With one child already, this Glebe couple must ensure their home can cater to a growing brood

the story so far

Cat and Oliver Emley purchased their grand Victorian terrace in the Sydney city-fringe suburb of Glebe in January 2014 for just under $1.2 million after relocating from the UK. They had daughter Amber soon afterwards and are planning to add to the family soon. They love the period character of the house and the bright, modern feel to the back extension, but say the kitchen area is badly planned: there is a huge laundry that blocks the sightline and the yard is poky with steep stone steps leading up to a precipitous ledge. “Our primary focus is the kitchen and courtyard,” says Cat. “We need to create a more family-friendly downstairs with usable outdoor space.” The family rarely uses the beautiful front room and formal dining area, as they are separated from the main living zones in and around the kitchen.
what’s stopping them? Cat and Oliver have been busy with a baby, and are also not sure about where to start in order to find an architect and builder to start planning.

budget: $200k

what the real estate agent says…

“The majority of homebuyers around here are young families looking to upgrade from smaller properties or apartments. However, there’s also a significant percentage of downsizers from the North Shore; they would have moved up there for the schools and the larger homes, but now that the kids have left home, they want to be closer to the city,” says Robert Clarke of Belle Property. “The ideal for buyers is a home with outdoor space that is in proportion to the house: families want space for the kids to play and downsizers like to have a bit of a garden. Even on the city fringe, land is king. If your house is less proportionate, this will limit your buyer pool when you go to sell the property. There is a lack of supply at the moment and prices are being pushed high because of that. Cat and Oliver bought very well – without doing anything, the house is already worth 10 to 20 per cent more than it was when they purchased it. If they can get back some balance by making improvements to the back of the house, they’ll be sitting on a nice investment as well as a great family home.”

the Panel’s advice

Andrew Benn
Architect and director, Benn + Penna Architecture

With young children, sightlines are key and it’s important to have a connection to the garden. It’s not often I recommend making
a house smaller but that’s an obvious solution here. This kitchen is an awkward L shape because of the enormous laundry, and losing two metres off the back would be a good move. A practical laundry area could be integrated into the new kitchen, which would mean open access to the improved garden area. With sliding glass doors and landscaping for privacy, this zone would become a large outdoor room. The family is planning to stay here for a few years then relocate, and the improvements would make it a lot more saleable when that time comes.

Wayd Munro
Builder, Focusbuild

Above the rear extension is a terrace supported by a concrete slab. That would need to come down for ease of construction and to give more options for underneath. If Cat and Oliver want to keep the terrace as a feature, they could rebuild rather than trying to support it while the work is going on beneath. There are some steep steps from the back door up to the flat area of the yard. To create level access, they could excavate down to the level of the house and put a retaining wall at the back. I don’t envisage too many problems with that as the street is on a slope, so they’d likely have to go a fair way down before hitting rock. The retaining wall could be disguised with planters or wide steps, which could be used as seating.

Lisa Koehler
ISCD educator, stylist and interior decorator

Altering the back of the house gives Cat and Oliver an opportunity to design a new kitchen, factoring in family-friendly details from the start. Deep benchtops – around 800mm-900mm – look great in a big kitchen and give you lots of space to work with. I’d design a cupboard for schoolbags and other kid stuff, so that everyone has their own spot. A small hub for running the house is a good idea – a spot for the mail, a charging station and a place for gadgets to be stored. It’s also worth considering magnetic cupboard closers while the family is young. They look quite neat and generally come in a set consisting of a single ‘key’ and multiple locks, which means you can install them across a wide range of cabinets and drawers.

Above: what it could look like.

& the rest…

council approval

“Once Cat and Oliver start planning, they’ll need to make a development application to council,” says Andrew. “When this happens, neighbouring properties are sent a notification of the proposed works and sometimes, people will object. Objections are often made on the grounds of overshadowing, overlooking or aesthetics. They can slow down and complicate the planning process as council will need to consider their merits. I find an effective way to avoid them is to keep your neighbours informed of your plans from the start. An architect can also help by explaining the proposal to the council and, if any aspects of the design are flagged as problems, work to find constructive solutions that satisfy all parties involved. Sometimes though, even if your plans seem perfectly reasonable, there’ll be an objection from someone who simply doesn’t want to accept any change. If that happens, you’ll have to present your case and hope the decision goes in your favour.”

noise-reduction ideas

“Large parts of the inner west are under the flight path, and Cat and Oliver chose this location carefully so plane noise isn’t an issue, but the house is on a pretty busy main road,” says Wayd. “There’s no way to ‘sound-proof’ a terrace like this but you can reduce the noise significantly with solid-core timber doors –especially the front door – with seals around the edges, and some kind of secondary glazing. The glass in the windows here is original – you can tell because very old glass distorts the view slightly. It’s thicker than modern glass, so better for noise reduction. It’s often worth replacing the putty around the windows, as the older and harder it gets, the more likely your windows are to rattle when a truck goes past.”

on the surface

“Little handprints, scuff marks and food and drink splatters are a fact of life with preschoolers – and beyond,” says Lisa. “Matt paint can look super stylish as it has little-to-no shine and absorbs light, so any imperfections in the walls are less obvious. However, it’s prone to scuffs and trying to wipe it down can actually damage the finish, so it isn’t suitable for areas inhabited by small people. Low and mid-sheen or satin paints can take the wear and tear, and aren’t troubled by a damp cloth. They’re also great in darker areas of the house as they bounce the light around. Cat and Oliver aren’t keen on their dark
red/orange wood flooring and are planning to sand it back to a lighter shade. This will also help with daily maintenance as a lighter timber won’t show up dust or pet hair so readily.”