Reinterpreting History – Paddington Residence by Retallack Thompson
Balancing the new and the existing, Paddington House respectfully engages with the past and expresses an innate honesty in its insertions. Retallack Thompson cleverly reworks the interior plan while honouring the Victorian terrace’s history through a handcrafted approach.
Aligned as part of three row houses in the same-named inner Sydney locale, Paddington House forms an integral contribution to the historical character of the area. Originally designed and built in the Victorian period, the ornate façade presented to the street retains the familiar rhythm of its origins. Like most, the multi-level terrace home had become endowed with a more recent extension to the rear, which sat ill-fitting to both the original form and its delicate detailing. Optimising the potential of the site while constrained by strict heritage overlays, Retallack Thompson was engaged to reactivate the floor plan and transform the two-bedroom home into a more fitting three-bedroom residence for its young family. “What defines this home,” says Jemima Retallack, Co-Director of the practice, “is a search for amenity – a repeated pattern. It had to work for its owners, and it had to work for their atypical zoning and how they wanted to live.”
As the home sits within a conservation area, the existing elements needed to be retained and the new contained within the existing volume. “There wasn’t much room to move,” says Jemima. “We could only reconfigure space internally.” After evaluating how the family lived, the age of the children, and bathing and dining considerations, the staircase from the previous early 1990s alteration was relocated through a conversion of the first floor bathroom, which was moved downstairs. A previously wasted thoroughfare space to the master bedroom at the rear of the upper level now accommodates the relocated staircase. This space also allows for the new smaller ensuite, which has been stripped back to the bare essentials. “The solution was to create almost a hotel bathroom,” Jemima explains, “with a shower room on one side and a toilet on the other – concealing the entry behind a seamless door in the corridor space.”
With the extents of the home already established by the original form, the challenge was to work within the existing structure and bring light, flow and a sense of separation into the building. In such linear and narrowly flanked houses, a focus on drawing light down across multiple levels allows the home to breathe. Working with the existing skylights, “some very deliberate cut-outs and niches allow for natural light to enter each of the internal spaces – these allow for an awareness of time of the day and to experience the passing of the weather,” Jemima says. She explains that the particular aim was to create a sense of focus at the centre of the home, which was achieved by a large oculus skylight above the hallway “to create an almost public area out of the circulation space – separating the bedrooms and creating a natural hierarchy inside.”
Previously looking out onto storage space, the rear outlook was redefined by carefully sculpted joinery within the kitchen and living spaces, with punctuations to bring light in at various angles. “We simplified our approach,” Jemima explains, “allowing for openings to make a better connection to the courtyard space that would feed up into the garden – instead of the view looking directly into the garage, we saw this as an opportunity to create a dedicated ‘writer’s room’ of sorts, with a desk space within the garden.” By adopting a less formal approach than the home proper, the writer’s room becomes an extension of the utilitarian garage space, with more honest and raw materiality. “We wanted it to be one object,” Jemima adds, “where we created its own little structure made from essentially one shelf, allowing it to be a casual space, separated from the happenings of the home.” Planted when the owners originally purchased the house, the crepe myrtle tree became a protected centrepiece that preserves a connection to the site, with the writer’s room designed to wrap around it.
Though the original façade and detailing were refurbished and elevated, the extension added in the 1990s had stripped the interior of any other heritage detail. While the interior is therefore not defined by original features, the Victorian qualities of the terrace are extended by new elements handcrafted by various trades and makers, many with a background in boat building. “There was a desire to enhance the Victorian heritage and legacy,” Jemima reflects, “and although a lot of the ornateness has been removed, we integrated elements such as the routing of detailing and the use of timber and lining boards together with the hand-curved timber, because we wanted to bring back some of the qualities and charm of the original Victorian era.” The hand-painting of timber joinery upstairs together with hand-grooved features express a considered sculptural approach, whilst also stripping back to the original bones of the home.
As an offering of balance, the new does not compete with the old; instead it complements and reinterprets the principles at its core. “In everything that we did, we wanted it to have an honest and protective quality to it – with anything new being raw and natural, and the outdoor areas acting as an extension of being indoors with unadorned materials,” Jemima says. Evolving the existing instead of contrasting with it, the new works feel linked to the home’s origins. Considered, responsive and agile, Paddington House reinforces a sense of integrity and lineage.