Renovating Resources

This family found a classic “Sydney School” designed house with a great north orientation, beautiful bush setting and good bones then set about improving their little piece of paradise.

Renovating a 1970s Classic

Balmoral Beach Hideaway

Sydney School houses were often built on sloping bushland sites around Sydney Harbour’s sheltered upper reaches. The sites had a great influence on the architects, with the native landscape being fundamental. The houses typically followed the slope of the site through split level planning with roofs parallel to the slope, creating complex and interesting interior spaces. Natural materials were exploited, with dark tiles, clinker or painted bricks and stained timbers creating a feeling of warmth in the houses. [1]

When Tessa, Matt and their three children moved from Melbourne to Sydney, they decided to live in the beautiful bushland that sits above Balmoral Beach. They found a classic ‘Sydney School’ designed house. with a great north orientation, beautiful bush setting and good bones. After living in it for a while, they identified the problems that needed to be fixed, and had some good ideas about how they would like them to be addressed to realise the opportunities they had identified. Veterans to renovating houses, they were excited by the opportunity to improve their little piece of paradise.


Client Brief

As there were some basic issues with the level of the main living rooms and the impact this had on the ceiling levels of the lower ground floor and relationship to the rear courtyard, they started the process with advice from an engineer. Next they interviewed a number of architects before selecting PIDCOCK – Architecture + Sustainability as the firm who could work creatively with them to deliver on their brief with strong sustainable outcomes. The main changes that were required included:

  • an open kitchen, dining, living room that maintained its northern orientation
  • an improved deck to the north that was usable in size
  • a better connection to a more level and usable space to the protected and private courtyard to the south
  • improved head height in all rooms on the lower ground floor
  • internal stairs that would connect the house with the lower ground floor,
  • an easily identified entry point, connected to the new internal stairs
  • a general but sympathetic update on the overall look and layout of the house and its finishes

After much collaborative discussion, the decision was made to raise the floor level of the living rooms and change the roof line to accommodate this. This then enabled us to move the kitchen to the eastern end of the combined room, remove the internal dividing wall and fireplace and adjust the size of the front deck, which in turn allowed an open feel and good connections to front and rear external spaces. Beautifully made new Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) timber windows and doors enabled great visual and physical connections in all directions, while helping manage better energy flows in all seasons. All timber used in the house was either FSC or recycled. This included reusing the previous roof beams as treads in the new stair case. The timber was finished with natural oils that have no VOCs. Good passive design included high levels of insulation in the new roof and lightweight walls, along with appropriate shading for the window and door openings. This has resulted in much improved thermal performance throughout the year. Zoning of different areas of the house was helpful both thermally and acoustically, allowing different family activities to occur at the same time.


Screenshot 2014-04-17 10.24.30


Project Details

Project Name:Balmoral House Renovation
Project Architect:Caroline Pidcock of PIDCOCK – Architecture + Sustainability
Location:Bushland setting above Balmoral Beach Sydney
Clients:Working couple with 3 children – 2 girls and 1 boy
Builder:Red Cedar Constructions
Year of Completion:2011
Building Area:366m2
Project Cost:N/A
Climate Zone:Warm temperate

How many of the 17 Liveability Features (the 17 Things) are in this home?

17 THINGS Balmoral Slopes.pdf

  • high levels of insulation in new work and existing ceilings where possible
  • low water garden using natives, also resulting in a great improvement of the ecology of the site
  • lots of natural light and ventilation and good views out
  • ability to zone areas of house for thermal and acoustic purposes
  • energy efficient lights supplement good daylight throughout
  • solar hot water heating
  • 10,000 litre water tanks under the house for use in the toilets and landscape
  • water efficient appliances and fittings

Other features worth noting

  • retention of existing house reduced waste and embodied energy
  • flexible planning will accommodate changing needs of the family in the future
  • FSC certified timber or recycled
  • no VOC floor finishes and paints used throughout
  • wiring for the future installation of PV panels
  • dedicated natural drying area directly off the laundry

Liveability Q and A with the owners

1. Was energy efficiency an important factor in the brief to your architect?

Yes. We wanted a comfortable living environment that did not rely on air-conditioning and/or central heating and was energy efficient for lighting as well. In consultation with our architect we decided to maximise natural cool breeze flow that is available at the location by virtue of sea breezes on hot days. High quality insulation, lots of natural light, LED light use, passive solar and eaves designs all became important.

2. Do you see a home renovation which optimises environmental factors as being: better for the life in the house, or for the efficiency of the house or both?

A bit of both. Environmental materials used including insulation made of recycled materials and also reuse of roof beams of the old house to make a beautiful feature staircase are two good examples.

3. How were issues concerning sustainability addressed in the design?

FSC timbers were used in floors, windows and doors. Energy efficiency was achieved through design of the house (as above) and use of LED lighting in key locations.

4. Are you addressing sustainability in other areas of your life as well? If yes examples.

We drive a Prius, use rain water for washing clothes, toilets and garden and compost selected waste for garden use.

5. What do you wish you knew about before the process? (Information that would have been interesting to know)

Embodied carbon in various building materials.


Photo Gallery (click to enlarge)

Caroline Pidcock

Caroline Pidcock

Caroline Pidcock, the curator of our Liveability ‘be inspired by design’ is founding Principal of the design firm PIDCOCK – Architecture + Sustainability which is focused on desirable, sustainable architecture. The practice aims to excel in ecologically sustainable design, documentation and advice and to demonstrate how such a focus can deliver potent influences in design and can produce delightful experiences. PIDCOCK is particularly interested in renovations, where it is possible to identify the best of what is existing and help to recognise, adapt and develop this to be part of a strong and relevant future.

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