Richly Warm – Birchgrove House by Brian Zulaikha of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer
Merging the existing quirks and oddities of the original Victorian-era home with a focus on rich and warming materiality, the lineage of Birchgrove House is given a new lease. Brian Zulaikha of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer brings a respectful embrace of the existing together with an exploration of the textural to propose an experimental and unique home in the process.
In the same-named inner Sydney locale, Birchgrove House sits nestled amongst an established network of similar Victorian-era homes that intertwine with alterations and additions that span time and bind them together in a unique way. In reimagining how the home could be opened up and given new purpose, the proposal seeks to integrate the past and existing features, showcasing them amongst a focus on warmth. A palette of rich and textural elements naturally ensues, with the multilevel home sculpted to both fit an efficient brief and optimise staggered levels and a weighted connection to site. Despite its tight site parameters, Brian Zulaikha of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer draws in the natural and creates key connections beyond the bounding edges of the home to engage the landscape as an extension of the home.
Built by Reform Construction, together with Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture, Birchgrove House becomes a highly crafted iteration of its previous self. Despite its harbour-front location though, the previous home was burdened with the familiar inherited lack of light and formally rigid planning that needed to be remodelled to align with a contemporary sensibility. Through a honed focus on retaining the original framework, an outward redirection on the green and open space forms a key approach. A tiered series of platforms animates the landscaping and is carried through into the interior, allowing a naturally broken up traversing of the site. Separate garden spaces throughout then add a sense of relief.
Timber and polished concrete form the main palette for the new, while generous spans of glazing ensure uninterrupted visual connections across thresholds. The textural and warm nature of the spotted gum timber becomes a recognisable highlight of the home, with brick and copper adding welcomed accents. The intent for the garden to grow with the family and allow the provision of a substructure for it to engage with the site, ensures the home will evolve in place. Growth and a sense of fluidity are the foundations of the design, and as the home opens to the north it welcomes in the surrounds, while on the lower levels burrowing itself into its site.