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."
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."
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.
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.
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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.
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.
"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."