House in Newtown, Sydney

Once narrow and dark, this 1930s workers’ cottage was reimagined by Dean Williams of Architect George, maintaining its heritage charm and expanding the home from a tiny 30sqm/323sqft to 60sqm/646sqft with the addition of a second floor.

Located in the middle of busy Newtown in Sydney’s inner west, the site is tiny and awkward but benefits from good sunlight and proximity to urban amenities.

The house is in the middle of a terrace row of six. The terraced row when viewed from the rear is a conglomeration of various materials, textures, and colours. The house is adjacent to a busy train line, underneath a busy flight path, and in the middle of a varied and active urban context. There is a lot going on in a very dense and grungy inner-city environment.

The original house was built in the 1930s,with a footprint of just 35sqm/377sqft. It was always a modest workers’ cottage, built for one or two people, but now houses a young professional couple and their dog.

The clients wanted an architecturally designed home that represented their own personality on a tight budget. They willingly accepted a smaller house in order to live in a space that was ‘uniquely home’.

Functionally, they needed two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and improved connections to the outdoors. A new first-floor addition was part of the brief to provide the extra space required.

The physical size of the house wasn’t that important to the clients who wanted a sustainable home. Their modest budget also meant building smaller was the easiest way to build cheaper with nicer materials; an option if only small amounts were needed.

The majority of the existing structure and building footprint on the ground floor was retained. A few minor reworkings of the existing ground floor plan and the removal of unwanted walls resulted in a dramatic improvement to the site. The existing rear bathroom was removed to allow the sun-drenched courtyard to become visually and physically connected to the living areas. 

The original ground floor rooms were retained and restored with new floors and internal fit-out. Original features such as the fireplace, windows, and rendered brickwork were all retained. A new kitchen and stairs were integrated into the centre of the home to connect the new first-floor addition. The kitchen joinery occupied the space under the stairs to maximise the use of the available floor area and reduce unnecessary circulation space.

The new first-floor addition follows the set-back pattern of the ground floor. The rooms are tightly planned to provide two bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor with all rooms enjoying access to a generous north-facing window and a green roof is located above the rear bathroom providing a much-loved nature outlook from the bed.

The design is grounded in its context. Rather than overwhelming the busy and varied built environment, the design response for the new addition was deliberately singular in colour and simple in form so as to not further overwhelm the varied surroundings.

The architects loved the existing rough-rendered walls, brickwork, chimneys, and graffiti that formed part of the existing home. New materials looked to complement this without overwhelming the small space and a deliberate decision was made to keep everything paired back to highlight all of the different textural qualities and history of the house.

Cities like Sydney have seen phenomenal housing price increases since the turn of the century, and architects like Dean Williams are helping a generation of homeowners live in the places they want to live without giving up on comfort.

These small, inner-city dwellings provide the opportunity to pare back, dwell in smaller spaces, in dense environments and provide a sense of personal connection for our clients. Smaller homes present the best opportunity to live more sustainably. We can do this and still maintain a high level of amenities. 

Nothing has to be given up to live in a smaller home. We just need to readjust our thinking of what a comfortable, contemporary home is…how big a bedroom needs to be, or how wide a doorway should be.

Dean Williams

Images by Clinton Weaver