You little beauty
With a footprint of just 35 square metres, this renovated terrace in Sydney’s busy inner west provides a light and quiet sanctuary, with leafy outlooks and entertaining spaces that belie its size.
The saying ‘good things come in small packages’ certainly rings true for this renovated home in the busy, gritty inner Sydney suburb of Newtown. Alex Jobe and his partner bought the 100-year-old terrace house on a block of just 67.8 square metres in 2018, knowing they would need to renovate it. The dilapidated original house had a series of poky rooms on the ground floor with poor connection to the north-east facing back courtyard, and for sleeping there was a pull-down ladder leading to an attic bedroom. “That was all well and fine as a novelty for a year or so, but it got a bit tedious. Our dog did learn to climb up the ladder, but couldn’t get back down again,” laughs Alex.
He engaged local architect Dean Williams, who got to work on the “really awkward little site with tricky angles”. His brief was to make the arrangement of the spaces more liveable, providing areas for entertaining and maximising connection to the outdoors. Other requirements included a proper staircase, plenty of natural light, working within a strict budget, and the preservation of some of the quirkier and more interesting historical elements of the cottage.
Sustainability was a given for Alex in this project: “It was always just how I planned for my home to be,” he says. Dean carefully designed the renovation to maximise energy efficiency and minimise waste in every way, with an overarching approach of ‘keeping it small’ and retaining everything that could feasibly be retained. “We focused on making sure the quality of the spaces was high, rather than having spaces that were large,” he explains. “We were constantly testing how small something could be and still be really functional in this tiny footprint.”
He removed some internal walls on the ground floor to create a more connected living, kitchen and dining space, maintaining many of the cottage’s existing elements such as the exposed brick walls and roof beams. The tacked-on bathroom that blocked easy access to the back courtyard was demolished; a new bathroom on the other side of the narrow site has an angled wall to fit the property boundary and houses a curved shower with skylight – “a sculptural element,” according to Dean. The bathroom helps enclose a plant-filled lightwell on the north-west boundary, which admits breezes and light to the dining area and kitchen. At the rear, the interior dining space flows out through glazed doors to a new terrace and a sunny deck with a built-in bench seat and plenty of greenery.
The awkward attic ladder is gone, replaced with stairs leading to a lightweight, well-insulated timber-framed upper floor addition containing two bedrooms and a compact bathroom. The main bedroom features a small balcony with a balustrade containing three coloured glass panels repurposed from a stained-glass door in the original cottage, which beautifully capture the light. There is also a door leading to a roof garden over the downstairs bathroom, where Alex enjoys growing herbs and looking out to the community garden just over the back fence.
The rooms are generally oriented to the north-east, with plenty of glazing on the rear aspect. This, together with the lightwell, maximises the winter sun entering the downstairs living areas and warming the thermal mass of their brick walls, reducing the need for active heating. In summer, the interior is shaded by the deep steel-framed window reveals and the first-floor overhang to the lightwell, and effective cross ventilation has been designed in. No active cooling is needed, apart from a ceiling fan in the main bedroom.
Double glazing and high levels of insulation provide thermal comfort, as well as blocking out noise from the overhead flightpath and nearby train line. The result is a comfortable home that is a quiet and peaceful haven in this busy inner-city location. Energy bills are minimal. “By keeping the footprint small and reducing circulation spaces to almost nothing, the house has low energy use year-round,” says Dean. Low-energy LED lighting is fitted throughout, but is rarely used during daylight hours given the abundance of natural light.
The roof has been prepared for future solar panels and there are water-efficient plumbing fixtures in all of the wet areas. The total cost for the project was within budget at $350,000. It was a rewarding project for Dean, who particularly likes the calm, sunlit feel of the house as well as the indoor-outdoor connection. “It makes you feel like you’re very much living surrounded by greenery even in such a dense urban setting,” he says.
Alex and his partner love entertaining here, regularly hosting dinner parties and house parties, and welcoming their families for overnight stays. “I feel proud of the place; I like having people here and experiencing the finished home,” says Alex.