This Renovated Sydney Home Feels Like a Superhero’s Secret Lair

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By Michele Koh Morollo
An award-winning renovation and addition offer a pair of introverted homeowners the sanctuary they crave.

When a Sydney couple discussed the redesign of their inner-city, terrace property with Breathe Architecture’s director Jeremy McLeod, they asked for "a house for two introverts living in a world of extroverts." To deliver, McLeod worked with the project's lead architect Daniel Mckenna to remodel the terrace, turning it into Double Life House, a cozy space with a clandestine feel that brings to mind the secret hide-outs of superheroes. 

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The 1,184-square-foot  house is located within a 100-year building. The architects kept much of the existing exterior.

The 1,184-square-foot  house is located within a 100-year building. The architects kept much of the existing exterior.

The terrace is just one-room-wide at the front with a compact courtyard at the rear.

The terrace is just one-room-wide at the front with a compact courtyard at the rear.

"A room hidden behind a library, a TV concealed by a pivoting artwork, a staircase veiled behind a lush curtain; an endless series of discovery and surprises gives a sense of seemingly limitless space, despite their modest footprint," says McLeod. "Double Life House maintains its integrity, strength and humility. It is a hideout, a fortress of solitude—mild mannered from the outside and made of steel within."

Hidden behind a jib door in the library wall is a laundry and storage area.

Hidden behind a jib door in the library wall is a laundry and storage area.

In the library, black plywood joinery offers a pause from the entryway before the floorplan pivots to reveal a sunken concrete living area in the original front room.

In the library, black plywood joinery offers a pause from the entryway before the floorplan pivots to reveal a sunken concrete living area in the original front room.

The ceiling of the living area was peeled back to expose the herringbone struts of the original upper floor structure. 

A banquette wraps around two sides of this living room, where artwork by Sydney artist Sonny Day on a hinged panel hides the entertainment systems.  

A banquette wraps around two sides of this living room, where artwork by Sydney artist Sonny Day on a hinged panel hides the entertainment systems.  

Behind the library wall, and beyond the switchback staircase, is a kitchen and dining area that opens out to a streamlined courtyard with a herringbone brickwork floor. 

Behind the library wall, and beyond the switchback staircase, is a kitchen and dining area that opens out to a streamlined courtyard with a herringbone brickwork floor. 

The interior walls, which are clad with sound-dampening material, combine with the ceiling linings to block out noise from the street, resulting in calm, quiet interiors. 

The interior walls, which are clad with sound-dampening material, combine with the ceiling linings to block out noise from the street, resulting in calm, quiet interiors. 

By reconfiguring the stairs as a switchback and locating it in the middle section of the house, the architects could fit a slim, tall bathroom between the switchback and the main bedroom.  

By reconfiguring the stairs as a switchback and locating it in the middle section of the house, the architects could fit a slim, tall bathroom between the switchback and the main bedroom.  

In the bathroom, the shower stall looks up to the open sky.

In the bathroom, the shower stall looks up to the open sky.

"From the outside, it keeps the world guessing, but its interior delivers a true haven for this duo," says McLeod. "Like Superman’s secret citadel, it is a protective cave-like fortress that immediately shields them from the world outside."

In the courtyard, narrow concrete stairs wrapped in steel filigree leads up to another courtyard located at the rear of the upstairs bedroom.

In the courtyard, narrow concrete stairs wrapped in steel filigree leads up to another courtyard located at the rear of the upstairs bedroom.

Project Credits:

Architecture: Breathe Architecture

Builder: Promena Projects

Steelwork and joinery: Ficus Constructions

Structural engineering: Bekker

Living room artwork: Sonny Day

Dining room artwork: Max Berry

ESD Consultant: Urban Digestor