A small cottage on the southern side of the Balmain Ridge in Sydney has provided Andrew Burges Architects with the opportunity to draw sun deep into the floorplan, harnessing views on the upper levels and bringing the outside in, with open-planned living extending out into the garden.
Balmain Lightwell House had previously suffered the ignominy of unsympathetic alterations that stymied the floorplan and prohibited the property’s access to natural light. In response, the architects, working closely with local building and development company Ballast Point, conceived the extension to the 1890s workers cottage as a contemporary tower. A vertical light shaft above the stairs offers playful engagement with the space across the day, drawing natural light down throughout all three levels of the contemporary extension.
This light-filled central staircase not only traverses the new three-level structure at the rear of the property but connects the old and new parts of the house. It also allows the floorplan to be organised vertically, with master bedroom positioned at the top level, children’s bedrooms and rumpus room at the middle level and new living area on the ground floor, opening out onto the garden.
With multiple openings and sky lights bringing light deep into the property, the material character of the stairs is defined in two parts. A lightweight and perforated mesh on the upper levels maximises the efficiency of the skylights, forming a sculptural element as shadow play is cast across the void. The lower section of the house, meanwhile, sees the oak timber flooring extend from the entry hall, helping create a new mezzanine lounge room above the kitchen, a bridge connection to the tower and a passage to the living areas below.
These new living areas employ a simple palette consisting white walls, oak joinery and a polished structural concrete slab. This concrete slab turns up at the perimeter, forming both a bench-height datum that anchors the bottom floor to the ground and creates an emphasised connection to the garden. Essential off-street parking is afforded at the rear of the property, as a series of concrete steppers between the garden and parking spaces balances this need whilst also inviting a more flexible approach, using the car spaces as an extension of the back garden that becomes a place to entertain.
While remaining respectful to the original and heritage elements of the property Balmain Lightwell House succeeds through its daring approach. Incorporating contemporary considerations such as lighting and a flexible floorplan the project brings the previously unassuming site to life.