Evolution of a design

Once we’d established that Andy and Wendy hadn’t made a terrible mistake in buying the house in Castlecrag, we started talking about how we could renovate it. It was certainly charming, but with two bedrooms and a study, plus one bathroom, wasn’t big enough for the two of them and their two teenage children.

The brief, says Wendy, was quite simple: ‘Do exactly what you did for us at our old place, but I’d like a pantry as well, please.’ What she really liked about the house we’d already done for the family, she says, ‘is that all rooms were multi-functional, it was light and airy, there was lots of clever storage, and rooms could be closed off or all opened up to become open plan’.

The initial concept

From initial concept to council approval took around two years, with the design of the renovations changing markedly during that time. Initially, the idea was to reorganise the rooms in the original house; add a second storey with bedrooms, living area and bathroom for the two children; and also include a large family living area cantilevered out across the bush at the eastern end of the house. ‘We weren’t optimistic about getting it through council, but went ahead anyway,’ says Wendy. The council did, in fact, reject the plan – one issue was that the cantilevered section would be visible from Fishwick House, a nearby and very significant Walter Burley Griffin house.

It was, literally, back to the drawing board and, as is the case with many redesigns, the final result is far better than the original concept. Having constraints in place can be a good way of focusing; what we’ve ended up with is far more modest than the original concept and much more fitting.

The importance of consultation

Wendy and Andy, determined to get the best result for everyone, consulted extensively with their neighbours to make sure that they were all happy with what we were proposing. From the early days, too, they have been working with landscaper Richard Blacklock, who also works for the council, to ensure the garden is appropriate for the area. With Castlecrag being such an architecturally, historically and socially significant area, we’ve also had many dealings with not only the council but also the Walter Burley Griffin Society, who are determined that any building work in this suburb be in keeping with its surroundings.

The house is not an important example of Eric Nicholls’ work but nonetheless we all felt it was important to retain as much as possible of it as we could. Although it couldn’t accommodate Andrew and Wendy’s family in its original form, it was a well-designed and appealing house. There had been plans by Nicholls, commissioned by the original owners, for an upstairs addition, which was never built – what Andrew and Wendy had bought, then, was essentially a work-in-progress.

One of the really good things about the original house was its generous entrance – we’re retaining that, which will give a great sense of arrival.

Finalising the design

It wasn’t simple to get from the original concept to the design that was finally approved by council – it took many meetings, much back and forth, and a lot of problem solving (which continues throughout the building process as things crop up). Essentially, we’re adding a second storey, incorporating two bedrooms and bathrooms plus living room for the two children, and reorganising the original rooms on the ground floor but keeping within the existing footprint.

One of the really good things about the original house was its generous entrance – we’re retaining that, which will give a great sense of arrival. What was once the living room will now be Andrew and Wendy’s bedroom, which will also incorporate a dressing room, ensuite and reading nook within the space.

As with their other house, we’ve managed to create a number of multi-functional spaces and rooms that can be opened up or closed off to change the character of the space. The layout of the interior might have changed from Eric Nicholls’, but won’t feel markedly different in spirit, partly because of its modest size and also because we’re re-using most of the existing doors, windows, window hardware and so on (more on that later).

‘Having those first plans knocked back forced us to look at things differently,’ says Wendy. ‘We didn’t need a big house – we’re much happier with the tight footprint and cleverness of the final design. It’s been nice to see that evolve.’