A house by a river

Marveen                                                                                                                                                                                       This is the house on the banks of the Lane Cove River, where I have lived with my wife Gilly since 1972.  It also houses my architectural office. 
It used to be a commercial boatshed and we think it was built in the 1920s.  The black and white photo on the left was taken in 1972. The top level of the boatshed had 3 bedrooms, one bathroom (without a toilet), a kitchen, living room and dining room.  The toilet was outside and quite a way up the hill from the house, where it was connected to the sewer.

When we first bought the house it was thoroughly dilapidated, with all its windows broken and its fabric seriously termite-damaged.  The photo on the left dates from when we bought the house.  Much of the work in renovating the house has been carried out by me, with help from Gilly and my son Gully.  It has been an ongoing project for 40 years.

It's also been a learning experience in "wabi-sabi", a Japanese aesthetic that celebrates the humble, the worn, the ambiguous, the shadowy and the derelict.  This is something that architects who have been taught the philosophy of Bauhaus Modernism don’t always understand.

Living in and working on the house has also taught me how to make an old house suitable for contemporary living without destroying its essential character.  All the work to the house has taken place within the existing envelope.  Despite walls being taken down and rooms changing use, the roofs and external walls are unchanged.  The only things that changed were the openings in them.

The house was heritage listed by Hunters Hill Council, ten years after we bought it.  It’s name, Marveen we think is a combination of the one time owners’ names.  Their surname being Breen.


   The house from the river with solar panels                     The front deck and pergola before the vine grew


     A white-faced heron on the pergola                         The vine-covered side deck

Under the side deck are the septic tanks from which the sewerage is pumped up the hill to the mains. The garden table and benches that I made twenty years ago are still in service.  The table top is made from the last lot of Redwood boards at Primrose Hill timber yard, which has since closed.


   The front porch                                                          The house from the garden

   The red-bellied black snake on the porch gable was painted by Gully.  These snakes are part of the local  

    wildlife that uses the garden.


   The kitchen and dining room                                            The corner of the kitchen       

The kitchen opens onto the vine-covered side verandah and has windows on three sides.  I made the cupboards and drawers out of tongue and grooved pine and the benchtop is laminated pine.


The living room fireplace (photo at left) was built as part of the work we did to the house and is used extensively during winter and has now had a wood burning stove incorporated into it (2010).  The French doors are a pair of second-hand doors picked up from a building site.  See Furniture and fittings for more information on the sofa, which I made.  The interior details in the exiting house had an arts and crafts feel, which has been incorporated into the new work.  


The architect’s office                                                     The meditation room above the office

The meditation room was created within the existing roof space by removing the ceiling joists and lowering the level of the office ceiling.  You can see the new exposed timber floor joists in the office photo.  The door is another second hand door reused.


An Eastern Water Dragon soaks in the birdbath.  These dragons are said to be very shy, but after a few decades of living together, they now eat out of our hands.  On the right the Wonga vine comes into bloom on the pergola.  The photo of the pergola with the white faced heron was taken less than 2 years previously. 

A Tawny Frogmouth in the pepper tree and a baby dragon on the deck


An intruder in the kitchen

Springtime - the path down to the house

The new timber steps to the path