Finding Synergy – Gesticulating Wildly by Carter Williamson Architects and Arent&Pyke
A sense of the artisanal radiates from prisms of coloured glass and curlicued timber work. White-painted window frames contain an assortment of glazed geometries, which reside beneath an origami-like topography of roof gables. These are the renditions of Australian domestic life circa 1917 and the context within which Carter Williamson Architects has reimagined this Federation bungalow in Sydney’s inner-western suburb of Ashfield.
That period home now extends to incorporate a pavilion-style accretion beyond its original volume – a contemporary addition which rises up, lending an impression of “a tall man standing at the back of the room gesticulating wildly.” Gesticulating Wildly is a home that nurtures a deep respect for its abiding Federation ambiance, which ultimately anchors it to its location within a heritage conservation area. The marriage of arts and crafts with Victorian design notes at its fore is, however, merely an overture to a recent architectural intervention that has projected the home into a new and entirely contemporary relevance.
Navigating and merging two distinct dialogues, the home simultaneously upholds the timeless relevance of its existing heritage rooms while casting a cohesive sense of quality and craftsmanship through into the new addition. “The Federation style and its pattern language is extremely well resolved,” says Principal Architect Shaun Carter from Carter Williamson Architects. “An architectural template exists that has great spatial qualities, and the organisation of the plan in the front rooms works really well.” It was the spaces at the back of the home that needed reinterpreting for today’s domestic discourse.
The name, “an ironic gesture to those who should know better,” says Shaun, is a perfectly articulated title that references the complex process of evolving built environments of heritage brevity and the sensitive navigation of the process by those tasked with the responsibility. Today, the home finds domestic and design focused resonance through the continuation of crafted details alongside eminent innovation and an enduring aesthetic aptitude.
Inside, the home is a light filled curation of space where led-light windows and period detailing sits comfortingly alongside contemporary materials and architectural form.
Gesticulating Wildly has been written by the pen of “many authors,” says Shaun, ensuring a cohesion born of like-minded, multi-disciplinary collaboration between building workshop Artechne, interior designers Arent&Pyke and Hugh Burnett Landscape Architect. “All of us design in context, and this is first and foremost the clients. They steer the process,” he explains. In this case, the clients were already deeply familiar with the area and its Australiana-driven heritage overlay, which has been amplified within their home. Lead light windows, meticulously resurrected, depict Australian flora while silvery green walls, creamy ceilings with intricate plasterwork, smooth local timbers, and honed marble impart native sentiment.
Outside, the home bends around a majestic paperbark gumtree at the centre of the block that denotes a “pivot point from the very suburban idea of streetscape to a very urban idea.” It is a notion that takes into account the evolution of the area, once an interlude between metropolitan and rural landscapes but now absorbed into Sydney’s ever-growing civic verve. This connection to the landscape, which has informed the Federation housing style in Australia from the beginning, is elevated further in Gesticulating Wildly through contemporary applications. An articulation of joinery echoes the craftsmanship of hand-tooled decorative elements in the heritage portion of the house, while instilling the modern elements with a quality ordinarily ingrained over long periods of time and intrinsically associated with nostalgia. It is this unexpected treatment of the comprehensive design essence that marks Gesticulating Wildly as a singularly enduring residential intervention.
The spatial flow and operation of the house, like its appearance, has been achieved via a respectful arbitration between old and new, beautiful and useful, and handmade versus innovative material manufacturing. A dance between theses design juxtapositions alongside the retention of a strong contextual foundation has allowed for the home’s new iteration.
Carter Williamson Architects has pulled seemingly disparate influences and masterfully knitted them together. A sunshine yellow palette gives way to a front room’s generous proportions, which temper the colour and underline the etymology of the word ‘lounge room’. The blunt honesty of exterior materials like bricks and slate are referenced in the home’s interior through accents of black steel detailing. Khanian windows strategically frame landscape compositions while allowing for an interplay between the two, such as the chiaroscuro effect of water painting shadows inside from the pool outside. These nuances, alongside eminent carpentry made all the more powerful for its subtlety, suggest that this is a home that truly nurtures the domestic chapters of life.