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Small Sydney cottage transformed into a four-storey family home

This couple chose to improve rather than move, refusing to give up their plot just a five-minute walk from the beach

don't move improve sydney home
Mads Mogensen

Pamela and John Chauvel had lived in their little cottage, just a five-minute walk from Sydney’s Coogee Beach, for 24 years before it became apparent a change was needed. They loved the house, but after the birth of their second child, the archaeologist and financial advisor realised that they urgently needed more space. There was never talk of moving, though – for this couple, the solutions existed exactly where they were.

‘It’s just such a beautiful spot, so we kept changing our house rather than changing the location’

‘It’s just such a beautiful spot, so we kept changing our house rather than changing the location,’ explains Pamela. Initially, they added an extra storey to the cottage, but as the children grew into teenagers it became clear that a more revolutionary change was needed. They approached local architect Mary Ellen Hudson to draw up a plan to make the very most of the property’s narrow seven- by 35-metre footprint.

don't move improve sydney home
mads mogensen

‘One of the main driving forces was John’s wish to get the car off the road,’ recalls Pamela, laughing. ‘He would say, “we just need a garage, something simple and a larger living space with some private areas.”’ What they ended up with is a contemporary home split across four levels with its own lap pool and pond.

Mary’s vision included a sculptural funnel that tapers from the roof towards the ground-floor living areas. It’s designed to draw light into the centre of the house, but also acts as a dramatic focal point, with its timber-strip cladding. Its architectural lines are mirrored by Pamela and John’s furniture choices. Mainly bought during the couple’s stay in America a few years ago, they include a classic ‘Cherner’ chair by designer and architect Norman Cherner.

don't move improve sydney home
mads mogensen

The key decorative feature in this home is the walls themselves – a mix of sandstone, concrete and wood. They lend the interior its cocoon-like feel, but they were selected mainly due to their practical and sustainable qualities. The sandstone on the basement level was salvaged from the foundations of the original house, while concrete on the ground floor acts as a natural insulator, holding heat in the winter and keeping things cool during the summer months. There is no need for air conditioning here – louvred wooden screens on the upper levels allow sea breezes to circulate.

don't move improve sydney home
mads mogensen

‘We wanted something solid that would transcend time and wear well,’ explains John. He and Pamela have now been in their newly expanded home for a few years and, for them, it only gets better. ‘The concrete gets chipped; the bench becomes stained, and it all looks as if it was part of the design.’ meharchitects.format.com

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration January 2020

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