Page D1.3. 31 May 2006                     
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    Down Under Houses


    One of the three bedrooms was relocated into the back of the apartment, allowing the two remaining bedrooms to be increased in size with better connections to light and view. The public spaces then increased in size along the perimeter window. The third bedroom became a guest/study space raised above the main floor level.

    The kitchen/dining space was brought into the main living/entry zone. The main wall was clad in full-height mirror panels that at once doubled the perception of available space and reflected the harbor view into the body of the apartment. A chocolate wood floor now defines the main spaces, and very plush shag-pile carpet is in the lounge and bedroom spaces.

    Joinery played an important role in this transformation. The main kitchen joinery is a rectangular pod that divides the kitchen and study/guest room. It houses the main kitchen bench and associated storage on one side, general storage at each end, and the study on the other side. A dark wood veneer wall unit forms the edge of the living space and presents as a series of solid engaged columns that house audiovisual and entertainment equipment. A sliding screen forms part of the unit's composition and, when closed, hides the plasma screen.

    Lilyfield House

    A house for two architects — designed by Peter Tonkin and Ellen Woolley with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer — for a small and difficult site became a laboratory for experiment and investigation.

    The site, in Sydney's inner west, is of strong character. The western part, falling more than 20 feet (6 meters) across the frontage, contains major natural rock outcrops and floating boulders and adjoins a reserve of eucalypts, both significant remnants of the indigenous landscape. The eastern part of the site is at street level, and its surrounds are more aggressive and urban. To the east are good views of Sydney and the harbor.

    The accommodation is simple: three bedrooms upstairs, on the main level a library and a big room containing living, kitchen, and dining that open onto a terrace, and at street level, a workroom, laundry, and garage. The big room focuses in three directions: east to the city skyline and the terrace, west to the theatrical central "fire" — the kitchen with its white altar for cooking — and north to a secluded grotto hollowed out of the boulders, a tiny back yard.

    The house's southern circulation zone, in concrete and brick, buffers a busy road and washes the house with daylight. A "carpet" of wood: bridge, stairs, balcony, and furniture, extends through this zone, bridging between its massive walls. The northern light of the clerestory floods this long, tall slot. The street wall is a plane cut away for openings, its exterior in two shades of black.

    The central wall plays off solid against void. Thick, sculpted piers bear three stories of uniting concrete beams. The piers hold carefully crafted tight niches as well as storage, wood cabinets, and services. Inside the simple northern box that houses the living spaces, rooms are calmly proportioned rectangles, maximum accommodation in a tight area, in contrast to the vertical drama of the circulation buffer.

    In all these houses, the shared characteristics and themes might group them into a loosely defined "Down Under aesthetic," but each house stands alone as testament to the skills of an individual architect or design team.

    Robyn Beaver is a member of the Images Publishing Group.

    This article is excerpted from 100 Top Houses from Down Under, copyright © 2005, available from Images Publishing and at


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    ArchWeek Image

    Milsons Point apartment designed by Stanic Harding Pty. Ltd.
    Photo: Paul Gosney

    ArchWeek Image

    Milsons Point apartment floor plan.
    Image: Stanic Harding Pty. Ltd. Extra Large Image

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    Kitchen unit with built-in dining table.
    Photo: Paul Gosney

    ArchWeek Image

    Expansive mirror amplifies the sense of space in the bedroom.
    Photo: Paul Gosney

    ArchWeek Image

    Lilyfield House in Sydney, designed by Peter Tonkin and Ellen Woolley with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer.
    Photo: Patrick Bingham-Hall

    ArchWeek Image

    East elevation opens onto an elevated terrace.
    Photo: Richard Glover

    ArchWeek Image

    View from the kitchen, through living area, to the terrace.
    Photo: Richard Glover

    ArchWeek Image

    A thickened storage wall separates the living area from the stair.
    Photo: Richard Glover

    ArchWeek Image

    Lilyfield House floor plans.
    Image: Peter Tonkin and Ellen Woolley with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    100 Top Houses from Down Under.
    Image: Images Publishing/ Photo by Aperture Photography


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