Skylight House by Sydney firm Chenchow Little

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A huge skylight shaded with sculptural louvres fills the living spaces with light.

A huge skylight shaded with sculptural louvres fills the living spaces with light. Image: Katherine Lu

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The material palette is limited to timber, glass, steel and white-painted plaster to emphasize structural expression.

The material palette is limited to timber, glass, steel and white-painted plaster to emphasize structural expression. Image: John Gollings

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All the glass walls surrounding the courtyard slide open, dissolving any barriers and giving a fluidity of space.

All the glass walls surrounding the courtyard slide open, dissolving any barriers and giving a fluidity of space. Image: John Gollings

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The timber-lined master bedroom with low walls angled out to "scoop in the sun."

The timber-lined master bedroom with low walls angled out to “scoop in the sun.” Image: John Gollings

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Glass bands are separated by sculpted white blades over the living room, infusing it with shafts of light.

Glass bands are separated by sculpted white blades over the living room, infusing it with shafts of light. Image: John Gollings

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Looking through the courtyard to the kitchen and dining area.

Looking through the courtyard to the kitchen and dining area. Image: John Gollings

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The original facade was kept and the rest of the house demolished to make way for a new building.

The original facade was kept and the rest of the house demolished to make way for a new building. Image: John Gollings

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Australia, the Big country, has space to burn, yet when their cities grew, the houses lined up cheek-by-jowl. Were they cowed by the infinity of the landscape or simply trying to recreate the congestion of London they left behind? Paradoxically, in New Zealand, settlers cut from the same cloth looked at a rougher terrain and headed for the hills. We put a distance between our houses to match the one between ourselves. We are uncomfortable with intimacy. Where we are timorous, Australians are confident.

This confidence has burst through the roof in a house in Balmain where architects Tony Chenchow and Stephanie Little have lifted the lid on an existing terrace house. They’ve kept the historical façade and built a contemporary home behind it, inverting the social order with the bedrooms on the bottom and the living spaces above. Here the roof has been replaced with a massive skylight that opens the room to the heavens and allows light to suffuse the room past huge louvre blades. Across an internal courtyard, a modern kitchen is contained below a softly undulating ceiling.

This is architecture that is tight across the shoulders but holds its head up high. In looking to the sky it creates a vertical release from the world around it. The house keeps its secrets behind its beautifully preserved historical façade, which keeps its obligations to the street. Assertive not arrogant, confident not brash. Only in Australia.


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