Interweaving of Old and New – JJ House by Bokey Grant Architects
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Like most Australian worker’s cottages, JJ House had been subject to questionable additions and considerable neglect over its lifetime. Unlike most contemporary renovations of such cottages, however, the project saw Bokey Grant Architects maintain the modest scale of the original, and meticulously stitch together the old and the new within the existing footprint.
JJ House is the home of Bokey Grant Architects director Jeffrey Grant, his wife and newborn daughter. While the design process began for “a much larger and more ambitious project, with no restraints other than council and state planning controls, reality set in budget-wise and we were also gifted with an impending nine-month deadline (actually six by the time it began),” Jeffrey recalls. Deciding to use these factors as a creative, rather than restrictive, force, “we set about creating a home that had all the design elements from the original scheme that could be achieved in both the budget we had and a reduced timeframe before our baby arrived,” he says.
The original cottage had been neglected over time, and some of its period detail stripped out. The couple were drawn to its charming street presence, however, and through the new design chose to retain some of the changes that had been made over its lifetime. The lean-to roof was kept, as were the steel posts that were put in place of the original timber verandah posts in the 1960s. Perhaps the most significant decision of all, however, was to not extend beyond the original footprint, so that the new home captures the modest scale of the worker’s cottage.
JJ House is the home of Bokey Grant Architects director Jeffrey Grant, his wife and newborn daughter.
“The house is only 108m² and we have squeezed in three bedrooms, a bathroom, laundry generous kitchen and living,” says Jeffrey. “What we call the new section is an infill in a way and we wanted it to be intentionally different but not contrasting – it had to be a seamless relationship which has been achieved subtly. It’s full of subtle details throughout which slowly reveal themselves.” The bedrooms, corridor and bathroom occupy the original heritage section, while the kitchen, living and dining spaces are situated beneath the lean-to roof. Asbestos walls needed to be removed, meaning that this rear section becomes functionally the new portion of the design.
Yet while there is undoubtedly a marked difference between the new and the old, the approach to this difference is more that of stitching together two different yet complementary fabrics to form a singular whole, rather than of sharply delineating the two. “In the heritage section, the walls are smooth, and the detail is given to above the eye line – above the picture rail datum,” says Jeffrey. “In the new section, we keep this datum idea running but flipped it around. Here, we give the walls texture and interest but keep the ceiling ‘hat’ smooth. It also helps make the ceilings feel taller than they are.”
“The house is only 108m² and we have squeezed in three bedrooms, a bathroom, laundry generous kitchen and living.”
Just as the scale of JJ House speaks to the modest size of the original worker’s cottage typology, the plan also retains much of the original, with the central loaded corridor leading down to the kitchen, living and dining at the rear. Unlike the contemporary open-plan shared space that has come to be expected of a terrace renovation, the project separates the kitchen somewhat from the living and dining space. “The kitchen, being the heart of most homes, had an important role in this project. It needed to work functionally but also be a beautiful space to occupy,” explains Jeffrey. “Early on we knew we wanted to try a different plan for the kitchen in which, we didn’t want an island and didn’t want it in the same space as the living and dining.” Within this plan, it was important to ensure the kitchen related to the other spaces so that it did not feel isolated. “We achieved this with the big external sliders that disappear completely, allowing it to feel like you’re cooking in the garden, and the mirror reflects the same garden into the kitchen, so you are always part of the larger space,” Jeffrey says. Viewing lines were also cut through the kitchen joinery, ensuring lines of sight provide a visual connection into the dining space.
The kitchen also needed to be efficient, “given we were being ambitious trying to squeeze so much into the plan,” Jeffrey says. This has been achieved with simple planning and Fisher & Paykel appliances – the integrated fridge sits seamlessly next to the hidden pantry and appliance store cupboard, and the integrated dishwasher is invisible within the timber joinery, while the induction cooktop also acts as a bench when not in use. The laundry is tucked away into a cupboard and houses the washer and heat pump dryer, stacked for spatial efficiency. “This cupboard shares the wall with the baby room. We can now say, they are both the quietest machines I’ve ever come across,” says Jeffrey.
As a Kiwi, Jeffrey had already had an affinity with Fisher & Paykel, and “for our house, we knew from the start we would be using their appliances.”
“With the doors shut you hear only a faint hum; these doors are only 12mm thick too. The drain pipe for the dryer is connected to the sink, so there is nothing to do other than clean the filter.” As a Kiwi, Jeffrey had already had an affinity with Fisher & Paykel, and “for our house, we knew from the start we would be using their appliances,” he recalls. “I have worked with Fisher & Paykel in the past and have always had great experiences with them. Their staff are always readily available and open to testing things, modifying things all for the best design outcome. I always recommend them to clients, the products have amazing R&D, but also have that Southern Hemisphere sense of elegant simplicity.”
Elegance and simplicity are ideals that, above all, define the project, and are key to the successful interweaving of old and new. In ten years designing residential architecture, Jeffrey says, “I try to always convince people to have less, so it was nice to exemplify that in our own home. Ever since we have lived here it has been fairly stripped back of decoration. In modern life where we are blasted with imagery and advertising in our public spaces, we see our home as a sanctuary.”