The Two Wall House by Woods Bagot
Habits House of the Year
Lilyfield, NSW, Australia
The Two Wall House by Woods Bagot, nominated for the Habitus House of the Year Award, explores a new terrace typology for urban living, creating a light-filled family home on an extremely narrow site in Lilyfield, Sydney.
The Two Wall House is an urban infill project, designed to occupy the space beside a grand two-storey Victorian terrace. The original house was purchased by Woods Bagot principle designer Domenic Alvaro and a friend with the intention of adding a second residence to the site, creating a home for each of the co-owners. In its original state, there was not a usable amount of land for the second house, so a solution was found in a new party wall, excavating 700mm into the original house and creating just enough space for a home modest in size yet surprisingly spacious. ‘The project proves that urban infill projects can create a comfortable, functional home for four without sacrificing location or the Australian dream of a backyard’, says Domenic.
The site is located in an increasingly dense urban area, characterised by single-story early-20th century cottages, so the original double-height Victorian terrace on the site was grand in this context. The Two Wall House nestles sympathetically against the larger terrace, its facade – almost hidden behind the large frangipani tree in the front garden plot – responding to the modest elevations of the original cottages. The pair of houses are described by Domenic as ‘two symbiotic properties.’ The new design’s contemporary origins, however, are reflected in the scaled-up dormer window and timber door, combined with the meticulous contemporary material palette of steel, glass, stone and zinc. Despite their differences in size, the two joined homes are quietly linked through subtle details, the steel fencing of the Two Wall House echoing the steel balcony balustrade of the adjoining home.
On entering the Two Wall House, the design begins a journey through light and space. While the Two Wall House’s facade is narrower than its neighbour, once inside, it takes advantage of the extra 700mm granted by the new party wall, creating an unexpected sense of space. At the entry, the ceiling height is 2.7m, however, the floor level steps down at two points between the front and back of the ground floor while the ceiling height stays level. This creates an expansive sense of volume by the time one enters the family room and the ceiling height reaches almost 4 metres. Running almost the full length of the home, a narrow skylight illuminates from above, penetrating light deep into the home and enhancing the impression of space.
The connection with the outdoors and the design’s overall attention to detail is critical to ensure the narrow dimensions do not impede the practicality or aesthetics of the home. ‘Custom-made joinery and detailing throughout primarily defines how the space between the two boundary walls is occupied’, says Domenic, ‘with the inclusion of bespoke storage in contrasting smoked oak and white, adjustable lighting tracks, scaled up timber door, an art wall and skylights working hard to ensure comfort and functionality’. At front of the house, a fully openable glass wall fills the sitting room with dappled light through the frangipani tree in the garden. At the rear, generous full-height sliding glass doors create a seamless connection with the courtyard and plunge pool.
Domenic likens the Two Wall House to a luxury apartment, in which spatial limitations are no impediment to high quality design and a luxurious lifestyle. By combining exceptional finishes with clever, flexible use of space, the Two Wall House delivers everything and more to its inhabitants. Beyond the plunge pool, a self-contained studio sits above the garage, making intelligent dual-use of a space otherwise only used for car parking. The second floor houses the three bedrooms, an ensuite and the elegant marble main bathroom. Downstairs, the front sitting room can double as a guest bedroom, with pull-down bed hidden in the dark joinery and a ground-floor powder room tucked unobtrusively off the hall. Each of these elements highlights that the impressive extent of the Two Wall House is belied by the modest facade and dramatic site restrictions.
As land in the cities becomes increasingly scarce, heritage and modern architecture must sit harmoniously side by side, and design must adapt to the restrictions on space. For Domenic, the Two Wall House typifies his work as designer and his approach to such changes in urban living. ‘The house demonstrates the pivotal role of architecture in ensuring our cities and suburbs continue to be liveable and beautiful places’, he says. ‘Comparable to city apartment living, it demonstrates that there are elegant ways to adapt to the needs of a growing population’.
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