Russell Jack’s 1950s Sydney house becomes a family home the second time around
WORDS Kateate St James
FDIA PHOTOGRAPHY Marian Riabic
During the late 1950s and early 1960s a number of Sydney architects became disenchanted with the prevailing European style of architecture, turning to Frank Lloyd Wright for inspiration. Wright’s organic approach to architecture can be seen in houses from the ensuing ‘Sydney School’ and in particular, the Jack house, designed by architect Russell Jack for his family.
Russell was a partner of Allen Jack + Cottier, a firm he co-founded with John Allen in 1956. Russell spearheaded the softer form of Modernism practised by the so-called Sydney School of the late 1950s and 1960s, which is recognised by its more organic style, sensitivity to the environment and use of natural, local materials.
Russell’s own house, in Sydney’s leafy suburb of Wahroonga, is testament to his philosophy. Located on a secluded site, densely covered with native trees and outcrops of sandstone — a small creek incorporated into the plan — the Jack house is as serene today as it was when completed in 1957 and was awarded the prestigious Sulman Award for Architecture.
Built by Russell for himself and his wife, Pamela, also an architect, on a tight budget, the family lived in the award-winning house for more than 50 years, until it was purchased by interior designer and educator, Annalisa Capurro.
As the second owner of the house, Annalisa met Russell and became friends with the architect. Having been well aware of the house long before purchasing it she says she was now living in her dream home. “We instantly had a connection,” says Annalisa “and he wanted to find someone who would protect and maintain the house the way it was.”
Approaching the house from the street, it is almost completely hidden by a solid wall, which screens the house from public view. Upon entering, via a timber bridge over a natural waterfall, one is transported back in time. Nothing has changed since the house was finally completed after additions were added in the early 1960s: it has been lovingly conserved since its new owner moved in and retains the original wallpapers, kitchen and bathroom, tiling, timber panelling and many of the furnishings — including rugs, chairs and master bedhead.
The home’s construction is a series of post-and-beam timber frames incorporating large expanses of north-facing glazing which allows plenty of natural light into the house along with spectacular views of the native bush garden.
“It was very avant-garde in the 1950s and I love the way it integrates with the landscape,” Annalisa comments. “Russell was incredibly ahead of his time.”
Nothing much inside the house has changed — only the colour of a wall in the master bedroom (white to black) and the reconstruction of the timber louvres opening onto the deck, as originally intended by the architect. All the fixtures and finishes are in pristine condition. As a collector of mid-century furniture, all Annalisa needed to do was move in. The house is a living testament to the fact that good design doesn’t date.
“We still visit each other all the time and he likes coming back here,” says Annalisa. “I feel like I’m the custodian who has taken over from him to look after the house for another generation. They’ll have to carry me out in a box!” APs
Nothing much inside the house has changed — only the colour of a wall in the master bedroom (white to black) and the reconstruction of the timber louvres opening onto the deck, as originally intended by the architect. All the fixtures and finishes are in pristine condition.