Natural Light and Treetop Views Suffuse This Taoist-Inspired Sydney Home

Natural Light and Treetop Views Suffuse This Taoist-Inspired Sydney Home

By Lucy Wang
An architect flips the script on her “upside-down” home with a light-filled revamp.

An emergency renovation was the first order of business for Sydney-based architect Madeleine Blanchfield when she and her husband, Guy, bought a run-down 1920s bungalow topped with a 1980s addition over five years ago.

"I remember sitting on the brown vinyl floor and crying the day we got the keys," says Madeleine, who primarily purchased the suburban Sydney home for its location near Bronte Beach. "The emergency reno plan was essentially to rip all the walls out of the top floor and board up the dark and dank lower-level rooms. We lived in the house that way for much longer than expected, with a kitchen counter made of scaffolding planks from Bunnings and a floor I limed myself at 2 a.m. the night before we moved in."

Madeleine Blanchfield sits with her husband Guy, son Aston, and daughter Estelle in their open-plan living room on the top floor of their home.

The low-cost renovation was meant to be a temporary stopgap. "By gutting the 1980s extension and moving the living areas upstairs, the first renovation gave us an open space with great light," says Blanchfield. "However, the planning, sense of entry, bathrooms, and more were truly horrendous. There was too much house—it was like a rabbit warren downstairs, and we wanted to make it smaller."

Located on a steeply sloping site near Bronte Beach, the Tree House is perfectly sited for Madeleine’s outdoorsy family.

A new set of concrete steps lead up to the main entrance. The steep site and power lines obstructed crane access, so the home’s enormous windows, trees, and even a one-ton marble dining table had to be carried in by hand.

After five years of careful planning and saving, Madeleine finally achieved her vision last year with the Tree House, a complete renovation that immerses the home in nature, streamlines circulation, and emphasizes a simple yet timeless aesthetic.

The top living floor was completely renovated with huge windows that flood the interior with sunlight, and timber beams that span the entire width of the house.

A Nuura Miira 4 pendant light hangs above the custom one-ton marble dining table surrounded by Era dining chairs by Living Divani from Space Saving Furniture Australia. The framed photograph is by Paul Ogier.

"In the afternoon, the west-facing kitchen window is like a painting with red and orange sunsets," says Madeleine.

The kitchen counter, formerly made of scaffolding planks, is now built of board-formed concrete to reference the external planters and tie the exterior with the interior.

With much of the design work done in the years prior, the architects were able to complete the build in just 18 months. The main living spaces are still located on the top floor, where massive windows flood the "upside-down" home with constantly changing natural light and capture a treetop outlook in the front and garden views at the rear.

Massive glazed sliding doors open up the living space to an outdoor concrete patio that overlooks the street at the front of the room.

Surrounded by Eveneer white oak paneling, the light-filled living room is furnished with a Poltrona Frau John-John sofa from Cult, Knoll Tulip coffee tables, a Sisal rug from Armadillo & Co, and a pair of 60-year anniversary-edition PK22 lounge chairs from Cult.

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Concrete pavers and massive sliding glass doors extend the sitting room at the back of the home to the rear garden.

In situ concrete planter beds filled with creepers and succulents expand the lush garden.

The living level, which is where Madeleine’s family of four spends most of their time, is organized into a quiet zone and an active zone separated by sliding glass panels (rather than a sequence of rooms) so as to eliminate unnecessary circulation space. As a result, the streamlined home is smaller than the original bungalow’s footprint, but it feels far more spacious thanks to an abundance of natural light, tall ceilings, and an emphasis on indoor/outdoor living.

Large-scale sliding doors divide the active zones at the front of the home from the quiet zones in the rear.

The sitting room, located at the rear of the home, features a custom timber coffee table by the architects, an Escea fireplace, a Little Petra armchair by Viggo Boesen for &Tradition, and a Sanders Air sofa from Voyager.

The library, also located in the quiet zone, features a custom table by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects, Henry Time SB 1901 chairs, and an Atollo lamp by Vico Magistretti for Oluce.

"I have been carting this light around in a box for 10 years...it finally has a home!" says Madeleine of the Jorn Utzon ceiling light in the upstairs powder room.

Madeleine took inspiration from Japanese architecture and Taoist theory to achieve the home’s calming and flexible character. "The values of simplicity, spontaneity, and contrasting but complementary elements are applicable to architecture—particularly when we are expecting that architecture to house us and support our lives," she explains.

"Finishes are muted but warm and lend a calm, uplifting quality to the home," explain the architects. "Adornment comes from the use of building materials, as opposed to the application of finishes."

A circular skylight bathes the staircase in light and views of a changing sky.

The ground-floor bedrooms branch off the entry hall and the steel-and-concrete spiral stair—a focal point and labor of love.

"The living level is calm and light filled, with an ‘active’ north-facing kitchen/living space overlooking the gully," Madeleine says while discussing her favorite aspects of the project.

"This is balanced by the ‘quiet’ space looking over the garden, which has high ceilings, bookshelves, and a fireplace. I enjoy the difference between these spaces, and the contrasting ways they are used. The light pours in from 360 degrees, and it’s ever changing and absolutely the best thing about the house."  

The master bedroom opens up to a private garden terrace and views of the treetops.

A view of the principal bedroom from the private garden terrace. An Eames molded plywood chair from Matisse sits in the corner. Next to the bed is a Ferm Living Insert side table and a Roy table light from Viabizzuno.

Antarctic White marble from STS Stone makes up the vanity in the principal bath.

Thoughtful joinery in the guest bedroom includes a low cupboard large enough for suitcases.

Handmade terra-cotta floor tiles from Onsite Supply + Design line the shared bath. The Vixel wall tiles are from Artedomus, and below the custom shelf is a Vitra Butterfly stool by Sori Yanagi.

Garden views can be enjoyed throughout the home—including in the bathroom.

Upper-level floor plan of Tree House by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

Ground-level floor plan of Tree House by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

Rear elevation of Tree House by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

Front elevation of Tree House by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

Side elevation of Tree House by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

More from Madeleine Blanchfield Architects:

A Sleek, Two-Story Addition Hides Behind a Traditional Cottage in Sydney

The World’s Most Beautiful Outhouse Is a Mirrored Cube in the Australian Bush

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Madeleine Blanchfield Architects / @madeleineblanchfieldarchitects

Builder/General Contractor: Milestone Building

Landscape Design Company: Spirit Level

Lighting Design: Point of View

Interior Design: Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

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