A heritage-listed former wool house is respectfully reimagined into a beautifully considered family home.

Restoring a dilapidated, heritage-listed structure on crown land is a formidable task – even more so when the property is also over water, perched atop a concrete jetty on the Sydney Harbour. Design studio Alexander & Co, entrusted with this assignment, responds with a considered design that both honours and preserves the building’s storied past.

Originally established in 1912 to house wool arriving by sea then later for commercial offices, Oak House is the culmination of meticulous planning and due diligence. Alexander & Co’s principal architect Jeremy Bull explains, “Replenishing an old structure to perform as a luxury home presents limitations, both construction and statutory.”

True to their signature ideology of ‘conceptual and strategic thinking’, Alexander & Co. answer the brief with a unique proposal, utilising the structure as an ‘envelope’ where a new build is formed within. Through reframing internal walls and floors separate from the existing building, opportunities arise for new insulation, finishes and surfaces. “We retained every part of the existing building and simply rebuilt within it, exposing what we could,” Jeremy says. “The heritage framework remains respectfully intact and unaffected.”

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Floor to ceiling linen drapes in the open living and dining space filter natural light and open up to harbour views.

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“We retained every part of the existing building and simply rebuilt within it, exposing what we could.”

 

– Alexander&Co. principal Jeremy Bull

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The result is Oak House, a statement family home with sweeping harbour views. Externally, the original timber shiplap facade honours yesteryear, welcoming guests with a modern entrance leading to contemporary interiors. A fusion between original elements such as the exposed timber beams contrast with the grandeur of more neoclassic touches, including wall panelling, detailed fireplaces and wall sconce-adorned hallways. Formal and informal living areas feature across two levels for the family of six, including a concealed bar for entertaining and a parents’ sanctuary upstairs.

With the client residing in London through the entire process, a long-distance collaborative approach ensued with Italian-made Boffi kitchen, Poliform robes and Apparatus Studio lighting viewed from London showrooms by the owner. A palette of muted greys and creamy whites makes way for black polished plaster, striking Carrara and Nero Marquina marble, brass skirting and chevron floors; geometric in their form yet restrained and uncomplicated.

Oak House represents possibility, celebrating original craftsmanship while providing a foundation for contemporary design. A lesson in adaptive reuse, Alexander & Co have unlocked a highly functional, elegant family home while still retaining its intrinsic historical value.

This piece originally appeared in est Magazine Issue #42.

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