Stable House by Sibling Architecture, Top Honours for a Stable

This modest house in the inner-western suburb of Forest Lodge took out top honours at this year’s Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) awards. Designed by architect Qianyi Lim, a director of SIBLING Architecture, this project not only received the prestigious Wilkinson Award but also, for Lim, the Emerging Architect Prize also from the NSW Chapter.

“I think it’s the first time the two awards have been given to the same person,” says Lim, who purchased the 1880s timber Victorian cottage and rear stables 11 years ago. Lim, who lives in this house with her partner Ross Paxman and their one-year-old daughter Linya, refers to it as a ‘house for an extended family’ – with her in-laws regularly staying over as well as her sister, the latter who will eventually live in the cottage once it is renovated by Lim. “My mother lives in Glebe (the adjacent suburb) but stays over at least once every week,” she adds.

The 366-square-metre site is bordered by Victorian terraces to the east (eight terraces back onto Lim’s property) and a rejuvenated reserve/park to the west. At the rear of the site are the brick stables, just over 110 square metres in area. While the triple-brick walls could be salvaged, the interior structures, including brick walls to enclose the horses, were badly crumbling, as was the corrugated steel roof. Rather than try to mimic the past, Lim completely gutted the interior, retained the few windows and added a raked steel roof that literally ‘bows’ to the neighbouring reserve. “I didn’t want the neighbours living in the Victorian terraces to have their outlook diminished,” says Lim, who also worked closely with architect and landscape designer Nicholas Braun, one of SIBLING Architecture’s directors.

What was originally a stable is now a home with a generous open plan kitchen, dining and living area that opens to a courtyard garden shared with the cottage. And to the rear of the floor plan, on each of the two levels, are two rooms with a shared bathroom. “Some are used as bedrooms, such as ours located upstairs, but the others have been used as either a study or for the extended family,” says Lim. Keen to connect to the garden, there’s now an internal courtyard fern garden, framed by cobalt blue tiled walls and also an elongated glass window above the kitchen bench that allows for unimpeded views into the neighbouring reserve. To further ‘green’ the house, Lim included a series of curved steel awnings that allow for creepers to spill onto the roof and cascade down the original brick walls. Lim also clad part of the original façade and entry with fibro cement sheets and orange ceramic tiles to create a contemporary response.

The materials are simple – spotted gum plywood for the kitchen joinery and built-in shelves framing the new staircase used to display objects collected by the couple over many years, along with polished concrete floors in the open plan living areas, the latter revealing the odd horse shoe found in the process of the build when some of the brick floors were removed. And to bring light into the core, there are generous skylights that pierce the raked and angled ceilings. This refreshingly modest house exemplifies what can be achieved on a relatively small budget and, in spite of its size, accommodates a number of people at the same time. And rather than simply being a melange of expensive finishes and fittings, it celebrates the way people can live when someone like Lim can respond to the needs of both her immediate and extended family.

Architecture and Design by SIBLING Architecture, photography by Katherine Lu, and words by Stephen Crafti.