When two become one in Hamilton

This article was first published in the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ magazine in print and online on June 11, 2022. Image: Christopher Fredrick Jones

It was back in 2015 when a Hamilton-based couple approached Newcastle residential-focused architectural practice Anthrosite about a unique home renovation they wanted to undertake. It involved the conversion of two detached 1920s-era weatherboard cottages into a single dwelling to accommodate their family of six.

The end result is the stunning Hamilton Courtyard House. A home that celebrates indoor/outdoor living and a creative design approach that places the courtyard at its heart.

The first of the cottages were purchased around 1999, and the second in 2005. The previous owners offered the couple the opportunity to buy it before putting it up for sale, as a shared driveaway ran between the two properties.

As the family grew, they moved from the two-bedroom house (number 76) to the other (number 78), which had four bedrooms.

When their fourth child arrived, they developed the idea of renovating the two houses to unify them. Central to this was moving the garage, located at the rear of the property, to the street front to remove the driveway that divided the two blocks.

The family cite the marvellous community, multicultural Beaumont Street, the village feel of Gregson Park, and the many friends they have made through the local school as to why they chose to stay in Hamilton.

The official design process began in August 2016. Mark Spence, Anthrosite co-founder and director, says, “The client had a very clear brief.”

They wanted the house to be single-storey and private, with room to entertain and their four children (aged between eight and 16) to grow.

“We came back to them with three options, which all revolved around the courtyard and how it would amalgamate the two houses.”

The development application (DA) was submitted in April 2017 with Built by Eli taking on the construction of the project once it was approved.

The decision to remove one of the cottages was made, with a contractor initially arranged to take the house away to on-sell. However, after many months of waiting, it fell through, and the dwelling was demolished.

The clients were keen to recycle as much of the building as possible. An effort which saw the house shortlisted in the Single Dwelling (Alteration) category [LC1] of the 2021 Sustainability Awards.

Many materials, items (including the old dishwasher!), fixtures, fittings, windows, and doors were salvaged and integrated into new additions and alterations.

“The client sold everything else she could on eBay to give it a second home,” notes Spence.

“Jonathan Everett of Everett Creative, a friend of the family, came and sifted through some of the existing hardwood and salvaged some, which he then made into a big four-metre table.”

Much of the new addition is constructed from recycled brick and timber. The cottages were also re-orientated towards the north to better harness solar gain and encourage natural light.

Open plan living is central to the home’s design, the courtyard connecting the living areas of the U-shaped home and creating a seamless flow between the indoors and outdoors.

“They wouldn’t have it,” Spence says of his suggestion a landscape gardener design the courtyard, which is calming space full of greenery.

“The garden is like their play space. I think being able to get into the garden and to see the plants grow and flourish is a wonderful and therapeutic thing for them.”

The family moved into their new home in November 2019. It has five bedrooms, a study, library, music room, and a generous living and dining area. A pool was added to the backyard, with the former garage now serving as a pool house.

“I love going back because it really has a lived-in quality to it,” says Spence, who, each year, along with Eli Conroy (of Built with Eli) and their families, are invited to the client’s home for a Christmas gathering.

“I think, for us at Anthrosite, seeing projects on-site, is the most exciting phase. To be there, to see it evolve, and the design evolve. It’s a very fluid process.”

“We definitely want to work with builders and top craftspeople to learn from their knowledge and experience. We’re not afraid to make changes based on other people’s recommendations. I think that’s what we really enjoy.”