Chambers House by Shaun Lockyer Architects, A 1970’s Classic Reborn

Great architecture doesn’t date, but it can need updating. This was certainly the case with architect Rodney Chambers’ own home which he designed and built from the mid-to-late 1970s.

Constructed in concrete block, with exposed walls inside and chunky timber detailing, the heritage-listed house in Teneriffe (a suburb of New Farm) in Brisbane was and still is, truly remarkable. Those familiar with the work of Perth-based architect Iwan Iwanoff may draw some comparison, but for architect Shaun Lockyer, it’s a house that he has always coveted. “While I didn’t purchase this house, I procured this sale for my clients, a couple with a teenage daughter,” says Lockyer.

Located on a winding street, with a dramatic fall across the site, the house is a fine example of raw blockwork and timber detailing that creates a slightly Japanese aesthetic. “Given the slope of the site which is approximately 600 square metres in area, it’s nestled into the landscape rather than dominating the streetscape,” says Lockyer, whose brief was to sensitively upgrade the house and make some of the open spaces more usable. “There was literally only one enclosed bedroom. Many of the other spaces were simply delineated by screens,” adds Lockyer, whose brief included the creation of four bedrooms (one used as a gymnasium) and two living areas.

As the owners have worked with Lockyer on a number of previous projects, there was trust from the outset, not just from procuring the home but also realising its potential. “There had been very little structural work done on the place and some of the terraces needed structural attention,” says Lockyer, who created an entirely new covered terrace that leads from the living area, complete with an outdoor fireplace. Using Chambers’ distinctive ‘signature’, it’s difficult to see what is original and what is new, although the bedroom below this terrace certainly is a small addition to the original footprint.

The areas inside the house that required the most attention were the kitchen and the bathrooms, with cracked tiles and, in some places, rotten timber, including window frames. The kitchen, for example, is a hybrid of the past and present: original slate floors that continue to the dining and living areas, but with new American oak joinery here and in areas such as the entrance lobby. “We made a conscious decision from the outset to use a lighter coloured timber for anything that was new, and then stain the original timber black,’ says Lockyer, pointing out a new black-stained timber door that once was an open cavity to a storage area. “Previously, areas were predominantly delineated by a change in level which reduced privacy,” he says.

While the kitchen and living areas encompass the first level, three additional bedrooms, including the main bedroom, can be found on the top floor. Again, Lockyer and his team were mindful of Chambers’ original design, with the walk-in dressing area located a few steps below the entry to the main bedroom. “Teenagers also need their own domain rather than simply a shared platform,” says Lockyer, who created a new day bed in the daughter’s bedroom, together with a built-in desk that allows for views over Newstead and Fortitude Valley.

Most of the original features in the home can still be clearly ‘read’, whether it’s the remnants of the slate fireplace in the dining area (now used as shelving) or the design of the original treads and balustrade, rebuilt according to Chambers’ vision. “We approached Rodney (Chambers) at the start of this project to see if he was keen to take a role, but he said he preferred the new owners to modify it as they thought fit,” says Lockyer, who has delivered both a sensitive reworking of the past, with subtle contemporary additions (air conditioning in the kitchen is concealed behind black steel grills to be recessive to the new oak joinery).

While the Teneriffe house is relatively modest by today’s standards, it’s an important reminder that significant architecture isn’t measured on size. “In some ways the architecture is still conspicuous, but it manages to work beautifully with the site. And it still retains all those wonderful hallmarks of that time,” adds Lockyer.

Architecture and Design by Shaun Lockyer Architects, photography Andy MacPherson, and words by Stephen Crafti.