Bare essentials

Bare essentials


by Belinda Crestani  

MAC Interactive Architects was asked to bring a dark and cluttered 1970s brick house in Sydney’s Cronulla to full fruition. The result is an extensively renovated home that is now better suited to the lifestyle of its long-standing owners.

home renovations 

With a client brief asking for a home that centred on open, light-filled spaces, MAC Interactive Architects recognised that there needed to be an easy connection between the new elements and the old. On first appearance, MAC Interactive Architects noticed there was no sense of flow between rooms. After completely stripping the interior, the building received a clarified zoning of upper-level living, mid-level sleeping and downstairs creative retreats.

For the project team, which consisted of Andy MacDonald and Brent Dunn, the existing pitched roof was an aesthetic challenge. “Working with what we had, we simplified three beams into one ridge beam and added two new, very slender cross beams that emphasised the program of the central circulation spine and assisted with defining the upstairs areas of an open-plan kitchen with living and dining spaces,” Andy explains. By removing the dark beams that once dominated this room, the client’s brief for an open, calm and uncluttered space was achieved. However, this restructure didn’t come without some difficulty.

The ridge of the roof was held up by the kitchen wall and a single column in the middle of the living space. Eliminating both of these meant the ridge beam had to be replaced. “We had to transfer this load down onto four new columns, which helped articulate the central axis through the whole house,” Andy says. Upstairs, a polished concrete floor with exposed basalt aggregate unifies the large size of this open-plan space, and from this emerges a singular concrete plinth; the heart of the kitchen. The kitchen was originally a separate room with the deck larger and recessed into the space.

The walls were removed and the deck made smaller, giving space back to the interior. “The four new columns at the perimeter also helped define the kitchen and living areas and create elements off which to dock the joinery,” Andy offers. “The result was a simple U-shaped bench and cupboards shaped around an island unit.” Generous storage with recessed handles wraps the walls and integrates with the blackbutt kitchen bench and timber windows.

Clear, finished, rolled steel in the splashback and the black rubber flooring used in the recessed kick-plate frame the white joinery. “The white joinery cupboards act to integrate the kitchen into the open-plan space by becoming more akin to walls than joinery.” The creation of a continuous “lighting shelf” around the perimeter of this space helps to both anchor and separate the roof from the living space.

The upper level is a theatre for the ever-changing light of Gunnamatta Bay, with oversized horizontal window openings capturing the horizon and spectacular sunsets across the water. The eastern roof is punctured by a simple and clean square that allows the morning sun to track across the floor. After dusk, a mix of illumination from the previously mentioned lighting shelf, plus incidental lighting, offers opportunities for night-time ambience.

The owners wanted their home to reflect a playground where they could be creative. With this in mind, the architects integrated more intimate creative spaces. The lower level connects to the rear garden, timber decks and swimming pool with a hallway library containing a memory of the previous plan etched on the sandblasted concrete ceiling. Entry to the poetry and music studios is via openings in the bookcase and is a symbolic departure from the everyday. The music studio has rubber flooring, acoustic ceiling panels, black form ply joinery and a work desk built from recycled oregon.

The poetry studio is a private place of imagination that is calm and enclosing. A desk built into a large roll-away window connects the room to the garden and its poetry of seasons. As part of the client brief, the owners wanted to incorporate a second bathroom into the redesign. “Having cleared out a rabbit-warren of small rooms, we were able to almost double the size of the existing bathroom and make it an ensuite off the main bedroom,” Andy says.

Reconfiguring and extending the lower level of the house enabled the addition of a second bathroom. The space was a long, thin area behind a new purpose-made wardrobe. The walls and floor were tiled uniformly to create a seamless space. The unique proportions of the tile, 430mm x 40mm, elongate the space to create a modern setting. The use of the Eco-Core® solid veneer lumber became the focal point in this room, with every other element played down.

Through the use of under-cupboard lighting over the vanity and a natural daylight tube from the roofline over the shower, appropriate task lighting is achieved. A rubber kick-plate runs the length of the bathroom and acts as a splash of colour that’s showcased against a neutral palette of grey floor tiles and white wall tiles. Mirrored cabinets over the sinks with no handles throughout emphasise the form and offer further storage solutions for day-to-day bathroom clutter.

The owner’s request for a robust, easy-tomaintain palette was met with natural materials and carefully crafted connections. Helping the spaces form a backdrop for the colourful lives of the owners, the material palette was reduced to bare essentials, deliberately pared back to avoid competing with the magnificent views. “Materials were chosen on the basis of their intrinsic character, lower embodied energy and ability to age gracefully,” says Andy.

All resources were carefully chosen to minimise their impact on both the internal and external environments. A strong effort was made to use natural products in the home, so plywood is used extensively throughout. While essentially manmade, plywood is constituted from natural materials. There is no air-conditioning in the building, as cooling happens naturally using good, passive, energy-efficient design principles.

Heating is via an in-slab electric coil, while a gas-boosted solar hot-water system ensures low temperature dropoff. All walls and ceilings are heavily insulated to achieve R-values significantly higher than required. Rather than knocking down and starting again, MAC Interactive Architects wanted to retain the embodied energy of the building, as did the owners. With an emphasis on natural or reconstituted materials such as concrete, timber, rubber, plywood and plaster, this home has been converted. Sydney-based MAC Interactive Architects’ portfolio consists of a variety of fields such as residential, large- and small-scale commercial, educational and civic projects, including master planning and urban design. 

“We like our designs to be backdrops to the drama of our clients’ lives,” Andy enthuses.

Photography by Richard Glover 

Project Particulars:
Designed by:
MAC Interactive architects 
94 Cooper Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 
02 9212 3800

Flooring: Polished and sealed concrete with electric underfloor heating integrated into the concrete with 10mm black aggregate expressed through polishing.
Island bench: Off-form class 1 concrete (no aggregate expressed), Boral concrete white base colour concrete with no tint colour
Back benchtop and drawer fronts: 20mm hard wood in Select Grade Walnut, oiled and waxed
Splashback: 5mm black steel with a clear two-pack epoxy sealer
Cupboards: Resene Lustacryl Semi-Gloss Waterborne Enamel
Kick-plate: Activa rubber flooring in SD101 Black (U00)
Hardware: Shadowline handles 
Lighting: Downlight to under-shelf from Inlite — Minigrid in 250W; Afra lamp designed by Werkdesign for Anta; gold or silver leaf lining under-cupboard lighting; 1800mm-long t5 strip fluoro in recess under cupboards 
Sinks and tapware: Single-lever mixer with swivel spouts and pull-out spray, Oxygene by Abey Gessi, 13193; polished and under-mount sinks Franke, AR110-35 and AR110-33 
Fridge: Fisher & Paykel E381T model in white, A series G, 380 litres 
Dishwasher: Miele dishwasher integrated with extra-large cabinet 
Oven: Bosch pyrolytic oven 
Induction cooktop: St George 
Rangehood: Smeg Classic 780SS integrated, under-cupboard, 280mm deep

Walls and floors: FC sheeting with Ascot floor tiles from Classic Ceramics in Ash
Benchtop and drawer fronts: Eco-Core® white birch with two-pack polyurethane finish
Kick-plate/base: Black rubber
Internal carcasses: Charcoal-grey Laminex 
Lighting: The Velux sun tunnel light shaft over the shower provides a natural light source into this room. Energy-efficient lighting has been used throughout with linear compact fluorescents under the high-level cupboards and three eco lights — prismatic diffuser, compact fluorescent 1 x 26W in the ceiling 
Counter basins: Two in Kado Lux from Reece 
Basin mixer: Scala in chrome from Reece 
Showerhead: Pol in chrome with three-star rating from Reece 
Wall shower arm: Pol 350mm in chrome from Reece 
Shower and bath mixer: Scala in chrome from Reece 
Drain: Centrefold tiled strip drain, 900mm 
Toilet: Pozzi from Reece

Windows + doors:
Window frames: Western red cedar from Windoor
Glazing: Viridian ComfortPlus™ Low E glass in Neutral