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.
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."
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 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 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."
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."
Builder: SQ Projects
Structural Engineer: SDA Structures
Landscape Design: Dangar Barin Smith
Lighting Design: Fox Johnston
Interior Design: Fox Johnston
Kitchen/Coffee Table Design: Made by Morgen
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