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Renovation ideas - Wily Willett

Good design and a clever use of materials turned a 1920s timber shack into a peaceful but modern haven.

For Sydney-based architect Peter Willett, the decision to turn an old timber shack into a Victorian-look terrace was immensely personal. “It’s my house. We were operating out of an old timber shack that had been relocated here in the 1920s, and it was completely falling apart,” Willett says, of his home and office in Sydney’s trendy inner west.

Salisbury Road is a busy street with an eclectic style and Willett’s home was sitting between two different two storey Victorian terraces, separated by a timber shack. Other parts of the street have single storey buildings.

Willett got council permission to reproduce the Victorian terrace ‘look’ with a few modern touches. The result was a light and airy three-level home with dormers [in the roof] and a studio out the back for Willett’s architectural practice.

Living zones

“The living area is on the first floor, and the family room is one level up, with a deck we use as our ‘high use’ outdoor area. We also wanted to develop the notion of a courtyard as a breathing space – on each level we look at the garden from a different perspective,” he says.
The courtyard has also helped Willett keep work and home life separate. “Walking across that small courtyard is a psychological going home, it’s quite important,” he says.

A layered approach

While the home could have been built using heavy weight materials, this would have involved a big hit to the bottom line.
“It would’ve cost a lot more. It costs a huge amount to keep adding layers in a domestic house. [We’ve used a] gradual grading of lighter materials as it gets higher, starting with a brick veneer structure with timber floors, [while the] dormer uses timber Cyprus pine cladding,” he says.
An extendable awning over the second level deck makes this important outdoor space usable in hot weather, while pushing the stairs to the front of the house helps control heat inside.

“In summer the sun doesn’t get into lower levels at all; it’s quite a remarkable difference between the courtyard and the lower levels. People think we have air conditioning, but we simply use fans at the top levels to extract that hot air, and some small operable skylights,” says Willett.

Green building

Other sustainability wins include a rainwater tank and the lightweight products used higher up in the house, but it’s the reduction in urban noise that visitors first notice.

“Double glazing costs about 30 per cent more; we couldn’t afford that. [On the busy street side] we chose a thicker laminated glass normally produced as a safety glass – it gives quite a good acoustic performance. As people walk from the noisy street into the room the sound drops significantly,” he says.
Willett also saved money by using a series of small structural nibs throughout.

“It allows you to have a braced system that’s cheaper than steel portal frames, gives you environmental performance you want, and consistent storage space,” he says.

FACTS
Words:
Sue White

Name of architect:
Peter Willett Associates

www.pwa.com.au

Name of builder:
Owner builders – Willett project managed the build himself.

Photographer:
Peter Willett

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