Marrickville Laneway House by Studio Weave Architects

Throughout the interior suburb of Sydney, semi-detached cottages are prolific. As the terraced house lost popularity in the early 20th century, the “semi” took its place as a source of inexpensive housing. Its modest design and simple planning allowed speculative builders and family investors to enter the market. Semi-trailers were a way to accommodate a growing population, but because they were primarily a mechanism for economic growth, they weren’t very well designed.

Today, the semi is a priority for many young families who want to live in Sydney’s inner suburbs – for whom anything larger proves extremely unaffordable. After purchasing a tractor trailer, the task is to take a 60 to 100 year old building that was originally considered a commodity and turn it into something with the amenities and facilities of modern homes. Budding renovators find it difficult to access light, air and perspective. They then face the challenges of maintaining “streetscape character” and “neighborhood amenities” while navigating their local council checks. Obviously, transforming a semi is difficult and often requires creative solutions.

Marrickville House by Studio Weave Architects is an example of this transformation done right. It demonstrates how a skilled architect can balance all of these concerns and synthesize them into a deceptively simple yet elegantly crafted box nestled in the neighborhood.

The planning of this house is clear and logical. The front rooms and the original hallway of the semi are kept as bedrooms, bathroom and laundry room. To the rear is a new open-plan living room, above which is a third bedroom, study and bathroom. It is a simple plan that fits perfectly on the site. Look closely, however, and you’ll discover several thoughtful design details that make these spaces wonderful.

Between the old rooms and the new ones, a thin skylight was created to accompany the new staircase. This space is lit from above with a large window and allows light to cascade down into the living areas. Below the stairs, a bench envelops the half-buried living room, next to which a planter accommodates a built-in bench. Both of these places are places to perch and have conversations – or hide in a private nook. They hold up the edges of the room and expand the space, making an otherwise small room feel much larger.

Across the room, the northeast corner folds and slides to reveal the garden. This intricate door joinery feat removes a corner column and allows diagonal views out. Such an openness is deceptively difficult to pull off but feels essential to this room and draws you to the outdoor space. The surrounding garden, although small, encircles the house and serves as a backdrop for the kitchen and living areas.

Upstairs, highlighted windows envelop all the rooms. The glass rests on thin steel brackets, perpendicular to the exposed metal of the skillion roof. This shape recalls the iconic 1990s rural homes of Glenn Murcutt and Peter Stutchbury, evoking a charm that takes your mind away from the suburbs.

The outlook for this higher level is carefully controlled. Functional solid wood panels on the north facade prevent overhanging neighbors’ property and provide privacy for the upstairs bedroom. At the back, a fixed bay window frames a view of the large tree that dominates the backyard.

Bringing all of these details together is a carefully considered palette of materials. The floating box that is the addition is made almost entirely from recycled Australian hardwood. This home‘s “hero material” adorns its walls, doors, windows, floors and millwork, bringing rich warmth to any room. The marks and scars on the wooden planks are celebrated – and reflect the romantic qualities of the old homes they now stand among.

Such heavy use of recycled wood also means that fewer raw materials were used in the construction of this home, and perfectly good hardwood was diverted from the landfill. In addition, the design leaves room for a rainwater cistern in the side passage and eliminates air conditioning in favor of natural cross ventilation.

This small extension jewelry box is a testament to the value of good design when renovating a tractor-trailer. Thoughtful consideration and trust in the architect has led to a family home that is great to be in. Beautiful materials, neat openings and creative pockets of space combine to elevate a humble semi into something so much more.

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