Happy medium

Issue 30 Words: Rachael Bernstone Photography: Simon Whitbread
Mosman, NSW
  • The skillion roof profile allows light to reach over the top of the kitchen and living section and into this one at the rear.
  • Exposed FSC-certified blackbutt timber features throughout the house as exposed structural and decorative elements, including for the kitchen/ living ceiling.
  • The lounge at the rear of the original house looks out through a courtyard to the kitchen/living/dining area.
  • The original rooms at the front of the house – two bedrooms, a bathroom and a formal lounge open off the joinery wall, which runs the length of the house.
  • “We were dealing with privacy, neighbours, constraints and setbacks … so the design process was a real test of those environmental ideals and how committed we were to them.”

The owners of this house on Sydney’s north shore both have architectural backgrounds, but they wanted a third opinion – a potential circuit breaker – to guide their latest project.

When Dianne Ramsay and David Lawson approached fellow architect Matt Elkan they did so with plenty of design and renovation experience of their own. “On our previous projects, I always ended up being the architect and David was the client, and I would get really cheesed off,” Dianne laughs. “Bringing Matt into the equation made the process much easier.”

Dianne had already sketched up some ideas before calling Matt, who came recommended by a builder who admired his documentation skills. “I knew that to get a good result you need a happy builder, because anything can happen on a renovation project, so I talked to Matt and liked his ideas and we went from there,” Dianne recalls.

Downsizing from a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-garage house after their eldest child moved out, the couple bought a three-bedroom, one-bathroom 1940’s home a stone’s throw from Balmoral Beach. Unlike the majority of their neighbours, who have renovated outwards and upwards to maximise their internal space and property value, they were keen for a small home. “Having bought a tiny block has made us stay small in our design – we can’t put two cars under cover and the neighbours are very close,” says Dianne. “But all our spaces do more than one thing.”

Plans to insert a new courtyard – instead of a second storey with additional rooms – and add two pavilions at the back were Dianne’s ideas. “But it was Matt’s idea to align all the doorways 600mm from the exterior wall so that we could put joinery down the length of the house,” she says. Matt also suggested building in banquette seating as casual sleeping places for guests instead of extra bedrooms.

The joinery wall now acts as a storage spine with the old rooms at the front – two bedrooms, a bathroom and formal lounge – opening off it. Alongside the new courtyard, the joinery houses a home office and storage. In the new section, the joinery morphs into the kitchen, adjacent to informal living and dining areas.

Beyond that, a second multi-purpose pavilion was built on the rear boundary, with the existing rear garden landscaped as a third courtyard (the first is on the street). The rear pavilion contains a second bathroom and laundry and a flexible room with sliding doors that is variously used as a gym, guest accommodation and studio.

Read the full article in the Best Green Homes NSW & ACT ebook, a compilation of the most sustainable, energy efficient and beautiful new homes, renovations and extensions. The ebook is FREE for ATA members, $5 for non-members, and is available from the ATA webshop.


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Cover of Issue 30
You can read more about Happy medium in Issue 30 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Matt Elkan Architect with homeowners Dianne Ramsay and David Lawson


ASB Constructions




Mosman, NSW


(include professional fees) –

approx $650k.


Land 330 sqm

Total house 135 sqm

Original house 102 sqm


BASIX rated for NSW

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