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Laycock House gracefully marries drama with modesty, creating a delightful surprise

A spectacular living room encased in Petersen FF58 bricks

Set on an avenue of date palms, on one of Sydney’s oldest heritage-listed streets, Laycock House is a treasure-trove of surprise. Because what was an old inter-war bungalow on Laycock Road in Penshurst still presents as such from the street front, apart from its re-pointed brick facade. But what you find when you come through the new entrance, now at the side of the house, and open the new front door is completely unexpected.

And that’s what Telly Theodore, Principal at TTAO, set out to achieve from the beginning.

What you find is a massive entrance and living space for a growing family, which now has an intimate and functional relationship with the rear garden, despite the challenges of an 8.5 metre drop to the rear of the yard.

The design, which now seems so effortless and seamless, took a whole lot of thinking outside the box, convincing Council, and getting the family on board. All three of which Telly successfully mastered.

Side entrance, Petersen FF58 bricks, Laycock House

“The main idea was to bring people into the house through its middle, while keeping the existing front of the house in line with Council guidelines and making the whole thing function with a dramatic change in level. This meant making the existing front door redundant and bringing everyone through a new passage on the side. Now, behind the new front door, you see these two grand staircases, one peeling up to the bedrooms and one peeling down to a dramatic living space. You get a glimpse of this massive living space and it’s very surprising,” Telly explains.

The massive space Telly re-designed was the existing ground level of the house. Once this was excavated, and the front of the existing house secured with over 100 piers, Telly had a spectacular, five-metre high space to ‘play’ with. Of course, giving the rear of the original house a direct relationship to this new space was critical. As was making the best use of it, particularly how it functioned with the garden, which became somewhat of a constant theme played out in Telly’s head, until it was mastered.

And master it, Telly did. “That main room that we’ve created is grand but intimate at the same time,” Telly reflects.

It is, without a doubt, thanks to thoughtful material choice and the way the materials harmoniously combine. “I do love the harmony that you can create getting the right things coming together,” Telly says. In this case, brick is the hero, specifically Petersen FF58 bricks with raked joints in the Flensborg format. The bricks beautifully reference the clinker brick of the nearby WWI electricity substation and the dark brick of the existing house.

“This job was all about finding the right brick. And my clients loved the Petersen brick, and we’d spoken about it a number of times. The Petersen Flensborg brick is slimline and what that did was heighten the scale even further. I really like to pay attention to not only the material, but its format and how that changes your perspective.”

Telly is also a long-time fan of Petersen bricks, having used the exact bricks in his own courtyard. “Petersen brick is a hand built, crafty, tactile thing; all you need is one look at it and you can see it has been made by hand. You get that crackle, that noise in the background, that texture.”

Aside from the bricks, recycled Oregon ceilings, almost floor to ceiling dual framed doors, a French cheminée fireplace and Andorra limestone flooring complete the material palette. And while it is intimate, it’s also incredibly practical for a family. “The main part of the house is very traditional and you come to the space below, you could just lift the couches out and hose the whole thing out. So, you’ve got that robustness about it without being pretentious,” Telly remarks.

Another captivating aspect of this design is the way the living room connects to the garden, almost draws it in. That’s all thanks to a series of platforms, designed for living on, that cascade all the way to the back of the property, overcoming the 8.5 metre drop. As Telly says, upon entry, “you almost fall down these stairs into the main living room, and that momentum propels you further through the space and into the back yard, where the pool is.” Plus, as Telly mentions, the darker Petersen FF58 bricks help to draw the lush green garden inside. “The dark brick worked really well at bringing the outside in, while still keeping a good sense of enclosure and moodiness. As well as allowing the new part to sit in contrast to the original. It was very much about this dichotomy, being different and exciting without being jarring or rude.”

Most importantly, Telly’s clients couldn’t be happier with the design. In fact, the whole project was completed back in 2013, and they’re as happy with it today as the day they walked into their newly renovated home. And for Telly, that really says it all.

Architect and Interior Designer: Telly Theodore

Photographer: Mary Gaudin

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