A Sunny Sensibility – Cranbrook Road by Housed Architects

Words by Millie Thwaites
Photography by Murray Fredericks
Interior Design by Housed Architects
Landscaping Design by Dangar Barin Smith
Joinery by Taylor Made

Cranbrook Road by Housed Architects is a contemporary reinterpretation of a mid-century home originally designed by Stephen Gergely. Located in Bellevue Hill with an aspect towards Sydney’s glistening harbour, this home illustrates an imaginative reworking of a heritage building which rises to the liveliness of the family that resides within its walls.

The original 1950s-era dwelling is defined by two pavilions sitting perpendicular to one another on a sloping block, hugging a lawned area and a swimming pool. As Nanna Lesiuk of Housed Architects reflects, though the existing form held great potential, she and the clients – a young family living between Sydney and New York – identified a need for an informed architectural touch to bring this mid-century gem into the 21st Century. “There’s something quirky and joyful about the geometry of this house,” she shares. “However, the bathrooms leaked, everything was drafty and the floors were wonky, so we needed to make it liveable again.” Thus, her scope focused on retaining as much of the home’s original character as possible by utilising the footprint and taking cues from its modernist design ideals.

“There’s something quirky and joyful about the geometry of this house,” Nanna Lesiuk of Housed Architects shares. “However, the bathrooms leaked, everything was drafty and the floors were wonky, so we needed to make it liveable again.”

Interestingly, the front door, which is accessed via a path stretching the length of the swimming pool, is located in the crook where the two pavilions meet. This positioning and resulting arrival sequence allows the house to reveal itself wholly, opening with ease to guests. The sleeping pavilion stretches back towards the street and the primary living pavilion juts out at a right angle. Given the site’s gradual incline, the two double-storey pavilions appear to dovetail into one another across multiple levels. The visual effect of these two forms meeting is a pleasing play of geometries, yet the full complexity of this dance is hidden and as such, the experience of it is breezy and effortless. The project’s builder and regular Housed Architects collaborator, The Construction Connection, contributed significantly to this prevailing seamlessness. As Nanna says, a trusting rapport and willingness to experiment – two attributes also expressed by the clients – made for a promising springboard.

The bulk of Nanna’s work was contained within the primary living pavilion, which features an open plan kitchen, living and dining area on the lower level with a main suite and roof garden above. Nanna describes the internal palette as “Sydney harbourside urbane” for its blend of richness and lustre. There is scalloped walnut cabinetry, glass bricks, chrome elements and natural stone (the shower screen in the main ensuite is a 30-milliemetre-thick vertical slab of marble) juxtaposed with sandstone, terrazzo, white steel and light timber chevron flooring (a nod to the original parquetry floors). Though layered, it is cohesive; an effect Nanna cites as integral to the project’s holistic identity. “It’s about taking an idea from the foundations to the cooktop and the light fittings, and building on a family of materials.”

A large, circular skylight acts as a halo above the primary living area, flooding pockets deep into the plan with Sydney’s inimitable light. Further, the indoor spaces open directly onto a deep outdoor terrace followed by a grassy expanse which hovers like a fixed lid over the top end of the swimming pool. Cleverly, this balcony-like design and its curved underside allows for an outdoor area that feels generous and inviting, without curtailing the size of the pool. It is a smart use of space, one which undoubtedly enhances the congenial feeling in this crucial part of the home. In addition, it adds an element of playfulness reflective of the clients’ lifestyle and the home’s lineage in an era of architecture recognised for its measured yet spirited design ideals. The circular deck at the pool’s far end, which Nanna has dubbed “the lily pad” also sits nicely within this rationale.

Consistent with this project’s interplay of abstract geometries, there are surprising pockets of garden around the home’s perimeter (a result of the dwelling’s footprint being slightly skewed in relation to the boundary). These precious slices of outdoor space have been aptly addressed by landscape architect and another long-term collaborator, Dangar Barin Smith, and the practice’s nuanced response to planting increases the home’s connection to landscape. As Nanna says, “it was the icing on the cake working with Dangar Barin Smith,” adding, “you can really see how they’ve brought the green in and anchored the home to its setting.” There are gardens abutting the hillside overflowing with lush natives; the grassy expanse above the pool is appealing in its sheer simplicity; and the pebbled roof garden with natives feels fitting for the home’s modernist origins and sub-tropical clime.

This home exudes a sunny sensibility, gleaned from its stunning harbourside location and convivial design response. Though dignified in its architectural detail, there is a sense that Cranbrook Road will swiftly become an easy backdrop to family life: children will play on the lily pad, family and friends will linger a while, and every moment will be savoured within these old and new walls.