When you're a kid, it's effortless to transport yourself to another world. The wild plains of Africa, the jungles of the Amazon or the strange landscape of a far-off planet. At Cooks River House, studioplusthree helped the owners retain the wild aspects of their unique site so the kids could grow up in an adventure-filled backyard and perhaps it wouldn't be such a stretch for the parents to imagine they're a world away instead of a stone's throw from Sydney's CBD...
The existing home, a compact, Federation-era bungalow with a poorly planned addition, overlooks the Cooks River and surrounding parkland. "The overgrown site had a wild, natural feel", explain the architects. Cooks River is a former industrial artery, but over the past few years, a lot of work has gone into revitalising the natural asset as a slice of nature and a place of recreation. With the help of Fieldwork Associates, the approach to the site was the same, regenerating the garden with native plants and revealing the natural rocky escarpment to create a low-maintenance and low-water oasis on the banks of the river; enhancing the sense of wild rather than trying to tame it.
You get a sense of the home's adventurous spirit as soon as you enter, tracing the meandering path as it "descends into the garden, following the line of the escarpment." While the steep, rocky site was a challenge, it is cleverly negotiated by a series of insertions – stairs, deck, retaining wall, large-format pavers - creating a sequence of terraced outdoor spaces for play and entertaining", the architects explain.
By replacing the existing addition with a new, more functional design, the architects were able to unlock the assets of the site and embrace the landscape, views and light. The ground floor of the new addition opens on three sides to the landscape. With the hefty sliding doors open, the new kitchen and dining area feel more like an open-air garden pavilion than a conventional home. This means the new living areas feel much larger than they actually are, by borrowing space from the surrounding garden. The kids are free to run, jump and immerse themselves in their imaginary worlds all within eye and earshot of parents.
The interior materials reflect the natural surrounds with the warmth of natural timber combined with olive-coloured cabinets and polished concrete floors all offering subtle, natural colours and textures.
The upper floor of the addition perfectly overhangs the ground floor to provide both sun and rain protection. The bedrooms upstairs are shielded by external blinds which provide both protection from the sun and privacy when required. Clad in timber with a silver-grey patina, the upper storey softly blends into the landscape.
The lounge, part of the original home, opens onto the new kitchen and dining areas and to the views towards the reserve. Indoors flow onto a deck overlooking the reserve and, thanks to the slope of the site, you feel like you're perched in a treehouse among the treetops.
Upstairs houses the bedrooms, the main bathroom and a study.
The main bedroom pops up out of the original roofline, framing views of the river reserve, while a glazed link feels like you're crossing a bridge to reach the bedroom; a real adventure without leaving your home.
Pops of colour and pattern in the bathroom and inside cabinets reinforce the sense of fun and adventure in the home, giving every room a view, a glimpse or a surprise of some kind.
Despite being so close to the city and with neighbours either side, studioplusthree have created a real urban oasis. Cooks River House feels peaceful and secluded thanks to the careful placement of windows and doors which open the home up the landscape and views while sheltering it from overlooking. It really is a place to take a breath, relax and let the mind wander.