Maybanke House

Design ingenuity and a dose of respect for its original Gothic Revival bones, AJ+C delivered a blighted 1870s harborside home in Sydney into the 21st century.

  • Year 2017
  • Location Sydney, Australia,
  • Type House,
  • Crossing the Gothic revival threshold of Maybanke, the waterfront home on Sydney Harbour with a distinguished history, is to traverse 150 years in a few short steps.

    Panoramic water views, an abundance of penetrating antipodean light and a five-storey sculptural stair – that together would surely have befuddled and amazed the 1870s sensibilities of the individuals who built the original building – leave the modern visitor in no doubt which century this home now squarely belongs.

    That said before any real work on pairing back, improving and adding to the Victorian structure could begin a final battle against the soddenness of the Sydney sandstone outcrop upon which it sits, had to be waged and won – at considerable cost and over a period of nearly eight months.

    The job would mean all the building’s 1870s foundations had to be removed, the house suspended and slabs inserted under the existing walls. Permanent access also had to be provided behind the existing stone walls for future maintenance and to guard against damp breaching the porous sandstone walls.

    Today the front and side façades have been restored to echo Normanton next door – with its bay windows, balconies, chimneys, copper downpipes and dormer window in a Mansard roof and Gothic Revival ornamental stone trims, mounts and detailing.

    Look more closely and you can see that on Maybanke’s new skin the attention to detail has been even more extraordinary than its neighbour’s original details. For Maybanke circa-2017 an expert local stonemason was employed, sculpting the exquisite details above the doors and windows to sketches by AJ+C project architect Caroline Kite’s design.

    But it’s only once inside the front door that the visitor can appreciate quite how ambitious the vision for the total structure – old and new wings – has been.

    Dropping down beside the length of the stair is a tensioned steel screen as balustrading, fabricated in and imported from Germany.

    Fitting such an exacting contemporary architectural element in an old building was no easy feat.

    The five-floor scheme, Koopman explains, hinges around the idea that during the working week it’s the middle two floors that are lived in. “It equates to a one bedroom apartment over two levels with direct access from the street,” he says. The rest of the time the home is designed as a place to entertain friends and accommodate the owners’ visiting families.

    One enters Maybanke at the level of the master bedroom suite with its impressive walk-in wardrobe and ensuite bathroom overlooking the harbour.

    At the level below the street, via lift or exposed concrete staircase – is the main living space, facing north east over its little inner western corner of Sydney Harbour known as Snails Bay.

    On the level above the street are the guest bedrooms and living spaces.

    Beneath the Mansard roof on the top level is self contained space that can operate variably as a home office, guest accommodation or a New Years Eve entertaining space. The space also boasts a small roof deck facing the harbour.

    On this level, today there’s also a wine cellar (and an impressive collection of single malt scotch), leading off from the kitchen, a laundry and store. The dining area opens to another deck overlooking the garden, complete with plunge pool, which steps down to the harbour’s edge, far below.

    Design: AJ+C
    Contractor: Capital Construction and Refurbishing
    PhotographyMichael Nicholson