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Bold, moody hues combine with expansive glass to bring this federation cottage into the next century

Situated in Sydney’s Kirribilli, with a prominent waterfront location and sweeping harbour views, Zuster House certainly sits on prime real estate. The semi-detached brick cottage also exudes plenty of character with more than 100 years of history behind it. However, when Melonie Bayl-Smith of Bijl Architecture was approached by the owners to rejuvenate the property, she knew she had a challenge on her hands. 

Built in the early 1900s, this federation home is located in a heritage conservation area where building rules apply not only to the main streetscape presentation of the dwellings but also to the rear, resulting in many bland and uninspiring additions over the years. Furthermore, despite the magnificent views towards Careening Cove and Sydney Harbour, the houses along this ridgeline typically have limited connections to their rear gardens and limited indoor/outdoor living opportunities due to the slope of the site.

Adding to these challenges, Melonie’s clients wanted a total overhaul of the existing house while still retaining its traditional, federation-style character. Crucial to the brief was a new rear addition that would cater to “the flexibility and robustness of family life”, she recalls. “My clients also asked that the materiality of the building fit with the idea of honouring the past with a ‘new tradition’. Hence bricks very quickly became both ours and the clients’ first choice for the design.”

PGH Bricks’ Dry Pressed Architectural range in Black Beauty, a dark and sultry, sophisticated colourway, was specified for the entire rear extension; a choice that delivered on several requirements, as Melonie explains.
“Charged with the double duty of meeting the strict requirements of the Kirribilli conservation area while also complementing its semi-detached neighbour Doorzien House, which we renovated in 2017, a ‘masonry aesthetic’ was the ultimate solution. Not only does this allow it to form its own identity and provide continuity with the original dwelling, it also fits with the industrial, dark zinc cladding of its neighbour,” she explains.
“Indeed, the Black Beauty colour provides an excellent aesthetic companion to the Anthra Zinc cladding on Doorzien House in terms of colour, smooth surface and the level of light reflectivity being comparable.

“Moreover, the Dry Pressed Architectural range has a clean, sharp edge that allowed the brick units to resonate both at an individual level as the light falls on their smooth surface, and also as an impressive composition of both uninterrupted walls and columns framing the windows and doors. We used the same brick on a project several years ago, so knew it would look excellent with the black oxide mortar,” she adds. 

"Indeed, the Black Beauty colour provides an excellent aesthetic companion to the Anthra Zinc cladding on Doorzien House in terms of colour, smooth surface and the level of light reflectivity being comparable.

Melonie was determined from the outset to disrupt the bland look of nearby rear additions and the dramatic Black Beauty brick has certainly achieved this, especially in conjunction with huge, new picture windows that drink in the views. A clever new layout stacks the living spaces on top of one another and opens up the lower ground floor to forge a connection with the garden. 

Just like its neighbour, the reimagined Zuster House is now striking, contemporary and light-filled whilst sympathetic to its heritage. The rear addition, which fuses with the garden, is ideal for modern family living and best of all the location and views are no longer tucked away but a prominent feature of the home. 

“This project definitely embraces the longevity of bricks and how they create stories and spaces to last the distance, making Zuster House a home for the next 100 years,” says Melonie. 

As well as embracing brick in the new rear addition, this project celebrates the original face bricks of the original dwelling by restoring existing brick arches, details and general external wall brickwork. The team at Bijl also exposed the multi-colour traditional bricks that form the party wall, dividing the two semi-detached properties, on the lower ground floor. 


Architect: Bijl Architecture
Photographer: Kat Lu

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