Many architects have contributed to the history of this Sydney home, from its original owner and namesake Sir Roy Grounds to the architect who conceived of it in 1972, Stuart Whitelaw, and finally current homeowner and architect Conrad Johnston of Fox Johnston, who has given the home a new lease on life using Abodo eco timbers and an extended floor plan.
A product of its time and with a distinctive street presence, SRG House had many redeeming qualities that were worth salvaging during Johnston’s recent renovation. A fusion of ideas was inherent in the design of the heritage-listed home, including geometries that reflected the Sydney architectural aesthetic, as well as some Brutalist detailing such as concrete pillars and exposed ceilings.
Before committing any ideas to paper, Johnston lived in the house as it stood. During this observation period, he noticed the “beautiful connection to the landscape, beautiful light, beautiful views, which we wanted to emphasise.”
Having seen where it could be improved, and inspired by a recent build by award-winning construction company SQ Projects, who would become the main contractors, he created a design that would see the house endure into the modern age and beyond.
He says the home “provided a real opportunity to do something interesting, but the approach would need to be quite radical and strong because the site and existing elements were quite unwieldy.”
The large floor-to-ceiling windows were kept, while other elements of the house were updated, beginning with the cedar cladding. The architect looked to Abodo for this key feature of the redesign.
Choosing Abodo Vulcan WB10 145x20 vertical boards with a Protector - Walnut stain in the place of cedar meant creating a similar look to the original cladding but without the pitfalls of stability issues and frequent maintenance.
Vulcan Cladding is created using thermally modified New Zealand-grown timber, which along with its patented vertical grain construction gives an enhanced level of stability and durability without the need for chemical preservatives.
In this project, the success of the external cladding prompted the architect to carry the Abodo timber through to the interior walls, where it becomes the predominant aesthetic, with Vulcan Panelling lining (TG9 140x10 uncoated) used in some of the living spaces and bedrooms.
As Johnston explains: “Although it was somewhat experimental, it is now the predominant material throughout the house, and the large range of profiles and the fact that it doesn’t leach or need much maintenance ensures the home’s essence can continue.”
At just 3.4m wide and with a 45 degree slope, the site presented some challenges when it came to redesigning and extending the spaces. “It’s probably the most difficult project I’ve done,” says Johnston, “because you were trying to work with the geometry but turn it on its head in some ways.”
A new two-bedroom apartment was added adjacent to the main house, extending the possibilities for the homeowner and his family. Despite the changes, the character and history of the house remains and is likely to endure for many years to come.