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A four-storey terrace house built a century ago receives a contemporary makeover

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When renovating an historic home there is always an inherent tension between preservation and modernisation. Many original architectural details can be overwhelmed by contemporary innovations, such as bold use of colour and open-plan spaces.

For the renovation of this four-storey 1905 terrace house, interior designer Darryl Gordon emphasised textural appeal. This was achieved through the use of subtle colour to enhance features such as the original fireplace and arched internal doorways in the formal living areas. In keeping with Edwardian fashion, these rooms address the street, rather than the harbour.

"As the formal living areas face neither the sun nor the view they are used primarily in the late afternoon and evening. Therefore I chose a nocturnal palette of soft green, deep brown and burnt orange to create a warm, inviting ambience."

This rich, yet muted colour scheme provides a backdrop to the owners' collection of Asian art and antique furniture. During the renovation, Gordon deliberately created spaces for large pieces such as the 18th Century Chinese imperial screen that is placed beside the Regency dining table and chairs.

On the first floor, directly above the main living area, the master bedroom reflects the feeling of being enclosed, secure and comfortable. The bedroom's stone coloured wallcovering is made from natural grass paper.

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"Halogen lights highlight the statue of the Buddha perched on a small recess. The heavy presence of the Georgian chest of drawers and the wooden floors is counterbalanced by the light weave in the rattan chair. This composition could be described as Asian fusion," says Gordon.

A wooden staircase leads from this floor to the top storey, having replaced the original roof. A balcony overlooking the harbour was added later, however it required major reconstruction. During the renovation, this entire floor was redesigned as an informal living area.

Decorated with mainly African artefacts, it has the distinctive look and feel of an attic interior. This is most apparent in the small pentagonal-shaped kitchenette.

"This room was painted entirely white to give the impression of being clean lined and minimal, and to disguise the fact it is filled with every appliance deemed necessary in a contemporary kitchen."

Aluminium sliding doors open to a floating terrace above the harbour, bordered by a glass balustrade.

Modern materials are part of an intentional break with the more traditional interior on the lower levels. The balcony itself is a way to enjoy a stunning view of the Sydney Opera House, which didn't exist until after this house was built.

An echo of the home's Edwardian roots – the dado wall panelling – provides subtle continuity with the floors below.

First published date: 12 January 2005

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Credit List

Interior designer Darryl Gordon, Darryl Gordon Design (Sydney)
Internal architecture James Roberts, Roberts Cullis-Hill Architecture
Main contractor Jeff Rowley, Jarrac Builders
Kitchen manufacturer Kirrawee Kitchens
Paint Dulux and Aalto Colour
New furniture Custom-made
Recovery of existing furniture John Puddick Furnishings
Curtains Beilby Workroom
Bathroom tiles Bisanna Tiles