The future of granny flats

The future of granny flats


by Danielle Townsend  

Granny flats and studios are certainly no longer what they used to be; this form of housing could transform the way people live in cities, now and in the future


The words “granny flat” are enough to conjure thoughts of teenagers living in squalor at the back of their parents’ house, perhaps using the space to play music or entertain their friends in relative privacy. But this granny flat is a sophisticated form of housing that shatters all previous conceptions.

The Brief:
• Keep construction costs as low as possible
• Provide a fully self-contained dwelling on a small, compact and sloping site
• Maintain privacy from passing street traffic for the dwelling occupants
• Maintain light, cross-ventilation and a pleasant outlook from the dwelling
• Prevent overlooking of adjoining properties
• Minimise overshadowing of adjoining properties
• Increase the amount of useable garden area 

Located in an inner-west suburb of Sydney, at the rear of a suburban lot, this project provides a separate dwelling fronting onto a secondary street. It used the new granny flat legislation introduced by the NSW Department of Planning in 2009 that enables separate dwellings to be built on existing residential blocks. And at a time when land in capital cities is both at a premium and extremely expensive, it’s a step in the right direction.

The brief given to architect Ben Giles was to rationalise the existing structures and swimming pool and provide a new separate studio/granny flat dwelling that could allow secondary accommodation for relatives or visitors who may wish to stay over. This had to be done within a tight construction budget, which is not unusual in these budget-conscious times.

“Initially, we looked at refurbishing the existing structure, but on detailed investigation we decided that the structure was beyond repair,” said Ben. “A decision was made to demolish the entire thing and start again.”

Demolition of the existing garage and studio made way for the new structure, and an unloved swimming pool was filled in and re-landscaped with turf and decking. This new grassed area allows residents and guests to take advantage of the expansive outdoor space and enjoy the garden area to the fullest.

New retaining walls were built to accommodate level changes as the site falls from front to back. “The level change, which required retaining walls to be integrated as part of the building structure, was a challenge,” said Ben.

The original house is an intact California bungalow, but there was no attempt to mimic this architectural style in the new studio. Because the new structure was physically separated from the house, it was decided that the building could have its own character, albeit subdued, in a dark tone and with a relatively neutral architectural expression. The result is a building that sits calmly as a positive addition to the original house and to the street and broader public realm.

The new structure at the back of the house fronts onto a rear lane and has a floor area of approximately 60m2, featuring a self-contained dwelling including ground-floor living/kitchen space with combined bathroom/laundry behind. Upstairs is a loft bedroom connected to the main space, providing a sense of space and volume. A single garage is at the side and a simple skillion roof goes over the top.

“It’s a compact plan that includes all the necessary functions of a dwelling in a tight space,” said Ben. “I love the large two-storey space provided with the open loft. I also love the view from the existing house to the new dwelling, which looks like it is emerging out of the ground.”

The new structure consists of a concrete slab on the ground with conventional timber framed walls and roof, which are thermally insulated. The walls and roof are clad in Spandek, in Woodland Grey, an economical, lightweight, maintenance-free choice. “The metal cladding requires no painting, is quick to install and looks great,” said Ben.

Using the same material for both the roof and walls enabled the small building to be read as a simple “object” building. “The roof and wall cladding are the same material to enhance the ‘simplicity’ of the building,” said Ben.

Because of the small size of the structure, the intention was to keep the form as simple as possible, so a mono-pitched roof was adopted, with its high point over the two-storey portion of the building and falling towards the single storey.

“I wanted this building to be an object building in that it would be a small, simple shape,” said Ben. “For this reason the roof form is kept deliberately as a simple skillion roof.”

The roof was also arranged to minimise overshadowing of the adjoining properties. “The low point of the roof is at the southern boundary so there was no overshadowing of the property to the south,” said Ben.

The streetfront façade is articulated into visually separate panels, which are modulated and banded by the cladding ribs running either horizontally or vertically.

At the back of the property, the secondary streetscape is dominated by an eclectic range of garage and studio structures at the rear of the surrounding properties. On the opposite side of the street is a school, so a deliberate move was to provide passive surveillance of the street from the upper window to increase street safety.

Windows are located in a central panel of the façades, facing both the garden and the street, which prevents overlooking of adjacent properties and maintains privacy for the occupants. Adjustable glass louvres in both façades allow for cross-ventilation.

“This renovation shows a way of providing compact, secondary dwellings on small sites that can have architectural interest. It actually increased the useable garden area by decreasing the built footprint size,” said Ben.

“It is hoped that this project is one small example of the many housing options available for the future densification of our cities.”

Photography by Andy Baker 

Project particulars:
Designed by:
Ben Giles Architect
3/1 Farrell Avenue, Darlinghurst NSW 2010
0412 599 468

Built by:
Maximum Design and Construction
0412 205 162

Kitchen, dining + living: Tongue-andgroove hardwood timber flooring
Bedroom + stair: Carpet

Kitchen, casual dining, dining, living, bedroom + stair: Painted plasterboard on timber-framed walls, Dulux Antique White USA
External walls + roofing: Walls and roof are clad in Woodland Grey Spandek corrugated steel, with insulation

Benchtop: CaesarStone
Splashback: Colourback glass
Cabinetry: Two-pack polyurethane, Dulux Antique White USA
Windows + external doors
Commercial-grade aluminium frame: Capral Narrowline 400 and Capral 125 louvre frame with powdercoat finish in Dulux Notre Dame

Hardwood timber decking and turf