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.
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 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 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.
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.
"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."
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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.
"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."