Renovation Project: Cowshed House
A moo-ving tribute to history found in an urban landscape
Multiple Award Winning Design
Dubbed Cowshed House, this project is a particularly special one. Designed by Carterwilliamson Architects, Cowshed House is an award-winning home, taking out places in several Australian Institute of Architects Awards along with a number of other competitions.
It’s lifecycle, from an industrial utility building to an inner-city urban home, has been a long and varied one and with this history. The Cowshed House brings a unique and storied character, which fits perfectly within its eclectic neighbourhood of Glebe, in Sydney’s inner west.
Carterwilliamson’s clients sought advice from the firm when initially looking to purchase the property. Presented with such a rare opportunity, the clients were urged to seize the location. Although dealing with a very modest footprint and a restrictive budget, the potential of the site excited all parties involved.
The Features Worth Keeping
Little was altered in a previous conversion from cowshed to home but with the property’s large, long, brick wall along the southern urban edge and sunny, sheltered courtyard, it was bursting with opportunity.
The clients’ brief, although based on a tight budget, required the expansion of the living, kitchen and dining rooms and the addition of an extra bedroom and bathroom. It called for hammocks in the children’s bedrooms and a new roof that wouldn’t leak — a nuisance brought about by a grandiose jacaranda tree’s leaves and flowers clogging the gutters.
Initial work started with the expansion of the floor plan from three to four metres. The footprint of the building remained largely the same, yet this gave the residents greater breathing room. The extra space also allowed for the expansion of the open-plan living area, which was an amalgamation of the existing rooms. Walls were demolished to create a generous L-shaped space that housed a sizable family room, living room and dining area capped by the kitchen set against the street corner. Each space flows from one to the next and all have an intimate connection to the interior courtyard, which provides bountiful sunlight and green space and acts as a natural extension to the living areas.
Bedrooms for the children, complete with hammocks, sit snugly in the return of the L-shaped floor plan. A vivid-red bathroom sitting on the pivot of the L is a nod to the colour of the Venezuelan flag and the clients’ heritage.
A mezzanine level has been constructed above the living area, providing ample room for a new master bedroom suite. The new architectural addition appears like a shopfront at the end of a row of terraces, which the design team says is “a good urban response that marks corner buildings as distinctive landmarks in an urban streetscape”.
A bold green-tiled ensuite finishes off the new internal spaces and, along with the red lower bathroom, is a vibrant hit of colour among the otherwise predominantly natural tones of the building’s materials.
The existing shed was rebuilt, standing in the same location as the former and consolidated with the main house to create a “grand private entrance” and complete the walled garden plan.
Adjusting the Roof Line
Special consideration with regards to the impressive jacaranda tree meant the team had to rethink ways to tackle the heavy downfall of foliage, which previously caused intermittent flooding during rainy periods. The response was a long, steep roof plane, which was raised up over the second storey and tucked down into the rear of the site. This prevented the accumulating organic matter and posed a distinctive profile, adding to the visual appeal of the home from the street.
Due to budgetary constraints, the design team urged their clients to spend extra on the materials that were physically apparent, such as the bespoke timber doors and windows. This follows the design team’s belief that “the things you touch and use everyday should be good quality and a joy to use”. The added character and warmth given to the home by its high-quality materials is far more important than extraneous linings and finishes. This leaves the palette pared back, favouring recycled, robust materials that lend their inherent texture, colour and beauty to the project.
Spatial and financial constraints also played a part in the passive efficiency of the home. The polished concrete flooring slabs act as a thermal sink; a ribbon of clerestory windows captures light and breeze, wrapping around the home and ascending with the roofline enabling the spaces to feel light and airy, yet retain much-needed privacy in such a heavy urban context.
Continuing with Carterwilliamson’s design ethos, the home’s focus is toward a sustainable built environment, fitting within the context of its surroundings yet being flexible enough to accommodate changing lifestyles, while minimising spatial, material and energy wastage. Wherever possible, existing building fabric and materials were retained, including masonry, which was reconstructed with recycled bricks.
What makes the renovation special for the design team is that “Cowshed House is a celebration of all that we find wonderful about architecture; a creative process of client, architect and builder coming together to embrace the ideas of the design and working together to create a home that is truly of and for the client.”
Words: James Cleland
Photography by Brett Boardman
Originally from Home Renovation magazine Volume 10 Issue 2