Two Sisters Work Together to Revive and Expand a Turn-of-the-Century Home in Perth

Two Sisters Work Together to Revive and Expand a Turn-of-the-Century Home in Perth

By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
With input from her sister and her family, designer Beth George breathes new life into a 1908 Edwardian.

Although many might warn against designing for or with family and friends, Australian architect Beth George describes the experience of designing her sister’s forever home in Perth as "an exceptional collaboration." The statement serves as a testament to the sisters’ closeness and mutual respect—while the stunning results are both a reflection of their shared past and a vision for the future. 

Although the original home had been stripped of its Heritage listing, the family valued its character and opted to maintain the original facade.  

George's sister, Frances, an archaeologist turned stay-at-home mum, and Frances' husband Mark, a rheumatologist, had purchased the 1908 Edwardian home and its surrounding plot of land years ago and had lived there to get a better feel for the space and start to plan before embarking on a major renovation. The compact structure was outdated and had a "zany 1980s-90s extension" that leaked at the back, but otherwise had lots of original character.  Located in the leafy suburb of Subiaco and bordering a historic district, it had been known as "the Lilac House," a reference to its purple walls. The home had been on the Heritage Register until it was removed from the list when the previous owners made plans to demolish it and subdivide the land. As a result, it was not actually officially protected by any historic preservation laws. Still, Frances and Mark valued its character and sense of history, and so chose to maintain it.  

The original dwelling was retained with only the two rear walls removed. A column now marks the spot where the southwest corner of the original house once stood.

Original elements, such as moldings and arches, were kept and now contrast with the contemporary extension. 

A large-scale home renovation can test the best relationships, so the family let honesty and professionalism be their mantra. "We all took care of each other through the process," says George. It was her second commission from the family; she had worked on her brother-in-law’s medical suite earlier in her career—a project that tested the waters for their working relationship and help them set the road map for the future collaboration. 

The process of carefully planning the design included long conversations where the sisters looked back on their shared past and looked to the future of Frances' family. "My sister and I reflected on our favorite memories of growing up together in the Perth Hills: listening to trees, birds, and frogs; reading on the lawn; invading each other’s rooms. We used these memories to generate atmospheres and spatial relationships for her four daughters." 

"My brother-in-law is an avid gardener, so pairing rooms with gardens, and experiencing the house as a series of spaces with different relationships to plants and trees, evolved naturally," explains George.  Much of the garden is filled with local and drought-tolerant plants. 

The contemporary addition pairs concrete and glass. "For us, it was really the only material that was going to handle the formal qualities that we wanted – stretching seamlessly from indoors to outside, taking on sculptural aspects, acting with strength both horizontally and vertically, and so on," explains George.  Photo by Ben Hosking

The couple's four daughters range in age from six to 16, and the family wanted spaces for togetherness, but also for seclusion—and the oversized lot provided plenty of opportunities to design for ample public and private spaces. George left the original dwelling in place and removed the two rear walls. A long, linear kitchen and the dining space are transitional spaces that lead to the new contemporary extension in the rear. Full-height windows look out on the courtyard, giving the home an almost terrarium-like quality. The rectangular concrete extension houses the living room, which also looks out on the greenery and the swimming pool at the center, and the master bedroom is quietly tucked away in the back. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, one for each of the girls. 

Concrete was a natural choice for George, who was inspired by the use of the building material that she saw when she traveled throughout India and Sri Lanka on a travel scholarship after she graduated from university. "I was totally struck by the work of Balkrishna Doshi and Charles Correa, particularly by their use of folded concrete elements that provide structure, space, and hydrology all at the same time," she says. "I referred to this when thinking about the collective concrete elements in the house, all of which connect to gardens." 

Concrete is also able to multitask: It can convey a sense of weight while also giving off a light, sculptural feel; it is able to work both indoors and outdoors; and it's incredibly durable. A material that hopefully will be able to add at least another hundred years to the original home's lifespan—with a design that is masterful in its ability to evoke past memories, as well being the source of many new ones. 

Full-height windows create walls of glass along the corridor bringing light and greenery into almost every space. The sisters’ favorite part of the home is the stretch between the dining room, the courtyard, and the living room. A space that George says feels just like she hoped it would. "Like the house swallowed up a piece of the garden. Or like the garden has infiltrated the house."
 Photo by Ben Hosking

Just off the kitchen, the sitting room is encircled with custom steel joinery that frames the full-height double glazed windows and looks out on the pool in the middle of the garden-filled courtyard. The restored vintage Parker three-piece lounge set is from Australian midcentury furniture purveyor, Juliet's Balcony. 

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The kitchen features a concrete countertop and stained plywood cabinets with Halliday and Bailie drawer pulls. The cabinetry was custom-made by Shepherd Craft. The backsplash is Inax Yohen Border tiles from Artedomus.

"We [Frances and Beth] share a love of heavy walls, textured surfaces, timber, and whitewash—reminiscent of the houses we grew up in together," shares George.

Frances sourced all of the furniture, much of which is midcentury and restored or custom made. The dining table was a bespoke piece done in collaboration with Guy Eddington, a local furniture designer. The vintage Moller chairs were manufactured by TH Brown and restored by and purchased from Juliet's Balcony. 

"My sister sought these incredible curtains that are a beautiful mixture of purple and grey, soft and textured. And I think that alongside the concrete and the steel, and the warm and scarred timber floors, with the landscape always present, we got the balance we wanted—a little bit feminine, but strong," says George.  

 Inax Yohen Border tiles from Artedomus line the master bathtub. 

A pink-hued skylight and reading nook animate the in-situ concrete stair wall.

The highlight of one of the upstairs bathrooms for the girls is this custom mirror that can rotate and adjust to their height as they grow. 

The Amelie bathtub from Rogerseller is meant to be an elegant, contemporary take on a claw-foot tub. 

"Pink and fluffy" was the design direction for the courtyard green space that the sisters gave Landscape Architect, Christina Nicholson of Banksia + Lime, who more than delivered. Photo by Ben Hosking

Another key element of the design is the fact that the home's energy is supplied by extensive solar collection and the harvesting of gray water, radically reducing the building’s energy expenditure. In fact, the house generates more energy than it consumes. 

Floorplan of the Reed House- ground floor

Floorplan of the Reed House- first floor

The Reed House is currently shortlisted for two awards: the Australian Institute of Architects Awards in the Alterations and Additions category and the Houses Awards, for Alterations and Additions over 200 square meters. 

Related Reading: A Carbon-Neutral Concrete House Is an Exemplary Infill in Western Australia

Project Credits

Project Name: The Reed House
Architect of Record: Beth George
Builder/General Contractor: Alan Pope & Associates
Structural Engineer: Atelier JV
Landscape Design: Banksia + Lime 
Cabinetry Design/Installation: Shepherd Craft
Dining Table: Guy Eddington Design


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