A Worthwhile Endeavour
The prospect of restoring an iconic Sydney home to its former stylish state was an opportunity this couple could not resist. Longtime admirers of the classic 20thcentury architecture to be found in Chicago and the doyen of that era’s heyday, Frank Lloyd Wright, the owners of this home were delighted to find it, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs – a prime example of Neville Gruzman’s work, which they felt was very similar in style.
A TREASURE REDISCOVERED
One of this country’s most renowned architects, Neville Gruzman was also mayor of Woollahra for a while and he built quite a number of homes in the area. According to the lady of the house, this one was completed in around 1970 and she and her husband bought it seven or eight years ago. “It had been converted into a duplex at some point,” she explains, “but we reconfigured it back to his original plan as all one house, just as it was in 1970.” She describes how it was typical of its time even when they acquired it, citing a little desk to hold an ashtray for the ladies in the powder room, and a coat-rack for guests in there too. “There was also a bar done in beaten copper – to entertain businessmen, I guess,” she goes on, “and behind it, there were some ‘shadow boxes’ in timber panelling. Then, when we removed all that, we found a window – so we went with the window!” The couple apparently fell for it the moment they set eyes on it and they have hardly altered anything. The only major change was putting the kitchen in what was the former owner’s TV room and to do that they simply knocked the wall out to make it open plan. “We even kept the plumbing,” the current owner smiles – “it has five bathrooms!” she adds, by way of explanation. They both felt that the layout couldn’t be improved on, so they just took the modifications out – and put it back the way it was.
A CLASSIC THEN – AND NOW
The original arrangement had the large garage on the ground fl oor, and that wasn’t changed. Then, there were three bedrooms and a rumpus room above that, plus the laundry; and the top floor was all living space plus the master bedroom and ensuite. It had been divided in two by a partition across a section of the middle floor, which took one bedroom and the rumpus room as its living area. The top floor then had access to a bedroom on the one below. This minimal conversion wasn’t hard to dismantle in itself, thanks to their builder, Tadgh Collins at Claddah Constructions, who brought in engineers to do the structural work and coordinated everything. “We gutted the house and just left the cement floors,” the owner continues. “The builder took it all out so there was only a shell left, and he did all the ordering of materials, fixtures and fittings, and put them back as they were – and did the whole project in only eight months.” The couple also took the opportunity to address some other issues, such as replacing all the metal windows because they were a bit the worse for wear,and the doors too. The corrugated-iron roof was renewed as well, and part of the place had to be rewired. “But configuration-wise, everything’s now exactly the same as when it was built,” she exclaims, “except that the old TV room is now the kitchen!” Looking at it today, it has lost none of its striking simplicity and purity of line – features both appreciated and enhanced by the owners. The attractive living area is furnished with lounges and a dining setting that are perfectly in keeping with the style of the building and the decor is complemented further by intriguing paintings and works of art that are eye-catching and inspiring.
THE HUB OF THE HOME
The man of the house has a day-job (as a lawyer) but, his wife reports, “he is also the most fantastic cook, and he designed the layout of the kitchen and the pantry behind it himself – and selected the appliances.” This is very much to his credit and the result is streamlined and elegant, with sleek white cabinetry built-in that has horizontal slats, and doors and drawers with extruded handles to emphasise the squareness that is a major element in the original design. She goes on to explain that this was the reason they wanted the area to be open plan. “He caters for all the functions for family and friends, and people always like to sit on the stools and watch him! He cooks for the family at weekends so the fridge is always full,” she adds, obviously delighted. He is clearly this family’s secret weapon and contributes considerably to the quintessentially comfortable home they have re-created – and which Gruzman undoubtedly envisaged. And sharing it with their two children, who went through high school while living here and are now at university, has certainly deepened their enjoyment of it.
STORY GABRIELLE BAXTER PHOTOGRAPHY TONY POTTER STYLING GREG SUKENDRO