The genesis behind Steel House/Stone House was twofold, because it features two properties cleverly built onto one site.
Retallack Thompson director Jemima Retallack says the project began with the idea to create a home that could be ‘jointly owned and occupied by two families,’ including her own family, and her father’s.
‘We were looking to find a property which could provide a village-type arrangement where we could co-inhabit, [with] spaces for working, retreat, seclusion, and shared gathering,’ Jemima says.
Rather than starting from scratch, they found a narrow, heritage-listed terrace in Darlinghurst facing a busy main road with a quieter laneway at the rear.
‘It had a perfect amount of “undesirable” traits which kept the property value within reach, but these same unique quirks were where we saw the opportunities for the pretty unique situation we were looking to create,’ Jemima says.
The existing dwelling — dubbed Stone House — has been adapted into a two-bedroom house for Jemima and her family, with the ground floor reserved as a studio for her architectural practice. Meanwhile, Steel House was desgined as a smaller, rear-lane addition, behind a central garden space that’s become the ‘heart of the home’ where the two families come together.
‘[The garden] also acts as a green and ever changing buffer between the secondary dwelling living space and our office. When you come in off the busy street, it is a private oasis, which few people expect,’ Jemima says.
In the design process, Jemima says they ‘quickly learnt’ they needed to work with the sandstone of the original steel house, where the 500mm thick walls proved challenging. ‘We chiefly left the original house as it was and extended to the rear over the later 1930s brick intervention,’ she explains. Infilling the additional roof space created a new bedroom, which nods to the rich ‘layers’ of renovations past.
Retallack Thompson served as owner, builder, and architect for the project, but they also harnessed Jemima’s father’s talents as a ‘very skilled steel fabricator.’ He helped build many elements of the secondary dwelling’s purposefully minimalistic steel construction, where walls were kept to just 8mm at their thinnest in order to maximise internal space on the narrow site.
It also gives the second house a uniquely different profile to the look and feel of the original 1830s sandstone terrace. One is rugged and grand, combining the rocky walls with modern white joinery and a simple timber kitchen; while the other is slimline and subtle, finding enough space for a kitchen, living and bedroom inside the corrugated aluminium structure.
The project took two and a half years to complete. Jemima says it’s a success story proving how an ‘otherwise fairly under-utilised site’ can be transformed to bring new housing into the fabric of existing neighbourhoods.