Light box

Issue 28 Words: Rachael Bernstone Photography: Nick Bowers
Newtown, Sydney
  • A suspended bridge with a glazed ceiling joins the original and new parts of the house in an innovative solution to the site’s tight dimensions.
  • The slender house opens up onto a small rear garden through double-glazed sustainably sourced timber windows frames and folding doors.
  • Green insulated concrete flooring in the low-VOC kitchen acts as thermal mass to retain warmth in winter months.
  • The house makes the most of limited solar access, retaining winter warmth with a green concrete slab and generous insulation.

Despite its diminutive size, this tiny terrace in Sydney’s Newtown is far from dark and poky.

Newtown homeowner Vicki had lived in her compact terrace – a traditional two-up, two-down arrangement – for more than two decades before she approached architect Simon Anderson to give the place a major overhaul, so she knew its shortcomings. “The house was termite infested, the kitchen was in a lean-to, as were the bathroom and laundry, and it was dark all the time,” she says.

The transformation – into an energy efficient house that is flooded with light all day, even in winter, and open spaces that flow naturally – couldn’t be more dramatic. What’s more, Simon’s terrace house renovation fulfilled her brief – for two bedrooms, a good, functional kitchen, a downstairs powder room, and an open plan living area at the back – on a site than is barely wider than some suburban garages.

Shaped like a bow tie – the front wall is 2.9m wide, the middle of the house just 2.7m and the rear boundary 4m – the unusually shaped site was not the only challenge. Vicki was keen to ensure her extension didn’t adversely affect her neighbours, so after consulting them, Simon dropped the floor level and roof height to help secure council approval. This preserved the neighbours’ district views across the top of Vicki’s house.

More problems arose after demolition commenced, when it became apparent that the termite damage was worse than previously thought, and none of the original timber could be saved. As a result, the entire house was structurally braced with new steel columns and beams, selected for their termite resistance and their ability to span the distances required with relatively slender dimensions, thereby maximising internal space.

There was one positive discovery during demolition – original sandstock bricks were revealed beneath the plasterboard. Rather than cover them over again, Vicki opted to leave them exposed as a reminder of the home’s history, while also reducing material use. They can be seen alongside the stairs, in the powder room and in the front bedroom upstairs, where the original singlestorey roofline is evident.

Rather than fighting the site’s tight dimensions, Simon used them as the starting point for his design and placed a hard-working lightwell at the centre of the house. On the ground floor, the kitchen occupies the southern wall and opens via timber-framed sliding doors to an external courtyard. Upstairs, a steel-framed bridge with a glazed roof overhead connects the original front bedroom and study to the new bathroom and master bedroom.

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Cover of Issue 28
You can read more about Light box in Issue 28 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Anderson Architecture


Lifestyle Building and Design Pty Ltd

Project type


Project location

Newtown, NSW


$495,000 (inc. prof. fees)


Existing house 60.6 sqm

New floor space 93.6 sqm (over 2 floors)

Site area

81.4 sqm

Building star rating

5.5–9 Star thermal performance ratings for new living areas and bedrooms

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