Compact Australian Home Clad in Steel and Concrete

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By Patrick Sisson
An Australian renovation uses industrial materials both indoors and out.

When renovating a 1920s semi-detached home in Tamarama, a beachfront suburb near Sydney, architect David Langston-Jones decided to invert the house. He reconfigured the space so that the living space opened to the yard, then took the exterior elements and used them to decorate the interior as well. The concrete and corrugated steel design creates a dialogue between inside and outside, all on a fixed budget of roughly $175,000.

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Langston-Jones, who grew up in Malaysia and Hong Kong, was attracted to corrugated metal for its its unique edges and visible flecks of material. He left the original 1920s corrugated steel roof and filled the interior with panes of the same material, as well as walls of sanded concrete and a concrete slab. “Inside and outside, there’s only one set of finishes, which succeeds in drawing the outside inside,” he says. “The climate here is wonderful, you can virtually live outside.”

Initially raised 400 millimeters above the ground, the home was lowered onto a new concrete slab to gain additional space. However, the way the plumbing lines were laid out meant the bathroom had to stay at ground level, leading to a quirky step down from the main floor. Despite the challenges, the resulting structure, which clocks in at a little more than 800 square feet, manages to pack a kitchen, bathroom, and lofted living space together, yet still boasting a spacious living area that opens into a newly accessible garden.

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“It feels like one really grand room, and that’s the attraction,” says the architect of the kitchen and main living space.

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Hewing to budget constraints, Langston-Jones utilized IKEA cabinetry. The kitchen counter is fashioned from cement sheets burnished in the same sealer as the floor, providing textural continuity. The island's yellow edge is made from painted MDF.

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The Alvar Aalto dining chairs, which sit against a table (Table 86A) and lamp (Pendant Lamp A110) by the same designer, were deliberately chosen because they sit slightly lower to the ground and can be used in the living area as well. The back wall unit includes a television, garden-view windows, and fireplace, surrounded by an Aalto chair (Armchair 400) and a daybed from a Melbourne designer. The window’s placement allows residents to look out on the garden while blocking the views from the neighboring eight-story apartment building.

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The stairs up to the loft were a happy mistake, the result of an errant delivery of the wrong type of plywood. The improvised staircase was one of many on-the-fly creations that made this such an exciting project, according to Langston-Jones.

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The lofted room is adorned with inexpensive features, such as a wall of Spur shelving with aluminum brackets.

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The blue bathroom tiles were inspired by a “Corbusian use of color,” according to the architect, and take advantage of the lowered floor to create a metaphorical step into a pool. The corrugated metal continues throughout, even wrapping around the walls of the shower.

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Langston-Jones decked out the bathroom with Vola taps with Erco light fixtures.

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The back wall of the garden, made from stacked concrete blocks, was initially meant to be a row of vertical planting boxes.

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The architect reconfigured the house so the living space opens to the yard. He also took the exterior elements and used them to decorate the interior.

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