Table House, Balmain

By Nick Bell
alterations & additions


By: Nick Bell D&A

photo by Aimee Crouch

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

The project is located within a conservation area on a small laneway in the tight inner Sydney suburb of Balmain. The area is predominantly small workers cottages and some Victorian terrace houses. The project maintains the local scale of development and refurbishes the original cottage street façade, providing a positive and modest contribution to the heritage context. The new addition is set back from the street and set down in level with a pitched roof, so as not to dominate or detract from the heritage street frontage.

What problems did you have to solve?

The main design generator was the tightness of the site and context. Small lot sizes give a high density surrounding where maintaining a sense of space and also privacy to and from neighbouring properties represents a challenge. The design concept was to sit a largely enclosed solid first floor on top of a table like steel ground floor structure. The ground floor glazed walls and doors sit independent of this structure with some of the steel table legs sitting internally and some externally. This mechanism allows the framing to encompass most of the site, connecting the internal space to the site boundaries and maximising the conceived space. The contrasting solidity of the upper level sitting on this frame provides a more private bedroom space within a slightly barn like roof structure.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

The contribution of the builder was excellent. PMD Build are a company we have worked with on several projects and that partnership allows a useful problem solving team approach such as working with the door and window sub-contractor to hit the tight tolerances required.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

I think for any Architect a project can only be successful if you have a client that values design. The client on this project was very supportive of the overall aims of the design and placed a great deal of trust in the team. It is this relationship which then allows the project to be developed within the constraints of budget. Good design doesn’t necessarily need to use the most expensive materials but it does require whatever materials are used to be put together with thought and care.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

Small dwellings are by their nature inherently more sustainable than large bloated houses. Therefore the basic compact floor plan and minimal circulation provide an efficient starting point. The new lightweight frame and materials incorporate high levels of bulk and reflective insulation. Given the small size of the project, the single gas flued heater provides an efficient heat source. In summer use is made of stack effect ventilation with large openings on the ground floor combining with operable skylights to the double height dining area and upstairs. Operable shading louvres that sit within the external “table” frame allow shading to the large areas of glass to the ground floor whilst also being capable of admitting the winter sun to passively warm the ground floor and high thermal mass ground floor slab.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

The benefits for the client are being able to continue living in a location they love for the long term. They have a house that has been designed to their specific requirements and suits their lives. The neighbours benefit from a sensitively designed project that does not overbear their property, take their sunlight or their privacy. The community generally benefit from the preservation of the type of modest period dwelling that make the Balmain peninsula such a desirable place to live, work and visit.