Victorian terrace renovation, Paddington, NSW, 2012

External appearance of our Paddington terrace

The main internal relocation: the plan (Click to enlarge)

Dining room and stairs reflected in floor-to-ceiling mirror

The talking room and rear deck

When Hiromi and I bought this three-bedroom, two-storey Paddington Victorian terrace house, it had rising damp and a leaking roof.

Indeed, except for what appeared to be a highly dated rear addition, appended in the 1970s or 80s, pretty much everything was close to the house’s original condition as it had been built.

One key problem, however, was the lack of any harmonious flow between its spaces, making it necessary to zigzag throughout to get from the front door and out to the back garden.

Making this worse, despite the availability of plenty of light, with the street façade attracting morning sun to the east, a north-west facing backyard with generous setback to the neighbours and a skylight above the stairs, its internal layout blocked much of its benefit within.

Now, its transformation has delivered pretty much what we desired. Hiromi has created a highly liveable house, with streamlined spaces, better circulation and a breezy indoor-outdoor connection directly through to the backyard from the front, increasing the movement of light throughout.

With, like anyone else, a limited budget to invest in improvements, we did not want to spend beyond it to maximise our return. She designed the space to suit our needs to live in a modern way, that we wanted and could afford, and that would attain this goal.

In order to make the most of our own financial constraints, and to make the house reasonably and sophisticatedly liveable, other than to tidy its street-facing appearance, we decided largely not to make changes the front, original section of the house.

Instead, we focused on the parts attracting the most natural light in which we would actually live and which would make a material difference to the quality of our non-sleeping hours.

As a couple without children, our family’s needs of a home might not match those of others who have kids. But as an experienced, professional architect, drilling down on the needs of others in order to accommodate the lifestyles they, not we, want to live is what Hiromi does.

And she can do this to create exactly the dream home those who will live in it will want, rather than accepting an alternative that in some way limits their ambitions.

Motivation for moving

We moved because we’d previously lived an apartment nearby, with no lift access, and in which, between our home and our car, there were three staircases comprising 60 steps.

However, we anticipated that as we aged we would want to live without this inconvenience. Therefore at the back of this house, for complete accessibility, Hiromi raised its floor, which had formerly been one step lower than the front of the house, to make it level throughout, from front to back, and out on to the new deck.

The new space

Our focus on remodelling only the rear part of the house gave us two lovely living areas, one front and one back, each with its own character. This has given us the best of both worlds, enabling the contrast between the traditional and the modern.

To the front, we now have a cosy, open living and dining room with a fireplace in which to entertain friends and visitors, and to host sit-down dinners.

Meanwhile, at the back, we have created a newer, airy dining room, which we call “the talking room” (in which no television is permitted), in the space adjoining the kitchen and flowing out to the garden, when its rear door is open.

Street-facing appearance

The opening image above is how our house looks now, in contrast to its quite run-down appearance when we moved in, which was much more akin to the neighbour to the right. As we liked it, we maintained the essential appearance of the Victorian terrace, but repaired what had become an unsafe front balcony deck, balustrades and non-functioning gutters. We cleaned the lace, which was not even iron, but by painting it in dark grey, now look likes it.

The main internal relocation: the plan

As Hiromi loves both food and cooking, and bathing, a distinctively Japanese characteristic, we wanted most of all to renovate the ground floor wet area, which encompasses both the kitchen and bathroom.

To do this, we moved the bathroom and laundry to the centre of the house, with the galley kitchen running parallel.

The former kitchen, pictured here, was huge but its layout not functional for the way we wanted to live, and its appliances worked but were ugly and out of date. Beyond this space, out to the back, the shower and toilet were too small and dated and their spaces were ill-positioned, preventing light from coming into the house. This also provided an unattractive gateway to the garden.

The new kitchen

The new galley kitchen layout is configured as a neat row of cabinetry along the side wall.

As the kitchen was going to become an integral part of the living space, we wanted its joinery simply to be matt white, with the mirror splashback and mirror on the end wall making its space appear continuous.

Because of Hiromi’s enthusiasm for cooking, the bench is deeper than in most normal kitchens, giving plenty of working space and enabling generous storage for small appliances and other tools, even within a simple galley layout.

The new bathroom

With a reasonably large bathroom situated in the house’s centre, there was no natural light feeding to the new galley kitchen.

To remedy this, Hiromi introduced a translucent panel as the wall between the kitchen and the bathroom (slight out of view, but to the image’s direct left, above).

First, in plan, this would eliminate some of the wall thickness to make the kitchen space as wide as possible. However, second the translucent panel would also feed light through from the bathroom window (to the right, behind the illustrated curtain) into the kitchen, which would otherwise be deprived of any direct illumination.

Now, having been moved into the centre of the house, our bathroom is larger and open planned, and also, without shower screen, by using a rain shower, it feels much more spacious. Linear floor drainage separates the wet and dry areas. Loving baths in the Japanese way, Hiromi also took the opportunity to add a sunken bath.

The talking room and rear deck

To open up the rear, we introduced a large single-pane glass pivot door, which looks much more modern than typical domestic bi-fold doors with thick door frames.

The space immediately inside, the talking room, next to the cooking facilities, where we normally eat together, and in which we typically spend our evenings, also doubles as an indoor-outdoor space when we have gatherings on the deck.

Internal decor, downstairs, front of house Some might have been able to live in it perfectly as it was, but the house’s decor was dated in the same way as its 1970s-80s rear extension, and we had immediately to remove a similarly old fashioned, pink pile carpet from the staircase and upstairs floor and to strip back the structural floorboards to paint them black.

Initially, we thought about painting it white but the detail of the Victorian-style wooden staircase was also not really to our taste and we tried to make it disappear by painting everything in black against a wall also painted in black.

Given Hiromi’s love for using mirrors to amplify space, in the recess to the right, she has installed a floor-to-ceiling mirror (note its reflection of the staircase from the left), which gives the illusion that we own, or at least have a gateway through which to enter, the house next door.

The budget and final outcome

Being in the industry for 25 years, we know that builders regularly take advantage of clients to claim more than they should profit from variations.

In this instance, however, for the final payment from us to the builder, taking into account negative and positive variations we had asked for in the course of the build, we had only to pay the builder a total $5 difference. And on the magnitude of expense in question – $138,500 – this was really quite a remarkable result.