Thin, white clay bricks from PGH Bricks & Pavers were used to bring the owners’ vision to life during the renovation of a classic home in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill.

Owners Sean and Shelley Anderson purchased Highcliff, an old dual level house in 2015, attracted by its prime position atop Hunters Hill, and soaring views of the Lane Cove River afforded by the home’s 55-metre frontage. While the Andersons loved the location, which was not too far from Sydney’s CBD, and the dramatic waterfront vistas, they weren’t too excited by the look of the house. 

“The position of the house was stunning but the existing building was quite traditional in its appearance and its layout,” Shelley says of the four-bedroom home originally built in 1904. “I wanted modern industrial. Something quite different from the house we bought.”

Since the council’s historical property guidelines had to be respected, the exterior of the house couldn’t be changed.

Architect Celia Carroll’s brief, therefore, was to preserve the existing footprint, roofline and street facing facade, while transforming the internal spaces, especially the living areas of the house overlooking the water. The first task was to remove the many separate rooms of the existing downstairs level while introducing an open-plan kitchen as well as a new rear wing addition with dining and lounge space, leading out onto a deck and pool area.

“We retained the shell of the original house, but dissolved the hall and the dysfunctional interior rooms to engage with the house’s dramatic siting and views to the North,” recalls Celia. 

To bring Shelley’s ‘modern industrial’ vision to life, the new additions feature a large section of polished concrete floor, a cathedral ceiling with skylights and new, exposed brick walls. A ‘must have’ request by Shelley, the off-white brick and matching mortar deliver a cool, sophisticated and textural element to the room.

“We used PGH’s linear Blanco Morada brick, a beautifully smooth and thin white clay brick as the primary material for all new interior and exterior walls,” explains Celia. “It offers a nice contrast to the rendered brickwork of the original house and brings a new textured quality to the additions; a modern interpretation in elegantly proportioned brickwork.

“It came in a glazed version, which allowed us to jump between floor plane and wall, interior and exterior,” she adds. “The Morada brick is also a very robust material, which suited the site with its sandstone outcrops and house positioned on the ridge; it complements the brick house that has been on the site for over 100 years, but in a modern way. 

“A glazed brick threshold set into the floor announces the new rear addition, where bricks then form the walls,” she continues. “This creates alcoves, a bedroom, a wardrobe, a dining room, a seat, barbecue and outdoor room. Spaces feel carved into the brickwork and substantial; the weightiness of the brick is offset by the sculptural roof form, which brings light deep into the plan.”

Commenting on the resurgence of designer brickwork, particularly in new internal exposed walls, project builder Peter Best recommends finding an experienced team to install them. “We had a great team and the result is a very high-end finish. These white bricks are hard to beat,” he says.

With the addition of minimalist floating joinery, the transition from what appears as a more traditional style home at the front door to new contemporary living space at the back of the house was complete.

Custom made sliding glass doors retract to create a seamless flow between the inside and outside, leaving the ceiling floating in space. One of the exposed brick walls runs seamlessly along the interior of the back of the house and out to the barbeque area, creating a feeling of strength and solidity, and blurring the lines between indoors and out. Celia’s design maximises the potential of the house’s position high on the peninsula and the Andersons are thrilled with the result.

“We love it. The entire house was modernised internally but it’s the details, like the ladder to the loft space above one of the bedrooms, which make the design special to us.” 

Photographer: Chris Warnes