This Sun-Soaked Sydney Residence Sits on a Sandstone Ledge

This Sun-Soaked Sydney Residence Sits on a Sandstone Ledge

By Melissa Dalton
Architect Emili Fox saw the cliff not as a challenge but as an opportunity to build a wellness-focused home for her family.

When scrolling through photos of architect Emili Fox’s new home, one can practically feel the texture of the concrete floors underfoot, the smoothed grain of the wood cabinetry, and the warmth of the sun on the front patio. But such tactile delights were not always a hallmark of life on this Birchgrove neighborhood lot, says Fox, who is codirector of the Sydney-based firm Fox Johnston. 

Architect Emili Fox’s Sydney home has a walled exterior courtyard between the front street entrance and the home.

Fox’s home design encompasses 2,637 square feet across four levels, and includes a garage, an independent unit for guests/family, and two floors for her family of four.

Fox and her husband bought a near derelict two-bedroom house in the Sydney suburb in 2014 and lived in it for four years. While the site had promising water views to the north, its best qualities weren’t embraced by the existing house, which was invaded by both black mold and possums at some point. 

"It was a long period to be living in such an unhealthy environment," says Fox. "We could be sitting in the dark indoors, rugged up, and suddenly go outside to see it's a sunny day. The kids shared a room and didn't have a window. But we saw the potential." 

A photovoltaic roof array supplies 92% of the home’s electricity usage, with future plans to increase those capabilities with battery storage. There are also systems for rainwater harvesting and gray water recycling.

Accoya batten sliding screens cover the openings to better keep the interiors cool. "The streetscape to the front comprises an ad hoc mix of late Victorian and interwar dwellings, expressed in the design through the upper level’s angled walls and shifting roof form," says Fox.

When Fox started redesigning the site, she had four priorities, starting with getting more light into the living quarters. Additionally, she wanted to create an independent unit where her parents or visiting friends might comfortably stay. The build would be done as sustainably as possible in order to test her ideas about modest living and design.

The Western red cedar siding is covered in Cutek "Grey Mist" stain.

The front door pivots open. The interior floors are polished concrete.

The site presented a steep challenge in the form of a 260-square-meter sandstone ridge. "We saw the difficult sandstone cliff as an opportunity, establishing a lower podium form to house the self-contained dual-key accommodation suite and garage," says Fox, both of which are accessible at the rear of the house, which also has street access. 

The living room opens to the private, walled exterior courtyard at the front. "I really love the design of the courtyard and the fact that you can see it from everywhere in the house," notes Fox. The ottoman is from Jardan and the outdoor chair is from Hay.

"The main living spaces, flowing from the central courtyard, fold down with the stepped concrete floor," says Fox. "Plywood joinery and an off-form concrete ceiling anchor and harmonize." The rug is the Paragon Rug in Primrose from Armadillo.

The architect bookended the main living areas with a trio of courtyards and terraces for a fluid indoor/outdoor effect. At the ground floor, these start at the walled front entry, lead to a glassed-in central garden lightwell, and finally, to a balcony off the dining room that oversees the harbor and city.

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"It was initially conceived of as a garden courtyard around which the internal spaces cluster," says Fox. "Being connected to nature and the outdoors no matter where in the house you are brings a sense of calm and well-being to the household, which was missing before." 

The view from the combined kitchen/dining room shows the glassed-in, central garden lightwell, accessible via large sliders.

Thonet chairs surround a table from Made by Morgen, and the pendant is by Cult Design. The dining room cedes to an exterior terrace.

Emerald cushions from Atelier Furniture line a window seat. The wall light is also Cult Design and the side table is Hay.

The kitchen is anchored by a deep window seat with views of the harbor. "My favorite place in the house is the built-in, deep daybed off the kitchen, from where I like to look out onto the water with a book in hand," says Fox. "Having the view of the water and getting cozy in that spot is perfect." 

Birch plywood with a white wash forms the cabinetry in the kitchen and the island is topped with marble. Perimeter counters are Corian. The faucet is Astra Walker and the cabinet handles are Made Measure. 

Since moving in, Fox has observed how the family spends more time together in the shared living spaces, all of which spill into the outdoor areas. At 2,637 square feet, including the independent unit, "It is not the biggest house," says Fox, who lives there with her husband and two children. "But you realize that we really don’t need that much space. We just need to use it efficiently and design in a clever way that works for us."

In the main bathroom, Artedomus Elba stone, a honed marble, covers the walls and floor.

Astra Walker faucets bedeck the vanity. The aged brass and honed marble "further reflect the human interaction with nature and time," says Fox.

Basement Plan of Ballast Point House by Fox Johnston

The plan for the independent unit on the lower ground floor. There is also an additional lounge space accessible to the upper floors.

The Ground Floor Plan of Ballast Point House by Fox Johnston

The Upper Level of Ballast Point House by Fox Johnston

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