The owners of a former community hall wanted to renovate the building as a home for themselves and their three children. The hall was constructed in 1927 by the Sydney City Mission, an evangelical society working in the poorer areas of Sydney. It was one of a number of community halls established to relieve the distress of inner-city families whose breadwinners had been thrown out of work, as well as for itinerant job seekers drifting from district to district looking for work. The hall was designed to serve as a place for regular Sunday evening services and Sunday School as well as a soup kitchen, dormitory and meeting place for youth groups and men’s and women’s fellowships. Another important community function of the building was as a cinema, which accounts for the scale and proportion of the central space. With the gentrification of Balmain, the work of the Mission decreased, and in 1982 the hall was sold.

The hall contains a floor area of 630 sq m. It is set on a narrow 570 sq m block of land that is entirely land-locked except for the front facade, with neither front nor side set-backs. This presented certain difficulties in adapting the fabric of the existing building as a family home. First, no vehicular access for such a large property is available, or could easily be created. Second, the main space is isolated from the garden not only by it’s sheer size and elongated proportion but also by the massive cinema screen projection wall which blocks off any view or movement into the garden.

The proposal provides for vehicular access by means of a ‘secret’ garage door created in the symmetrical neo-classical brick street facade. The doorway is made in an expanse of empty brickwork, then infilled with a brick-covered door to match the remainder of the facade; when closed, the door is invisible. The natural ground level underneath the floor of the main space is excavated to form a basement garage accessed from street level via a scissor lift immediately behind the facade. A vehicle turntable in the garage allows vehicles to turn within the limited confines of the basement and exit the building facing the street.

A winter garden under a sliding glazed conservatory roof with external louvres against the projection wall is a means of bringing the landscape into the main space of the building. The floor is cut back and the projection wall cut away and propped on columns in this location to enable views and access to the garden. This also allows the winter garden to become the focus of the building, a dynamic space with a stair tower and walkways running through it, connecting the various parts of the house.

As an organising element in the building, the winter garden also separates the children’s and guest rooms from the living area, which contains the parents bedroom on the exiting mezzanine overlooking the main space.