Renovated 19th-Century Terrace House Merges with the Outdoors

Pivot Studio fully modernized this 19th-century terrace house outside Sydney.
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In the 1850s, a new kind of architecture started cropping up in Australian cities. Inspired by the elegant homes people saw on journeys to London and Paris, they began building terrace houses—stucco-clad dwellings recognizable for their cast iron balustrades.

The home’s white stucco walls and chestnut-hued timber offer a modern contrast to its filigree railing and ornamentation.

Today, these charming historic homes are highly sought after for their distinct character. But for Damien Abicic, principal architect at Sydney’s Pivot Studio, they’re also a bit of a headache. He’s modernized many terrace homes, and there are always plenty of hoops held up by conservative planning authorities to jump through—though if his latest project is any indication, he’s pretty good at it.

"You can never entirely rely on a set of drawings with the type of projects I work on, as a mountain of unexpected issues arise," Abicic explains. In this case, demolition unearthed remnants of previous structures that required careful removal. The architect also learned he needed to replace the home’s decrepit sewage pipes and upgrade fireproofing to the neighboring building.

"Creating something new while maintaining a relationship to the context is the challenge and sometimes the inspiration, as it was for this home," Abicic explains of the terrace house in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria that he renovated last year for just under $152,000. The architect preserved the 1,150-square-foot structure’s original exterior while gutting and rebuilding the interior, which was too far deteriorated to save anyway. The result is a uniquely contemporary two-story home that honors Australia’s rich past while fully embracing the present. 

The Alexandria House uses a material palette of polished concrete floors, ruddy hardwood accents, and smooth white plaster. Black covers entire walls in the living room and kitchen and threads throughout the home, popping up everywhere from the iron railing outside to the decorative picture frames inside.

The home’s minimalist kitchen demonstrates that you can create something beautiful without shelling out too much cash. To help stretch the budget, Abicic installed generic fixtures and cabinets. The dining room chairs and table were purchased secondhand.

An internal courtyard anchors the house while ushering in air and light. Its materials echo those used in the rear yard. "You get a glimpse of both outdoor spaces when walking through the house," Abicic says.

In the courtyard, the fence line climbs upward, drawing the eyes to the clouds.

Full height louvers are used throughout the house, opening the interior spaces up to the outdoors.


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