Attic House by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

  • Madeleine Blanchfield Architects gently alter an Arts and Crafts style home in Sydney, while embracing all of its glorious old features and most prominently its attic. 

    The Arts and Crafts residential style emerged in Australia in the late 19th century; a movement toward Gothic-style homes with gabled roofs, bay windows and overhanging eaves. Fittingly, the Arts and Crafts period was marked by an emphasis on craftsmanship and avoidance of mass-production.

    With these historical roots, this Arts and Crafts style home would’ve no doubt been glad to land on the desk of Madeleine Blanchfield. The original abode and its 90s extension tacked onto the rear were begging for change, to improve flow, usability and invite natural light into the home. What ensued from this design adventure was an exceptional use of attic space, to now accomodate a light-doused master suite.

    Put bluntly, the Sydney home was dark and disconnected. This was partially because of the timber panels and beams in the heritage spaces which were retained, but painted all-white to produce a soft and airy quality to the interiors. Improving the home’s connectivity came down to aligning the openings, to create a view straight through the home, while focusing on giving clarity to the living area within the 90s extension through dark plaster reveals, concrete thresholds and pivot doors. To let the extension better communicate with its heritage half, Madeleine Blanchfield Architects rebuilt with sharp black windows, white joinery and a weatherboard ceiling. These in Director Madeleine Blanchfield’s perspective are “subtle but powerful” insertions, allowing the language of the home to be “constantly light and uplifting, without demanding attention”.

    Madeleine Blanchfield Architects were all about paring the heritage details back to reveal their beauty, such as in the exposed ceiling ties. Period features were also brought into a modern context, such as the original arched fireplace refitted with brickwork painted black. As Madeleine Blanchfield emphasises, “the project shows that retention of existing built fabric can be more powerful than layering materials and designed elements onto a space.”

    Equally the most challenging and defining aspect of the project was transforming the existing roof space. This involved overcoming complex engineering issues, as the attic was entirely filled with timber and needed to be entirely reconstructed to create the master suite. The master suite was essentially “carved” into the roof and windows added to gift the space with light, open air and some lovely water vistas. The space captures the aim of the project as a whole, celebrating the original architecture and its detailed charm. As Madeleine Blanchfield puts it; they allowed “the original qualities to be the heroes while improving amenity and coherence throughout.” Taking you to this new level of the home is a sculptural floating staircase, which also required careful resolution.

    What’s certain in the Attic House is that the team have achieved a real lightness and openness. Even the choice of lighting nails this ethereal feel, with a selection of semi-transparent pendant lights and paper lanterns. Adding to the mix is a balance of contemporary and mid-century furniture pieces and custom spots for quiet contemplation (yes, we’ve eyed off that window seat). While some of these design objects make a bold accent, they contribute to an overall soft and simple material palette and well-resolved interior.

    Madeleine Blanchfield Architects describe themselves as having stepped back to let the openings, voids and details speak for themselves – a highly successful move for this Arts and Crafts family home.

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