Return to glory

Return to glory


A handsome old home in Sydney’s inner-eastern suburbs has been returned to full scale with a sensitive yet ambitious refurbishment.

home renovations 

Situated in the Moore Park precinct of Sydney, this semi-detached house has a strong sense of belonging. However, within the solid-brick exterior, the two-storey space had been further divided into two apartments — one on each level and was in need of a sensitive team that would restore the home to its former grandeur. Sheridan Lee, proud owner of this heritage gem, is overjoyed with her new home and cannot speak more highly of the team she and her husband, Sandy Morgan, worked with at HBO+EMTB. Explaining their decision to appoint the firm, Sheridan says, “Kevin (Fitzgerald, Principal at HBO+EMTB) and I clicked and I knew he understood where we wanted to go. I particularly like his sense of style.

HBO+EMTB also has a strong heritage practice, led by Brian McDonald, and he did not want to compromise the integrity of the original home. We were delighted with the result.” HBO+EMTB reconfigured areas of the home to restore them to functional, liveable rooms and connecting spaces. The stairs were re-designed to once again allow access between the two main living levels and basement below.

A wall was removed from the top floor, which created a spacious living area for the couple to enjoy. The master bedroom is luxurious. It is large and open, with a cluster of surrounding zones that make it an area of retreat for the couple. “Our bedroom was originally a kitchen and we have kept a small, flat, white wall of tiles as a feature — which I love — and a china cupboard and hearth … an attempt to pay homage to its heritage.” Their bathroom is also spectacularly large.

It was converted from a dining room and the ornate cast plaster ceiling remains intact, as does the original fireplace with copper hood, although it was refurbished with a gas burner and can now be utilised. The “greedy” size of the shower and the couple’s addition of an eye-catching chandelier cement the ambience of utter indulgence. Their art collection even finds a home in their bathroom, where the mantel and counter are jumbled with a collection of smaller pieces. “Art is very important to us,” explains Sheridan. “One of the reasons we love the space is that it offers so many opportunities to hang our art. The principal at HBO+EMTB, Kevin Fitzgerald, is a keen collector and was determined that the space would be a palette for our work. It is.”

The back of their home has been opened up, with the addition of Juliet balconies to each level and a courtyard garden for the basement flat. The living spaces open out to the south — which is generally shied away from — but in this case, the house is situated on a busy street that joins the east with the city and they wanted to minimise their connection with that. The balconies seamlessly join the living and bedroom spaces through the installation of bi-fold doors, which feature pastel glass panels to replicate the original windows. “Our architects suggested the Juliets,” Sheridan clarifies, “and, in retrospect, I think it was inspired.

The aspect through our garden and neighbouring gumtrees is quite lovely, the block is deep, and when you are at the back of the house you would not know we are on an artery road.” The outcome might be exceptional but the process, Sheridan confesses, can be somewhat trying. “It’s exhausting; there are so many decisions but it’s well worth it.” And her advice to those of you about to embark on a renovation: “Know it will eat up a year of your life (at least) and make sure you have a contingency account. No matter what anyone says, it will always cost you more!”

This renovation is particularly respectful of the building’s history and retains many of the original features, materials and charitable proportions. The brief was simple: to emphasise the home’s existing elements that were of high value to the couple — “space, light, Edwardian, gracious living”. Brian McDonald from HBO+EMTB says the team’s inspiration was “the original texture of the building. We sought to utilise, wherever possible, the original features and to complement them with sympathetic intervention. For example, the bathroom — the room retains the original windows, fireplace and cornices while the new fittings are decidedly modern and highly functional.” This same sensitivity, and marriage of old and new, is especially visible in the kitchen.

Stainlesssteel benchtops and fixtures sit among the cupboards of cream-painted timber panelling. All of the cupboards have been raised on legs, giving the impression of something more temporary in a home of great longevity. The restored floorboards carry their age with dignity, providing warmth to contrast with the stark white walls and contemporary art. The wood of the floorboards is picked up and brought in as a nostalgic touch in a ladder and rail that allows access to the higher kitchen cupboards. These thoughtful inclusions are what set apart good architecture and a standard renovation.

The spaces are functional and centre around the couple’s lifestyle. “We do a lot of entertaining,” Sheridan explains, “and the space lends itself to both intimate dinners and large parties. It is a very happy space. We love living there and my parents might even move in one of these days.” And the basement level has been equipped for such a day. Previously there was a cellar between the sandstone foundations; however this area now houses a separate flat with bedroom, bathroom and combined kitchen living area, which opens through French doors to a small courtyard. The light filters into the living room, which was once “dark and dank”, and the green wall outside provides a low-maintenance, year-round, tranquil outlook.

The decision to keep the sandstone walls downstairs didn’t come without a fight. The builders were concerned about damp problems arising, but Sheridan was particularly attached to the walls. To satisfy his client, Brian found a solution that would allow the walls to breathe, yet still maintain the sense that this room belonged within the rest of the home. Half walls were installed to hip height and painted with a tactile finish that complements, rather than detracts from, the original walls.

Lighting plays a particularly significant role in bringing this space to life. The dramatic dappling of the up-lit sandstone is delicately contrasted with cleaner lines of the modern kitchen and large marble floor tiles. “We had a stonemason point the sandstone walls and, although they are uneven and rough in places, the overall effect is terrific and very warm,” enthuses Sheridan. “In the end, HBO+EMTB and I were insistent on keeping the stone exposed and the result more than vindicates us.” The design team were also savvy about making use of every area available to them.

Ample storage is accessible through a manhole with a drop-down ladder and a large wine cellar was retained at the back of the bottom level. The space above the garage at the rear lane also provides a large, sunny and private area where the family can relax or entertain. It is said time and time again that a successful project is borne from teamwork. When a number of parties work with common goals and a determination to achieve something exceptional, there is no doubt the outcome is profoundly rewarding. According to Brian, they achieved “a successful mix of old and new that is a most wonderful place to live”.

And Sheridan, confident in the knowledge they achieved all they set out to and more, shares his sentiment. “We brought the house together again.”

Photography by David Helsham 

Project Particulars:
Designed by: 
75 Elizabeth Street, Sydney
02 8226 2000

Living: Timber
Outdoor: Stone
Other: Marble tiles in new bottom-floor in-law space 

Interior: Painted plaster
Basement: Exposed sandstone and masonry plinth added 

Benchtop: Stainless steel
Splashback: White glass
Cabinetry: Painted timber panelling

Sanitary fixtures + bathroom fittings:
Bath: Composite stone oval bath
Lighting: Pendant: “Aloe” by Jeremy Cole from ECC Lighting and Living 

Windows + external doors:
Custom joinery Outdoor: Stone paving Greenwall from The Greenwall Company