This Revamped Cottage Is a Modern Take on Traditional Japanese Townhouses

By Anna Squier / Published by Dwell

Located on a corner lot, this two-bedroom cottage blends old with new in Sydney, Australia.

When Tim and Liz—a builder and a graphic designer—learned they were expecting twins, they decided to transform the cramped, disconnected living spaces in their home into open rooms full of light and warmth. The young couple engaged Downie North to lead the transformation of their traditional Balmain cottage into a more functional, freely flowing home. 

From the street, the addition and light-filled living spaces remain hidden. The charm of the traditional cottage remains visible.

Photo by Katherine Lu

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Downie North left the front two bedrooms and gabled roofline intact, and they reconfigured the original kitchen, living, and dining rooms into a more open plan within the existing footprint. 

The kitchen cabinets flawlessly fit below the line of the staircase. On the far end, a clerestory window is positioned above the cabinets to draw light into every corner of the living space.

Photo by Katherine Lu

Due to the project's relatively modest budget, expensive materials and finishes were used sparingly. Details like this stunning steel staircase were prioritized. The steel fabricator and joiner generated their shop drawings from Downie North’s 3D model, resulting in a seamless connection from the ground-floor concrete slab to the floor above.

Photo by Katherine Lu

What was once a poorly planned floor plan has transformed into open, brightly lit living spaces at the hub of the home.

Photo by Katherine Lu

The design team added a new master bedroom and en suite above the main floor. They also introduced a mezzanine loft under the original roof-line, which now houses a work area and built-in storage.

In the new master suite, a clerestory window reveals the exterior wood batten screen, which provides both privacy and light.

Photo by Katherine Lu

A mezzanine loft level provides extra floor space without increasing the home's footprint. Built-in bookshelves double as a guardrail for the lofted work space, accessed by a built-in ladder.

Photo by Katherine Lu

In the dining room and loft space, the original brick wall has been left exposed and raw.

Photo by Katherine Lu

Inspired by the traditional Japanese townhouses of Kyoto, the Machiya House includes elements of layering and screening that separate public and private spaces. The architects strategically located skylights and windows to draw light deep into the space while providing hints of the public and private spaces within. 

The alleyway facade reveals the contemporary addition with cedar-framed windows and a hardwood battened screen. The clerestory window glows at night behind the battens.

Photo by Katherine Lu

A layering of old and new, solid and transparent are evident in the play of materials and form. The original brick walls remain, wrapped by the wood- and metal-clad addition.

Photo by Katherine Lu

Large cedar-clad openings connect the interior living spaces to the courtyard. The bright and airy main living spaces wrap around the courtyard.

Photo by Katherine Lu

Although contemporary in design, the revamped spaces do not forget the past. The home’s original character is left exposed in certain areas through a stacking of forms and a layering of materials. The original brick walls stand as beautiful counterparts to the new, open, and light-filled living spaces. 

Related Reading: 

11 Amazing Australian Homes

This Australian Home Is a Study in Simplicity and Style

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Downie North / @downienorth

General Contractor: Owner Builder

Structural Engineer: ACOR Consultants

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Profile Cabinetry & Joinery

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