A Sustainable Makeover Of A 1910s Sydney Home

Vanessa Pilla and Jo Cooper bought their Hurlstone Park home in Sydney’s inner-west in 2008.

They completed some updates over the years (a new bathroom and opening up the kitchen), but by 2018, the property was calling for a more extensive makeover.

In their own words, Vanessa was eager to renovate, and Jo was eager to move into a renovated home!

The couple engaged Urakawa Jenkins Architecture (UJA) with a brief to create a larger and more sustainable and light-filled house, connected to its garden.

The existing lean-to (built in 1950s) and deck were demolished, in favour of a modern structure with the spacious proportions Vanessa and Jo desired. And instead of looking out onto the backyard, UJA designed the updated home to sit within the garden, installing floor-to-ceiling windows on both the ground floor and new mezzanine level.

Skylights, a glass splashback, and north-facing windows in the mezzanine inject additional light and tree views into the interiors.

Creating a more sustainable home was also important to Vanessa and Jo, so they were willing to invest in technology with long-term benefits as part of the renovation.

‘Fundamentally it’s a core value for us both, and being able to influence what is in our control, such as our home, was a really important driver for our renovation that would ultimately impact the way we live,’ explains Vanessa.

The thermal performance of the original rooms was significantly improved by restoring the windows with laminated glass, draught proofing all openings, and insulating under the floorboards.

A solar array was also installed, and all gas appliances were removed.

‘We converted everything to electric which was such a big decision because the cost you outlay upfront is much more, but you are buying into a different future reality where we will rely on renewable energy sources,’ says Vanessa.

‘I also wasn’t sure how I would feel cooking on induction but I now love how much control I have of the lower temperatures.’

Hydronic heating with an electric heat pump, including underfloor heating in the back room provides a consistent temperature throughout the home in winter and helps reduce moisture and mould.

Aesthetically, sleek contemporary lines in the interiors are balanced with warm timbers and a muted colour palette that mirrors the landscape outside.

‘We were inspired by the trunk of a gum tree in our local area that you can see in beautiful shades of grey, brown, orange and pinks,’ says Vanessa. ‘It was another way to capture as much texture [as possible] and bring the outdoors inside.’

Taking inspiration from the Nordic-style spa on the back deck, Pepo Botanic Design designed a circular lawn with additional planting to attract butterflies and birds.

‘I love the contrast between angular square shapes and the circular,’ says Vanessa. ‘We have used the same accent colours inside and outside, so the grevilleas are pink and orange, there’s orange kangaroo paw, and an orange flowering gum.

Post-transformation, the house is more comfortable, welcoming, and perfectly connected with its garden. It’s now a true sanctuary away from Vanessa and Jo’s busy lives, that enhances the ‘secret oasis’ feel of the home they first fell in love with.

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