Humility and Conviction – Paperbark Bondi by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects
Located on a prominent corner in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Paperbark Bondi by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects is an elegant and welcoming family home. Taking its name from the trees lining the street and visual cues from the existing bungalow’s heritage, the architecture deciphers a blend of humility and conviction that feels just as relevant to the Madeleine Blanchfield Architects portfolio as it does to the clients’ lifestyle and the home’s immediate context.
The existing interwar bungalow holds significant heritage value, and yet Paperbark Bondi’s most enduring feature is not its charming front façade or its original box timber casement windows; it is, in fact, the rare black volcanic stone boundary wall bordering its edges. As Director Madeleine Blanchfield offers, this masonry wall is “ostensibly more of a feature in the public realm than the relatively plain, dark brick heritage-listed bungalow it bounds. It’s perhaps more loved and well known by Bondi locals than the home itself.” Madeleine and the project architect, Nick Channon, are two such locals, and as a result, their architectural response is layered with this personal affinity.
Integrating the boundary wall into the design story and creating a new pavilion to the rear of the property for a young family of four – who, Madeleine describes, “are warm and fun and part of the Bondi community” – were this project’s driving forces. As Madeleine adds, one of the biggest challenges was creating “a two-storey addition that didn’t dominate the original single-storey house.” The sympathetic approach to materiality and respect for existing architectural value plays heavily into the response. More specifically, the volcanic stone wall – which stretches the length of the site – acts as a physical conduit, and the charred timber cladding on the two-storey rear pavilion references the masonry’s distinct charcoal hue. “The effect is a series of black boxes that present like a shadow to the original building as the sun moves across the site during the day,” Madeleine shares.
The decision to create a clear delineation between old and new was made early in the design process, and the architectural outcome is undoubtedly stronger for this clarity. The new pavilion is linked to the existing via a minimal glazed insertion sitting beneath the gutter line; as Madeleine says, “everything to the east of the connection presents as a new contemporary addition, whereas everything to the west has been restored to its original detail.” Remedial works to the existing dwelling were extensive and involved removing unoriginal fabric and restoring and reinstating the original ornate cornicing throughout. Resultingly, the front rooms exude an elegance equal to the grandeur of the home’s lineage, with elaborate woodwork and materials that “complement rather than detract from” the original features. Though grand, there is an intimacy here – views to the surrounding streetscape give the home a certain amenability, and the even, restful palette is a reminder of the thoughtful works that have ensued within.
As Madeleine attests, “this project aligns with our ethos of ultimately making the most of a site and reflecting the character of the clients.” She explains, “we arrive with no preconceived ideas or agenda and use clear, clean and cleverly resolved planning to ensure the best day-to-day experience within.”
At the rear, the interior palette comprises light, breezy tones and natural materials such as Australian hardwoods, travertine and leather. Whilst undoubtedly luxurious, it feels relatable and familiar given the proximity to the beach. The floor level in this zone is stepped down, and as such, the volcanic stone wall to the south provides additional privacy from the street. Consequently, this lower floor level also creates additional height, bringing a generosity of space to this primary living area. It is a move that the client – also the project’s interior decorator – refers to as a “genius play” by the architects. Given the cohesiveness in the palette from front to back, it is this sense of openness that provides important demarcation. “The distinction is one of the main experiences and architectural features, and it amplifies the qualities of each,” Madeleine says.
As well as the considered sequence of spaces and the materiality, there are various other moments that speak directly to the clients’ brief and the existing conditions. As Madeleine attests, “this project aligns with our ethos of ultimately making the most of a site and reflecting the character of the clients.” She explains, “we arrive with no preconceived ideas or agenda and use clear, clean and cleverly resolved planning to ensure the best day-to-day experience within.” This can be seen in the careful interpretation of the clients’ preferences and the specificity of the spaces, both old and new. A particularly engaging example of this rationale is the design of the rear garage, which, separated from the primary living area by a grassy patch, features a glass façade revealing the clients’ vintage car. Effortlessly executed and ever so slightly dramatic, this element neatly illustrates Madeleine Blanchfield Architects’s dynamic and personal approach.
The decision to create a clear delineation between old and new was made early in the design process, and the architectural outcome is undoubtedly stronger for this clarity.
Whilst the architects’ commitment to eschewing preconceived ideas upon the commencement of a project holds true at Paperbark Bondi, it is evident that their affinity for this home, and the fondness developed for their clients, permeate the outcome. On a technical and material level, it is indeed an intelligently conceived renovation and extension, but perhaps the richer consequence here speaks to how human intuition can uphold and elevate the built form.