Pet project: Even the cat was considered in the planning of this reno

Francene Ridley, for Brisbane News

Sometimes, even in what appears to be the most straightforward renovation project, you never know what sort of surprises you are going to uncover until you start wielding that sledgehammer or crowbar, says architect John Scandurra. When work began on this Hawthorne house, in a demolition control precinct, it seemed there was nothing but trouble in store for John, his clients and builder Bruce Robinson, of Sun Construction. Age, weather and white ants had taken their toll, says Bruce.

In a former life, the pre-1946 timber Queenslander had been covered with chicken wire and bottle tops to give grip to the stucco that rendered the exterior. “As we touched the old structure, everything kept falling apart,” John says. “It wasn’t until we started cleaning up downstairs that we noticed the stumps were sitting on these tiny pads – the house was virtually sitting on nothing. We knocked out the rooms that had been added downstairs, something we initially weren’t going to do, and that weakened the house.” Then, when cleaning began in the backyard, about 20m of retaining wall fell over. As construction continued, the plans were constantly reworked so the house ended up going right to the boundaries of the 445sq m block, which has a 20m frontage.

But the brief never changed. John’s clients want this to be the house they stay in for as long as they can and the layout reflects this. The three levels have been designed for wheelchair accessibility and provision has been made for a lift to be installed in the future. On the top level, the owners have a bedroom with a street-facing balcony over which is a high gable that allows for maximum sun in the winter. Beside their room is a study, and the rest of the level is taken up by a self-contained apartment with separate dressing room and a large ensuite.

“The dressing room has a laundry chute in one of the built-in cupboards,” one of the owners points out. “It drops straight down into the laundry, which means I don’t have to carry a basket down the staircase and risk having the cat trip me up and end up with a broken hip.” Factoring the cat into the plans isn’t that strange as it’s just one of the many practical considerations that abound in this house. On the middle level, for example, the garage is close to the kitchen, so it’s a few paces from car boot to butler’s pantry. The garage also has a nifty cupboard space specially designed for the wheelie bins. This level has the only room that is closest to its original form: the bathroom. It’s between a bedroom and the formal dining room, which leads through to the kitchen and family room. There’s also a formal living room and TV room in the northeast corner of the house.

Downstairs has a large living area – known as the garden room – a bedroom and plenty of storage. The whole level is fully plumbed so in the next stage of renovation it will be made a fully self-contained apartment, with its own entry that used to be the driveway. For a small lot, there’s more than enough room for the owners and their extended family in a house where new structural components outnumber the original. “It was a big job logistically,” Bruce says modestly, “but a lot of fun.”

Photographs • Pete Johnson, Lux Capacity

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