This Breezy Sydney Home Stands Strong Against Bushfires

This Breezy Sydney Home Stands Strong Against Bushfires

By Lucy Wang
In the Western Sydney suburb of North Rocks, a sustainably renovated home embraces the outdoors in more ways than one.

Shortly after architects Belqis Youssofzay and David Hart launched their Sydney-based firm Youssofzay + Hart in 2017, an exciting opportunity came knocking. Thomas and Amber Lowes, a couple with experience in civil construction, sought the architects’ help in renovating and expanding their suburban home.

The Lowes, a growing family of five, had been feeling squeezed for space in their single-story brick cottage, but the couple’s love of the community and the site’s direct access to a forested lake reserve convinced them to stay and renovate, rather than move.

"The new addition encloses a series of crafted interiors, each deceptively spacious despite the modest footprint, and designed to offer a heightened experience of landscape from within an intimate setting," explain the architects. "Large sections of the facade slide fully away, allowing living areas to merge into the surrounding garden, and for the edge of the bathroom and bedrooms to vanish into the forest context."

In addition to more space, the clients, who also served as the builders, wanted to update the home for indoor/outdoor living—a design concept that initially seemed at odds with the at-risk site’s bushfire hazard rating, which had increased in light of recent destructive bushfires.

"It was a challenge resolving the competing constraints of fire-resistant construction with an ambition for openness, connection to the landscape, and thermal comfort," says Youssofzay.

The brick vents, openings, and chimney flue are protected from falling embers.

"The new codes mandated specifics of fire-resistant building construction, so the design process began by working through the code line by line to determine a performance case for all elements of the building. It was important to us that the building not become a bunker, and that we work with the code to achieve a design that matched with our ambition for openness and connection to landscape."

The renovated home is topped with Colorbond metal roofing with a debris-shedding gutter design.

The architects’ careful selection of fire-resilient materials and finishes—including thickened metal roofing, fire-rated glass, and solid brick construction—were key to meeting BAL19 fire ratings and achieving an elegant, energy-efficient design with strong outdoor connections. A new sheltered courtyard in between the existing house and a new volume gave rise to the project’s name—Courtyard House.

The space sandwiched between the existing cottage and the new rear addition has been transformed into a north-facing courtyard that brings light and views of greenery into the living spaces.

Like a garden pavilion, the living/dining area completely opens up to the outdoors on two sides: the courtyard to the west and the backyard to the east. The bespoke dining table by Oliver Throsby is paired with Thonet No. 18 chairs.

Spread out across two floors, the new extension provides 1,450 square feet of additional space, with communal living areas on the ground floor and the new master suite, study, and a second bedroom located above. Sliding pocket doors open the interiors up to the landscape.

A view from the back lawn to the dining room in the new extension—and the hallway of the existing cottage beyond. Arenaria Grigio porcelain stoneware from Alexandria Tiles line the living area floors, while NSW spotted gum is used in the hall.

The home’s passive design reduces the need for additional heating and cooling. The thermal mass of the insulated ground slab mitigates temperature extremes. Hydronic heating installed in the ground slab is powered by natural gas.

Steel sunshades protect the interiors from unwanted solar gain in the summer.

Perforated anodized aluminum operable screens mitigate solar glare. The home features a mix of low-E and bushfire-rated toughened glass set within nonflammable frames.

"The planning of the house was a meticulous exercise in proportions," note the architects. "Every room was worked carefully to achieve spaces that felt generous, despite the size limitations."

The new master bedroom on the upper floor of the extension was designed around the proportions of the bed and a couple of chairs at the edge of the window.

Large glass doors slide open to reveal views of forest canopy to the east. "This strategic design device is used consistently throughout the house to extend spaces beyond their modest proportion," note the architects.

The master bath is beautifully dressed with Ming Green tiles from Bisanna to evoke imagery of the nearby forest. The cast concrete freestanding bath is from Concrete Nation, and the taps are from the Brodware Contemporary Halo Collection.

While the recycled brick exterior of the new volume is a sympathetic nod to the suburb’s ubiquitous postwar brick cottages, the interiors of the renovated home take cues from the densely forested lake reserve nearby.

"The recycled brick honors the fabric of the existing cottage whilst adding robustness and patina to complement the rugged terrain of the lake reserve," say the architects. Only recycled bricks were used in the new construction.

Recycled bricks, some of which were repurposed from the existing cottage, are celebrated in the new extension’s interior and exterior.

"One day, while discussing the project on the site, we gazed at the forest beyond the fence and had that ‘ah-ha’ moment," says Youssofzay. "We decided then that all our material selections ought to reference the patina and colors of the forest beyond. This anchoring back to the forest was what guided the interior composition."

The adjacent lake reserve inspired the color and material palettes for the interior. "Steel and copper accents set up the house for graceful weathering," explains the firm. "Inside, a softer palette of timber (NSW spotted gum), stone, and fabric, combined with a paint palette of eucalyptus greens, create a vibrant, light domestic interior and bring a sense of the landscape within. It’s a composition to complement the framed views."

NSW spotted gum surfaces and cabinetry painted with Dulux Forest Canopy give the kitchen a calming, forest-like feel.

Ceramic Licht Pendants by Koskela hang above the kitchen island topped with Caesarstone Fresh Concrete.

"Roof-level clerestory louvers situated above an open staircase connecting the floors allows hot air to be drawn away from all spaces within the house by a process of natural convection," note the architects. Electric louvers, in addition to heating and cooling mechanisms, are controlled by a C-Bus home automation system.

At the top of the stairs lies a small study nook with a Thonet B29 Le Corbusier chair. The custom solid timber shutters with leather pulls are by Oliver Throsby.

Courtyard House first-floor plan

Courtyard House upper-floor plan

Related Reading:

This Off-Grid House Is Designed to Withstand Bushfires and Cyclones

A Fire-Resistant House Cuts a Striking Figure in the Australian Bush

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Youssofzay + Hart / @youssofzayhart

Builder/General Contractor: Thomas and Amber Lowes

Structural Engineer: Birzulis Associates

Interior Design: Youssofzay + Hart

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Modern Design Kitchens

Save
Get the Renovations Newsletter

Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design.

See a sample