upper level.

The outdoor area provides another space for entertaining.

The beautiful cottage’s restored facade is filled with endearing details.

The classic verandah hides the modern renovation inside.

Christina Karras
20th of June 2023

Balmain East, NSW/Wangal Country

This Balmain East home is one of many endearing original timber cottages nestled into Sydney’s inner-west.

Built in the early 1900s, the house had been previously updated inside and out over the years. By 2021, it had definitely seen better days, prompting the owner to engage Kitty Lee Architecture to restore and renovate the old beauty.

‘The existing house needed to be urgently repaired: the timber weatherboards and decking were rotted, the roof and skylights leaked, and when it rained heavily, the lights turned into fountains,’ principal architect Kitty says.

Her vision was to ‘celebrate the beauty and versatility of timber’ in a contemporary redesign. They effectively rearranged the ground floor to create more usable and functional spaces, without adding any additional floor area. A new living room now replaces the old dining room, while the removal of an existing wall on the first floor created a ‘light-filled’ and open workspace.

It was especially important that the interiors didn’t feel out of place once you looked beyond the facade, which is laced in heritage details. Kitty sympathetically designed new curved elements that nod to the home’s existing arches of the hallway and front door glass panels, referenced in a unique timber-clad bathroom ‘capsule’ and round-edge island bench.

Located in the middle of the living space, the bathroom is a hero feature of the house, complete with ‘secret bespoke handles’ that open the concealed doors of the hidden room. ‘It’s a small detail, but it adds a sense of intrigue and I hope it sparks a little joy each time the room is revealed,’ Kitty notes.

The use of timber throughout the house also helps seamlessly blend old and new. While each space offers different wood accents, tactile details like leather pulls on the wardrobe doors, terrazzo mixed with 3D tiles in the kitchen, concrete basins in the bathrooms, and natural limestone floors ensure there’s a harmonious and cohesive feel across the renovation.

‘In the kitchen, the cabinets are made from a rich, warm-toned spotted gum veneer to match the new spotted gum floorboards on the ground floor. In contrast, other joinery doors have been painted to subtly highlight the grain and texture of the timber,’ Kitty says.

‘The overall effect is a warm and inviting home that is full of natural beauty.’

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