Inner House: Week 190

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

Sydney Open is an architectural ‘open house’ that happens once a year and allows unparalleled access to some of Sydney’s most innovative buildings. This year was the tenth anniversary of the Sydney Open and everything from exclusive apartments to the ‘most glamourous watering hole in Australia’ was on offer. In total there were over 50 buildings available for viewing.

Barret and I chose to tour the ‘Inner House’ – a private residence concealed within a neo-Classical church in Darlinghurst. Built in 1926, the building was originally the headquarters of the First Church of Christ, Scientist. When the church eventually relocated to Glebe in 2010, they left a massive heritage-listed building in a residential zone. Given the development restrictions, I think it’s safe to say it was an intimidating property.

The architecture firm Bates Smart was interested in using the property as a studio, but due to the building’s zoning they instead showed the property to a potential client and suggested something rather unique. They wanted to create, “a residential ‘pod’ within the space- a reversible, demountable structure which would not compromise the building’s heritage status. At first this was to be a temporary solution. Instead there is now a six-bedroom, five-bathroom house built inside the former church.”

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

The current house completely resides within the 12 meter tall church auditorium. Most of the original pews were moved to the basement (which once housed the Sunday School), however a few pews remain clustered around the console of the massive church organ.

A short description from the architectural brochure: “within the main space, the architects have built a lightweight structure which sits on top of the original, slightly raked, timber floor. This is the dining and living area and it is bookended by two translucent, two-story cubes which contain the bedrooms, bathrooms and the seriously serious kitchen (tempura plate, deep fryer, cooktop and seating for a dozen people) to accommodate the client’s passion for cooking and entertaining.”

“The lightweight structure was manufactured off-site and then assembled on-site (it took just 14 weeks to build) and can be completely unscrewed and taken away. It uses fairly raw, contemporary materials (for example, ply linings that brace the structure), which is a deliberate strategy to contrast with the original building. In this way the integrity of the building is maintained, with old and new complimenting one another.”

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

“There’s no penetration through the roof. The kitchen exhaust, for example, has an ultra-violet hood which enables you to duct it down through the floor – it treats things with ultra-violet light so it doesn’t condense. The fireplace runs on ethanol, so it doesn’t need a flue.”

While the house was intriguing and the Harbour Bridge view was stunning, the short recital on the church organ was one of the most memorable highlights. Barret and I were very lucky because as part of the tour, a volunteer from the Organ Music Society of Sydney played a few songs for us.

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

Before the music began, the organist warmed up the 2500 pipes hidden behind a pierced screen. As the air began coursing through both the lead tin alloy pipes and wood pipes, it sounded like a muffled jet before softening into the sighing sounds of an industrial air conditioner. The pipes were in need of maintenance, but the escaping air was only noticeable during the quieter parts of the score.

While the powerful orchestral organ filled the room with Voix Celeste, Harmonic Piccolos, and Tuba Tremulants, the bright afternoon sunlight steamed into the living room. On the wall to the right of the organ was a quote from the church founder Mary Baker Eddy: Divine love always has met and always will meet every human need.

A space designed for the public, the intimacy of a home, and a church organ to fuse them together- what a cool house.

About: Sydney Open

About: Bates Smart (all photos above courtesy of Bates Smart)

Ride the Night: Week 189

Brochure for Sydney RIdes Festival 2014

Every now and then I have a very uninspiring week- the kind of week where I just want to lounge around the house in pajamas. I’m not saying that’s bad, but it just makes it hard to do my ‘new thing’ for the week. After browsing the weekend newsletters in my inbox, I realized that the only thing I had any chance of attending was ‘Ride the Night’. It was one of the last events of the Sydney Rides Festival, a two-week long bicycle celebration.

The only problem was that just before Ride the Night was slated to begin, storm clouds came rolling in over the city and Barret and I didn’t even have our bikes. They were still stored at our friend’s house.

“You sure you want to do this?” Barret asked before we caught the bus headed through Newtown.

“I think so.” I replied.

The weather wasn’t any better by the time we reached our friend’s house and the delicious kitchen smells also didn’t help. I was having a hard time convincing both myself and Barret that we should head into the nebulous fog that cloaked the CBD.

“I think my neighbors took their kids to that.” John mentioned as we hemmed and hawed on the comfortable couch.

In the end my project prevailed. I needed to do something new.

Ride the Night ended up being an illuminated circuit along Mrs Macquaries Road in the Royal Botanic Gardens. There were more people than I was expecting for such questionable weather, but luckily the rain stayed at bay. A few light installations were placed along the route, the most prominent being the multi-colored spheres.

Compared to the seasonal Gift of Lights drive-thru Vegas Christmas extravaganza that I grew up with, Ride the Night didn’t come close. Not by a long shot.

However, my fellow bike riders made up for the underwhelming light display. Their bikes came in an incredible assortment of styles and were covered with LEDs and bubble machines. Ride the Night wasn’t all it cracked up to be, but a night ride through Sydney is almost never a bad thing.

And, on the way back home, Barret and I found ourselves at the Night Noodle Market. It was the last evening so everything was discounted! In the end I was glad I scraped my lazy butt off the couch, but I think it goes without saying how my Sunday went- wonderfully uneventful.

About: Sydney Rides Festival

Antenna Documentary Film Festival: Week 188

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

It’s nighttime at the Pheasant Valley Motor Lodge. A middle aged man with a suit and tie is using the phone when a wide-set man enters the room wearing a fedora and trench coat. The sparse room has a TV, two beds, two pictures, two lamps and two armchairs.

The middle aged man puts down the phone. His short blond hair is cow-licked and slicked back. “How’d ya do Charlie?” He asks.

This setup could play out in a million different ways, but what ensues is a discussion about Bibles. These men travel door to door selling Bibles.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

In 1968 the Maysles brothers filmed a documentary called Salesman. Not only did they pioneer the art of the documentary, but they also captured a slice of Americana that now only exists in the Criterion Collection.

The documentary begins by following a group of four men as they knock on doors during the middle of winter. The snow is banked high, a car fishtails ahead on the road, and the days are short. A searchlight scans the quiet suburban landscape for an address that might be interested in a gold embossed version of “the best seller in the world.”

From New England to the wide open streets of Miami, these men struggle with new cities and new quotas. The Gipper, The Rabbit, The Badger, and The Bull. In the morning they share breakfast and a cigarette; in the evening they share two motel rooms.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

In Chicago their fleshy, blond haired boss delivers an encouraging message. The audience sits attentively with poised cigarettes; the women are seated in the back.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“Money is being made in the Bible business. It’s a fabulous business. It’s a good business. All I can say to people who aren’t making the money- it’s their fault.

Just keep that in mind. The money’s out there- go out and get it.

I for one am sick and tired of haggling with you people and pleading with you to get you to do what’s good for you. And what’s good for us.

If you see some missing faces here, we eliminated a few men. Not because we were mad at them. Not because we didn’t like them. Not because we didn’t need the few sales that they made. But it’s a question of the sour apple spoiling the barrel.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

Certain guys have a habit of getting a couple of beers and flying off the howl and badging people around and throwing their weight around.

I want to go on record and I want to tell you all that the next man that gets off base with me- I’m gonna tag him out. The ball game’s over. You got a job to do.”

Of all the documentaries playing at the Antenna Documetary Festival in Sydney, I chose to see Salesman because the Maysles Brothers have such an eye for quirky details.

When I think of being on the road, I think of freedom, blue skies and adventure. However, before the digital age, there were men with pot bellies and mortgages and wives that worried about how fast their husbands drove. Careers were made from the thrill and the dread of knocking on a stranger’s door.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“Well you can see how this will be an inspiration in the home.”

The customer is quiet, her child tinkers with the piano keys. “I just couldn’t afford it now… being swamped with medical bills.” At $49.95, the Bible is an inspirational burden.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“You won’t run into people like me all the time. You’re gonna have to work haaader.” The Rabbit and The Gipper are seated around a young woman with dark glasses and a nasal accent.

“But you men are doing fine. I like to see men out, you know, doing things on their own. Get away from companies, get away from people over you.”

The salesmen nod their heads. Yes. It’s good to be independent. It’s good to do what you please.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

About: The Antenna Documentary Film Festival

About: Salesman

Bondi to Bowling: Week 187

Overlooking Bondi Beach: Sydney, Australia

The Bondi to Coogee walk is one of the most iconic routes in Sydney. At 6km in length it packs an impressive amount of scenery in such an easily accessible trail. When my mom’s friend came to Sydney for the first time, I immediately knew this was the best way to start the day.

The walk traditionally starts in Bondi and ends in Coogee, but it can be done either way or in sections. Before starting the trail we stopped for breakfast at an outdoor café in Bondi. After our meal we sipped tea and watched the sunblock and beach towel-toting crowds pour in. Over the weekend the trail is inundated with thousands of sunbathers, joggers, families and tourists. It’s a little bit quieter during the week, but in summer the crowds are ever-present.

The walk starts on the southern end of beach overlooking the Bondi Baths. This iconic saltwater pool first opened over a hundred years ago. Its dramatic location along the cliff is hard to beat and only costs $6 for entry into the pool.

Beach volleyball courts at Tamarama: Sydney, Australia

From Bondi the trail heads up and around the Hunter Park peninsula and mustard colored sandstone cliffs. Blue waves splash against the coast and the plants that cling to their precarious real estate are verdant and flowering.

The trail winds around the hot beach sand and volleyball courts of Tamarama Beach and continues on to Bronte Beach. Bronte is at the base of a grass-covered hill that families and picnickers flock to. In summer the southern side of the beach has a small kid’s train and Zorb ball rentals. The three of us stopped for a drink at the beachside café and take in the view from under the shade of the trees.

Overlooking the Waverly Cemetary on the Bondi to Coogee walk: Sydney, Australia

After our break we continue through the Waverly Cemetery, which must have one of the most stunning views in the world. The peaceful hillside is dotted with weather-worn marble and bright yellow flowers.

A tombstone at the Waverley Cemetary: Sydney. Australia

Around this point in the trail Barret spotted a splash and the tip of a whale’s tail dipping below the sapphire water. We scanned the ocean for a few more minutes but did not see the whale resurface.

Clovelly Beach: Sydney, Australia

Clovelly Bay, our next destination, is one of my favorites. The beach itself is very small, but the narrow bay has a concrete ledge built along both sides for sunbathing and easier access into the bay. We bought ice cream and watched people jumping in and out of the water. My favorite sunbather was there with his newspaper, tanning his skin into a tough leathery hide.

When the waves are more aggressive, the ocean water rocks above and below the concrete platforms and the whole thing reminds me of a kid sliding in a giant bathtub. Clovelly Bay is also a fun place to snorkel.

Gordons Bay- a quiet stop on the Bondi to Coogee Walk: Sydney, Australia

Of all the sights along the walk, Gordons Bay is one of the quietest destinations. It attracts snorkelers, divers, paddle boarders and fishers. Its tiny patch of beach is mostly covered with overturned fishing boats and out in the bay is a 600 meter underwater trail marked with concrete drums and steel plaques.

Coogee Beach on a summer day: Sydney, Australia

Coogee Beach is the last stop on the walk and is the second largest beach after Bondi. From here the three of us headed for the unconventional yet thoroughly Australian pastime of lawn bowling. Like all bowling clubs in Sydney, you have to be a member to use the facility if you live within a certain distance from the club. If you live further out you just have to sign the membership register.

Barret at the Marrickville Lawn Bowling Club: Sydney, Australia

There was a busy bar, pokies in the back, and a table covered in meat trays for the weekly meat raffle. From the small, dark ‘Bowls Secretary’ office we picked up a bag of lawn bowls and headed outside. The grass was warm from the sunny day and most of the lawn bowling groups were off the side of the field drinking.

The weighted balls flew down the lawn as the tired sun set and after the girls were declared the incomparable winners, we headed over to a local pub for dinner. I don’t think we could have gotten more Australian if we tried. The Bondi to Bowling walk is not exactly well known, but I think I’m on to something here.

Marrickville Lawn Bowling Club

About: The Bondi to Coogee Walk

About: Bondi Baths

About: Scuba diving in Gordans Bay

How to get to the Marrickville Bowling Club: 91 Sydenham Road, Marrickville NSW 2204

The Redfern Terrace: Week 186

Illustration of a terrace home in Sydney. By: Stephanie Potell

Jason, the realtor, rocked up forty minutes late on his bike. He was in his early twenties and super keen about his job. “Because of the time of year,” he began as he led us into the house, “most of your flatmates are moving out. This creates exciting potential for you to pick your new flatmates. You could even recommend your friends and share the place with people you know!”

Ever since moving to Sydney, I have lovingly gazed upon the terrace homes that populate the inner west. It wasn’t too long ago that many of these urban homes were neglected and undesirable, but that definitely isn’t the case anymore. The same property that sold for $25,000 in the 1970s could now potentially fetch a million dollars. The neighborhood we were in, Redfern, had a funky vibe and the terrace we were looking at had space to store our bikes on the patio.

I have a good feeling about this! If this is the one we can move in this weekend!

Just after this thought popped into my mind, we reached the living room. It was dark and sparse like a bachelor’s pad. Jason pointed out the ‘new’ couch and then led us into the kitchen that looked significantly better online.

“We have inspections twice a year and if everything is not up to standard, then the tenants get a warning.” Jason explained. “If the house continues to be dirty, then we hire a cleaner. Don’t worry, this house had never failed inspection.” I’m sure Jason thought that was a great threat, but to me it sounded more like a great idea.

From the kitchen Barret and I were led outside and along the side of the house to the small brick courtyard. A bunch of our potential flat mates were huddled around the BBQ grilling meat and drinking beers. “We didn’t plan this!” Jason exclaimed. “I swear!” He chuckled before pointing out a small brick building in the furthest corner of the yard. “And the best part is that you don’t have to go inside to use the nice toilet- you can use the one out here.”

After greeting the group of guys, we walked back inside and up to what I really wanted to see- the bedroom with the terrace. The terrace was just as nice as I had imagined it would be. A cool breeze blew in through the double doors and the neighbor’s red bottlebrush tree blossomed at eye level. I could see myself on the weekend propping my legs up with a cup of tea and people watching the morning away. I loved it.

The only problem was the rest of the house. The online ad had mentioned two bathrooms, but that number included the brick outhouse in the backyard.

“Uh, Jason, how many people live here again?”

“It would be six including you.”

“And there’s only one shower?”

“Yes.”

No wonder there were only guys living there. “Hmm… I thought there were two showers.”

“Well, I can’t make another one appear.”

No kidding I thought, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt to advertise the property more accurately. Jason impatiently shrugged his shoulders and began reading every minute detail on the lease. You can have 5-9 people over before you need to ask permission. There’s a $50 charge if you call us out for something unnecessary like for a broken vacuum when really the bag is just full. The oven is gas which is great because it heats your food up faster. Are you familiar with them?

While Jason read the four page document out loud, one of the flatmates walked downstairs clutching his own roll of toilet paper. Jason must have noticed this too because he mentioned again how nice it would be if we got our friends on board. “It’s just better when you share things, you know?”

Jason was eager for us to sign, but I politely deferred. “I’d like to look at the bathroom again before I make up my mind.” Barret and I headed back upstairs. The shower floor was covered in hair and a million bottles. The room was small and humid and I realized that I already hated the idea of touching anything in there.

In fact I hated everything except for the balcony, and you know what? The price had somehow increased by $20 a week.

It was our first time house-hunting for an old two-story terrace and it would have been great if it were the right place, but that’s just not how the Sydney real estate market works. And so the search continued…

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