Classical Revival

Thanks to the efforts of a well-known architect and successful interior designer, a large terrace in Sydney’s inner west has had a massive makeover. On the slope of a hill and surrounded by 100-year-old trees and houses, over the years Birchgrove has managed to keep and treasure some of Australia’s most desirable and historical houses. Of particular interest is a row of four semi-detached Victorian houses opposite parklands that edge onto the harbour. It’s an old, classified area where residents embrace the period-style value of their homes and readily commit to the upkeep that goes into maintaining the style and atmosphere these properties give to the area.

Restoration with panache
Well-known Sydney architect, Virginia Zanarini, is a firm believer in preserving these houses instead of pulling them down. In any renovation process she’s involved with, she strives to uphold the foundations and original soul of a house. “One day I received a phone call from a friend asking me to renovate her house,” Virginia relates. The two-storey Victorian house was badly in need of repair. Virginia took on the project and during the initial work was approached by the next-door neighbour, who was keen to see if she would also be interested in renovating his terrace. Virginia’s friend then decided to sell her house during the negotiation and she ended up working solely on the neighbour’s house instead; something which proved to be a fascinating and rewarding project.

Challenging beginning
At that point, large invasive vines were growing through the windows and doors and in through the wall vents as well. The front garden was completely overgrown and in the back garden there was a very old and spectacular jacaranda tree that tilted to one side due to trunk damage. A ’70s extension had decayed due to inadequate foundations and a leak from the first-floor terrace which had damaged everything. The rear garden was completely covered in decayed decking, which the owner had never used. Virginia’s brief was to retain the historical features of the house, including additional elements that had been added, and to build a new extension in a style that was sympathetic to the house.

Renovation wish list
The owners had a list of requirements they wanted to include, one of which was a large conservatory to act as a Victorian ‘winter-garden room’ to attract sun and light all year round. There was also to be a new upstairs bathroom, an ensuite and a guest bathroom downstairs. As there was a lot of space under the house, a decision was made to excavate and include a garage and basement to house the couple’s collection of antiques and his carpentry equipment. The ground floor was especially in need of repairs and the work included replacing the original blackbutt timber floor, plus the Victorian woodwork details and door mouldings. The footprint of the house was retained with the new open-plan living and kitchen area providing direct access to the garden and courtyard. The two original front rooms were kept as the TV room on one side and on the other side the living and dining rooms, both with double doors leading to the garden. Throughout the house, all the cabinet and joinery work was expertly executed, incorporating handcrafted details.

The owner was very involved in the detail of the renovation. Once the work started rolling, the owner even presented Virginia with well-made cardboard models of various aspects of the first floor roof design. After her client suggested the entire rear garden be raised to match the internal floor, with brick pathways laid on compacted soil to create a more user-friendly undulating paved surface, Virginia introduced him to landscape gardener and artist Walter Barda. The owner also has a passion for water features, so he and Walter created a large still pond in the front yard surrounded by a bog garden that is best seen when standing at the front door.

Design palette
When it came to the finishing touches on the house, Maureen consulted interior designer and professional paint colour advisor Rikki Stubbs of PureColour. Together, they worked on each room, studying the light at different times of the day and introducing a particular mood and life to each one. With the help of professionals, the final result is a grand old Victorian house brought back to life with timeless antique furniture and the character and warmth of beautifully chosen colours and layers of appealing patterned fabrics – truly a home to treasure and enjoy.

Styling by Amy Frost Produced by Nerida Piggin