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Every little thing

This award-winning home in Sydney’s inner west, constructed with creativity and flair, is the perfect articulation of its builder’s philosophy to ‘treat every little thing like it’s everything’.

Photos courtesy Camelot Homes

Author

Gabrielle Chariton

Combining the complex beauty of raw materials with crisp architectural detailing, the 2020 HIA Australian Spec Home is a perfectly honed example of sophisticated urban design. But while it exudes all the luxury and liveability of an upscale hotel, the home sprang from very humble beginnings, according to its builder – Tom Bazdaric, owner of Camelot Homes, a Sydney-based company specialising in high-end custom builds. 

‘It was the absolute worst block, the worst home, in the best street. In fact, the block itself was a nightmare.’ It was awkwardly shaped – 60 metres long, with eight metres across the front, tapering down to just four metres wide at the rear. But it was also a slice of development gold: located in a waterside enclave of Sydney’s inner west, perfectly positioned to catch some harbour views, and with double street access (from the front and the rear). 

So despite the block’s diminutive size, Tom, together with his business partner, Reka, had big ambitions for this spec home project. Their brief to architect Russell Garnet (Urban Revolutions) called for a ‘luxurious, contemporary, five-star hotel inspired spacious family home with architectural design features visible from all angles’. In terms of inclusions, he wanted open-plan living, ensuites and robes to all three bedrooms, garage, underground wine cellar, and a stand-alone, self-contained studio at the rear. 

 

‘The architect came back to me saying, “Where is the rest of the block I need to achieve all this?” Tom laughs. However he achieved all this, and more, by utilising three-storey design on a tapered footprint that follows the site’s boundary line to maximise internal space.

The 18-month build began with demolition of the existing 1940s-era cottage, followed by major excavations for the basement level. Tom and his team met a few challenges that can be typical to urban construction; all solvable, he jokes, with ‘time and money’. Significant water ingress that appeared during the excavations was addressed through design reconfigurations (rather than installing a sump pump), to make the house completely self-draining. Additionally, ‘because of the incidence of water and the narrowness of the block, all the earth started falling in from the neighbouring homes, uncovering their footings. So we got the engineer back in…shotcreted all the sides and put temporary retaining walls on the boundary lines.’ 

From the outset, Tom’s motivation was to build a home that he himself would love to live in. As a second-generation builder who spent his childhood on his father’s building sites, learning the various trades, Tom has a true passion for his craft. He thrives on the creative freedom of building spec projects; unrestrained by clients’ wish-lists and budgets. ‘It’s my painting,’ he says. ‘I immerse myself in the home as if I’m going to live in every room and every space.’ 

To that end, every element of this home was lavished with care and attention to detail. Constructed ‘the old-fashioned way’ from double brick and suspended slabs, it offers a surprisingly imposing street presence, with its dramatic, angular roof projection and a 7.5-metre blade wall. The three storeys unfold invitingly all the way up to a rooftop terrace with views that extend out to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (The separate studio, accessed from the rear lane, is separated from the main house by a lengthy stretch of lawn.) 

 

The layout is intuitive and user-friendly. The basement contains the garage, a guest bathroom, rumpus and wine cellar. On the second level, the kitchen (which won the 2019 HIA NSW Medium Kitchen 10sqm to 20sqm award) and living areas, both awash in natural light, flank a glass-walled courtyard; above that are the three bedrooms and ensuites. 

Seamlessly linking these interior spaces, and grafting the entire aesthetic of the home, is a highly sculptural, suspended steel staircase, which appears to float from one level to the next. 

‘The staircase really is the centrepiece,’ Tom explains. ‘The design was inspired by a birdcage, and we built it onsite. Every step, every rise, the stringers and everything were all cut and then welded and grinded into position.’

Instead of traditional balusters, Camelot Homes installed the vertical bars to retain the lightness and create that birdcage look. ‘Some of those are seven, eight metres long and run from the top of the house all the way down to the basement,’ Tom explains. ‘They had to be inserted from the roof down into position and welded.’ 

The staircase – along with a raft of other statement pieces that bejewel the home – was conceived by interior designer and TV personality James Treble, who Tom has been collaborating with for many years. 

‘James drew the concepts and I come up with solutions for how to build it,’ Tom says. This included the oversize front door which the Camelot team constructed from timber milled onsite, and a suspended, illuminated mirror that bisects the back-to-back vanity in the master ensuite. 

 

Throughout the home, the raw beauty of natural materials – steel, timber and stone – softens the razor-sharp, meticulously finished architecture. Luxurious finishes – marble to the fireplace surrounds, custom stone vanities and bathtubs – sit side-by-side with elevated utilitarian elements, such as exposed steel beams and the recessed stainless steel kitchen island. 

In the cellar, reclaimed bricks (including three convict-made bricks that were found, unused, in the Hunter Valley) create a rustic intimacy; the bar, shelving and wine racks were all crafted from leftover pieces of timber, steel and formwork gathered during the build. 

While Camelot Homes has received a number of HIA awards since Tom established the business in 2003, he says this win was a particular thrill. ‘I’ve never been prouder of an award, because it was that many years in the making,’ he says. ‘The site was bought in 2016 and the design and build process was painstaking. It took a long, long time to get through. So, it was a fantastic recognition of the work put in by the whole team.’ 

 
exteria

Russell Lea House at a glance

Builder: Camelot Homes

Architect: Russell Garnett, Urban Revolutions

Award: 2020 HIA Australian Spec Home

Partner: Stratco Australia

Location: Sydney 

Materials:

  • Walls: CSR Cemintel cladding; Nepean Engineering structural steel; PGH and Austral Bricks brickwork; Dulux paint
  • Flooring: Gunlake concrete; Havwoods Flooring; Don’s Tiles
  • Windows: Wideline external windows
  • Insulation: CSR Insulation
  • Kitchen: Nordane Kitchens stainless steel island bench; CDK Stone, Universal Granite stone dining table; Smeg ovens and cooktop; Fisher & Paykel fridge
  • Bathroom: Pietra Bianca composite stone vanity bench and bathtub; Duravit mirrors; Gessi matte black tapware; Reece toilets
  • Lighting: Koda Lighting by Runnymede Group
  • Fireplaces: Home Fires; CDK Stone.
 

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