Elizabeth Bay Apartment

2018

Genevieve Murray, of
Future Method Studio

Angela Seward
Client

Picture a late 1950s house on top of an ageing apartment block that had spread from its origins as a 'caretakers shack' on the roof into a rambling penthouse of ramshackle bones and faded glory circa 1985.

The place was in the most built up residential area of Sydney and a full renovation was needed. This was a major job that would likely mean one thing to other residents—serious disruption. Conscious that we would be living amongst the neighbours and being basically considerate by nature, we wanted to minimise the pain of our renovation as much as possible. We're so pleased we chose Bellevarde. To a man (and woman) they were conscientious, skilled, respectful and incredibly friendly. By the time the build was over, not only had Bellevarde completed the works to the highest imaginable standards, they had formed relationships with the residents. I received several comments saying how nice our builders were. Stunned by this I asked John Fielding how he managed to assemble such a polite and amiable team. He said in his typical self-deprecating and wry fashion: 'The people who get tired of being friendly leave'. In my experience, this friendliness translates to the fact that Bellevarde are sensitive to their client's needs, they listen carefully, they think about the practicalities and they respond accordingly.

The old place was more than ramshackle—the skeleton itself was shaky, even crumbly, and the tiled roof, when revealed, was full of holes. Julian, our wonderful site manager, insisted we not simply paper over the cracks. Although this seemed a hard decision at the time, looking back we're glad he and Ben (and ultimately, John) gently steered us into diving in and fixing the bones of the place and the roof first. Their strength of character in not simply letting it go gave us confidence that the Bellevarde team was acting in good faith. Of course, we always had final say, but seeing their passion for what was in the best long-term interest of the project was very reassuring. In short, they earned our trust.

Technically, Bellevarde achieved some remarkable things on a site that was literally full of surprises—they reinforced and realigned the structure, modified the deck, flooring and soundproofing to reduce load, created superb finishes and insisted on painstaking and exact measurements, the list goes on. Small details stand out for me. There were the hours Julian spent on planning the tiling in the bathrooms and kitchen so that every line was perfectly related to the hardware and the overall pattern. There was Julian’s colour-coded map of the ‘random’ four-colour tile pattern of the kitchen floor laid out by our architect, Genevieve Murray stuck to the wall so that the tilers could reproduce the singularity. There was Julian’s forbearance after suggesting we install gas with a meter in the ground floor garage to add to the electricity provided to the apartment.  In the kitchen there was an old steel hob stove and ancient wiring. Hoping to avoid dealing with the body corporate on a new gas installation, I spent some considerable time disappearing down a number of rabbit holes investigating the various induction options, all of which were not practicable given the limitations of the electricity supply with Julian patiently coming along for the ride until we came full circle and put on the gas. Julian never closed this kind of discussion down and always travelled with us peacefully—'This is your place, you've got to like it' he'd often say. And we do.

We are astonished to have found a building company like Bellevarde. It's not every day you come across truly skilled and thoughtful people but with Julian and Bellevarde new thoughts are always allowed. We were permitted to change our minds. They don't rush in, rather they pose questions like 'How would you see it?'. They listen to the answer, think it through, give it time—then assist you to find a beautiful solution. The build was an immensely enjoyable experience, stressful at times, but engaging and rewarding. Being the person who visited the site almost daily I actually miss them and, on some days, I even think I would do it all again! Most importantly, we love our house. Our friends say that everywhere you look it is like a work of art. We owe that not only to our wonderful architect but also to Bellevarde.

Genevieve Murray, of
Future Method Studio
Architect

Perched on the roof of what is reputedly Sydney's first concrete apartment block sits an unusual property that was not part of the original building's plan. This small penthouse was in need of a redesign and rebuild from the inside out. The roof of the block was not designed to accommodate excessive loads. Needless to say, we encountered some nervous engineers.

The owners had long been interested in the work of architect Ric Leplastrier and originally wanted him to work on a redesign of their previous residence. When they approached him and he wasn’t able to take on the commission, he passed the opportunity to me. The client and I began working together on a beautiful Japanese-inspired staircase built by the master carpenter Oscar Prieckaerts before moving on to design their new residence in Elizabeth Bay. As I was just starting out in practice the staircase was a nice way for us to get to know each other and build some trust. 

With the owners having diametrically opposing views on some aspects of the interior fittings and finishes, it was important that the new place represent their shared sensibilities. In essence, the question became—what to do when one is a fan of stainless steel and one loves brass? Luckily they both love timber so the joinery became a very important part of the design. The raw softness and character of the wood panelling lends an air of refinement and calm. The finish of the materials was the key to success and Bellevarde oversaw the joinery work with a keen sense for the quality that was required. Although the joinery has hints of mid-century modern it was really about giving it character and not making the house an aesthetic project for myself. It was never about the style, more about the ethos and feel of the place, a nice place to be in that reflects its owners’ eclectic, quirky but refined tastes.

The layout allows for some shared and some separate spaces—no open plan here. The occasionally blustery city can be sealed away behind layers of soundproof glass, providing a cosy retreat. We drew some inspiration from the owners’ sailing background for the circular interior porthole windows. One thing we had all agreed was it should be beautiful and, with the care and attention of a highly skilled group of tradespeople, it is.

It's not always easy to pick a builder from a shortlist. We chose Bellevarde and are glad we did. Their team, headed up by Ben Lea and Julian Petrie were highly competent, diligent and genuinely considerate and respectful of neighbouring residents and the clients. Working with them was a pleasure. At one point during the build, the need to replace the old roof became clear. This difficult engineering and logistical situation was made easier by Bellevarde's straightforward communication style. Potential problems were, refreshingly, viewed as challenges.

Given the small delay we encountered for the re-roofing, the project was completed in good time. The workmanship and attention to detail are breathtaking throughout. It's fair to say we're all very pleased with the final result. It was my first time working with Bellevarde but I hope it won't be my last.

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