Sensitive changes transform century-old house


Image: Saul Goodwin, Property Shot Photography.

A conversation with non-practicing architect turned North Coast restaurateur Sharon Fraser last week got me thinking about our all too frequent temptation to force change. And to do so, often, in an unnecessarily painful and heavy-handed way.

To morph a tracksuit-happy partner into a suit-wearing one; a well-rounded cruisy child into a one-dimensional go-getter; or a chilled-out, laidback home into a soulless and snappy, sharp-edged one.  And, in the process, wreaking havoc and irrevocably damaging what we love.

The catalyst was Sharon’s transformative renovation of a simple 111-year-old house in the rolling hills and township of far north Bangalow.

The Brief

 To alter and add space to the classic and ‘beautiful’ Galloway House, built in 1903 and relatively un-butchered since. The single-storey weatherboard home on a triangular half- hectare town block needed to be carefully re-birthed into a 21st century home for Sharon, husband Steve Esson and young daughter.

Image: Saul Goodwin, Property Shot Photography.

The Challengers

 For once, this was a house and site that pretty much “had everything you could want”.

The site was large and flat, with potential for pleasant views on every elevation – providing a small but nonetheless important challenge.

“On a great site like this, you end up with no ‘back side’ – no blank wall on which to place services such as clothes lines,” Sharon says.

The three-bedroom house had great bones and wonderful potential, but a few layout problems requiring a renovation. A series of small rooms needed to be opened more effectively to the site and reconfigured, and a dark south-facing living room was particularly problematic. While the house itself was ‘simple and classic’, it was capped by a “not very elegant roof – a great big pyramid dumped on top”.

The Solution

Sharon adopted the same approach she recommends for any old house – effecting change to help an “old house live and breathe into a new century by playing with what’s there”.

“There’s no point in buying a house if you can’t make it work without moving every single wall. We try to make the best of them without making them go through gymnastics.

“It’s about making the big differences without moving lots of walls. It has to be something that isn’t painful.”

As with any project, she started by considering the fundamentals – increasing exposure to the north, bringing in more sunlight, maximising views and aspect, and achieving cross ventilation.

Rooms were re-shuffled in the front half of the house, which now features four bedrooms and two bathrooms around a wide central hallway. At the rear, walls were removed to bulkhead height, creating a delightfully light-filled open plan living, dining, kitchen and study.

By stretching the house to the east, and including a large outdoor deck, Sharon increased its exposure to the north, allowing northern light to penetrate into all but two rooms.

“Anyone walking through this house might think it’s unrecognisable, but funnily enough it’s not. It’s really just that we’ve played with what’s here.”

Image: Saul Goodwin, Property Shot Photography.Image: Saul Goodwin, Property Shot Photography.

Quick tips

 Containing Costs: “If you want to contain costs you have to contain how much of the existing house you’re renovating,” Sharon says. “As soon as you start extending the area you plan to renovate, you start getting an expensive project. Similarly if you plan to change the roofline.”

Being Sustainable: “We used as much old material as possible.” Old casement windows were used as picture frames in the main hallway, materials were sold on ebay or recycled, and the old kitchen moved to the studio.

Image: Saul Goodwin, Property Shot Photography.

Image: Saul Goodwin, Property Shot Photography.

Article source:, words by Trisha Croaker:


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