Anyone who has renovated a home will tell you changes get made along the way, but few can say that they've updated their plans on the strength of a century-old letter.
David and Bec Smith had a well-defined vision for a dramatic, ultra-contemporary renovation of their heritage listed home in Drummoyne, Sydney. The plan outlined a minimalist, geometric aesthetic, including a two-storey extension with cantilevered second floor at the back of the building, which would increase the living space and create a sheltered alfresco overlooking the garden and a new pool.
"Anyone who has undertaken a renovation knows that plans are almost guaranteed to change suddenly (and) unpredictably, but we had no idea of what we would find when we started and just how much our plans would move," says Bec.
During the demolition on parts of the home to create a more open modern space, the Smiths made a heartwarming discovery. It was a letter from the original builders that had been hidden behind a wall, which read:
"This building was erected by M. M. Haiges.Carpenter James Haston.Plasterers Thomas Smart & Henry Glossip.Painter M. Swan. Remember us all whoever finds this. 1902."
The personal and sincere words of the men who had built their family's home made preserving the structure's historic integrity a priority. David and Bec promptly modified their architectural plans, deciding to restore the house's original facade and front rooms, while capturing the modern look they loved in the rear extension.
Bec began collecting distinctive pictures of cantilevered builds, which led to their vision of a "floating box" extension. To define their modern aesthetic, David used James Hardie's Axon vertical groove cladding across the back build's exterior. This cladding's sleek, wide, ultra-smooth profile enhanced the build's distinctively contemporary clean, sharp lines and simple shape. The Axon cladding adds an additional level of practicality. Made from premium fibre cement, it's durable, weathers well, is resistant to flaking, warping or swelling and damage from moisture.
The resulting three-bedroom, two-bathroom home now features a floating second level extension that is cantilevered over the outdoor living area, providing shade, weather protection and making a strong visual impact. It's engineering also cleverly hides the roof line and solar panels.
"The 'boxy-house trend' is striking and futuristic and adds a modern articulation to the shape of the home, which we love," says David. "While being stylish and unique, it also functions as a family friendly area perfect for playing, entertaining and relaxing."
Having created their modern extension, the Smith's greatest challenge was uniting the addition with the home's heritage facade. On the exterior, Axon cladding was carefully adjoined to the original brickwork and finished in a soft grey tone to complement the existing masonry. "Your initial welcome imparts history and heritage," says David "But a few steps beyond these rooms is a modern, light-filled, open-plan living area, telling the new story the Smith family is building together."
The home's interior was designed to guide guests along this pathway of transformation. The traditional entryway features restored rosettes and arches running along high ceilings, suspended above polished timber floors installed in 1902. From there, a grey and white colour palette runs seamlessly throughout to the modern rear of the home. The detail of black, powder-coated metal fittings in the new build are tied to the original house's black copper fittings.
While doing the groundwork, Kane also repurposed the foundation's sandstone blocks to become a feature wall in the modern addition, further linking the past with the present. These blocks have their own historical significance, as they were likely sourced from Sydney's Centennial Park in the late 1800s.
"We love the blend of old and new that gives the home new life and tells the story of the original builders," says Bec. "I like to think that they would be happy with how we have incorporated their legacy into our family home."