An Elegant Resurrection – Blackwattle by Allied Office

Words by Tiffany Jade
Architecture by Allied_Office
Photography by Clinton Weaver
Interior Design by Allied_Office

Blackwattle is the built manifestation of its owners’ socialist-leaning and gently pragmatic ideals. It is a home realised out of thoughtful consideration for both its century-long past and a future-focused relevance. These intents, intricately woven into the definition of sustainability, have been channelled into an elegant resurrection intended to endure for another 100 years.

Telly Theodore and Andrew Macdonald were travelling in Sri Lanka when they received an email saying they simply had to take a look at “this house that no-one wants to buy,” recalls Andrew. The house in question presented as a quaint single storey terrace with a street frontage that belied its dark and gloomy subterranean interior, the result of its site sloping down towards Sydney Harbour. Redemption was simply not within financial or visionary grasp of those who had previously viewed and dismissed it. That is, until the two architects walked through.

In its new iteration, Blackwattle harbours a perfect sense of repose, a sanguine intimacy that often eludes contemporary architectural interventions.

Allied_Office has been led by the steep slope of the landscape, rearranging spaces to compliment the site and opening up the home to receive an abundance light and air.

Telly and Andrew were able to immediately draw upon their vocational foundations to reach a structural epiphany that would ultimately unblock the potential of the site, whilst being able to articulate and document exactly how that would eventuate. The result is Blackwattle, a home that extended a personal partnership into a professional one – Allied_Office – and culminated in the resurrection of a 100-year-old building by transforming it for another century.

In its new iteration, Blackwattle harbours a perfect sense of repose, a sanguine intimacy that often eludes contemporary architectural interventions. The home’s atmosphere is an intricate response to its habitation and the particular patterns of its residents. Redolent of the moment between the in and out-take of breath, airy rooms hold a barely contained sense of anticipation for how they will be used and enjoyed. Shadows trace the topography of crumpled white bed sheets while sheer curtains gently dance with the late morning breeze. Impressions of light cast a glamour upon spaces singularly distinguished by austerity, while collectively culminating in a home that abandons prevaricated style to instead draw upon a purity of domestic, sustainable and timeless intents. “We made large-scale changes that may not be apparent as we overlaid them with a pragmatic dimension,” explains Andrew. In this vein, Blackwattle today stands as the sum of its original parts, holding true to the emotional memories contained within the striations of its recycled bricks and the patinated skin of its surfaces.

The ethics that have coaxed Blackwattle away from its origins are complexly intertwined with those that now anchor them to it.

Century-old brickwork sits side by side with contemporary materials and joinery, creating a conversation between past and present.

The ethics that have coaxed Blackwattle away from its origins are complexly intertwined with those that now anchor them to it. The heritage façade and an original front room at street level are the only parts that have been largely preserved, while the front yard has been excavated down to the lower level opening up the once dark and dreary basement to receive much-needed light and air. As the disturbance of century old dust motes have resettled, so too have the reused bricks beyond the retained, front portion of the house, which have been rebuilt into a new arrangement.

“The recycled bricks were dismantled and cleaned by the Grey Army, and French bagged to give a softness that to some might look unfinished, but we feel actually has quite a sophisticated patina,” says Telly. The resulting structure defines an interior more amenable to today’s living patterns while being constructed from the very same materials that silently witnessed domestic dialogues of the late 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries.

The home is now defined by its relation with the lush courtyard and the natural light that softly permeates the spaces.

Blackwattle is now composed of two buildings (the house and a studio over the garage) connected by a central garden courtyard. The site, located in Sydney’s inner-city Glebe, was once a quarry. The built environment today is bunkered down within the excavated sandstone. This descent from the front to the back of the building has informed a similarly banked interior that bestows a strong sense of place. As navigation from the front door pulls inhabitants through and down along the surface of the landscape, a natural anchoring and immersion brings a quality of connection to both the home itself and its locale. This context has led to the emergence of a newly resurrected residence with a street level that contains the bedrooms and descends to an open-plan lower level via a staircase that doubles as a lightwell.

“The excavated lightwell has been painted in a soft fleshy pink tone, which picks up and diffuses light through and into the kitchen area below,” says Telly. In what was once underground, a light-flooded expanse of living and kitchen now reside. A convergence of sober design aesthetics and a rich Australian palette reminiscent of the Sydney School mediate between black steel, white plaster, timber, brick and concrete. These are brought into an accord with etched stone and brass in a confident unity, whilst giving a nod to European sensibilities of intentional alliances between architecture and interiors.

Soaring ceiling heights bring an unexpected sense of modernity into the formerly humble cottage.

The carving out of the old quarry has bequeathed soaring ceiling heights. This, in combination with oversized steel-framed glass doors and contemporary artworks hung with a deep respect for the surrounding architecture, introduces a modernity and a blurring between interior and exterior that works so well in Australia’s temperate climate. In the absence of people, an enfilade of spaces suggest habitation that is balanced, unfussy, lucid and paced. And yet, “it’s an amazing house for socialising,” says Telly. “When you open the doors, you get a series of cascading terraces from front to back. Trying to balance that light is an exercise in materiality. The walls then come into themselves by softening the light while the dark floors act as a heat sink in winter.”

Telly and Andrew’s work is ultimately informed by a direct and literal understanding of ecology. “A building is something that gets handed down,” explains Telly. “If you can answer the broader spectrum of the needs, wants and desires of a built project, then hopefully the less it will be changed and take up resources in future.” In looking for this “best fit”, Telly and Andrew underline a point of view mixed into the moral foundations of the built industries – the idea that buildings must sustain not only life but also resources. That they must address and appease the most basic functional and emotional expectations while providing shelter, and that the longevity of meeting these pillars ensures their enduring nature. These notions are the defining intents driving Blackwattle’s metamorphosis and what has led to its culmination as a home that innately abides by nostalgic and innovative domestic qualities.