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Leap of faith

Leap of faith

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When a ceramic artist purchased a dilapidated warehouse, he needed a building team that could sympathetically convert this space into a striking home and dynamic studio.

Kerryn Ramsey

Senior Content Coordinator
When HIA builder Don Gee first signed up to rebuild a disused engineering shed in Sydney’s inner west, patience was a virtue. He had to wait for four years until his company, Don Gee Building, could take on this project due to a lengthy planning process with the local council. 

The property wasn’t zoned residential, so historical and geotechnical surveys were required. These surveys revealed that ‘a whole river of benzo [exhaust fumes] diesel appeared underground’, says Don. ‘A whole redesign was required as the council said we couldn’t do a basic dig.’

Working closely with architect Jason Williams, Don knew he’d have to conquer some huge challenges. ‘We didn’t know what we were up for until we started stripping it all back,’ he recalls. Built to the boundary, the existing property consisted of a steel portal-framed brick warehouse and a small 1940s office block, including original terrazzo bathrooms and partitioned offices.
The two-year build produced a multi-stage extensive rectification and alteration renovation.
Since the building took up the whole block, we took the roof off to let the light in through the open courtyard.
‘In the early stages, we spoke to residents on the street who recalled the site as two workers’ cottages, with a dairy and cows out the back. The engineering manufacturing company was there from the 1940s onwards,’ explains Don. 

The two-year build produced a multi-stage extensive rectification and alteration renovation. Collaborating with architect Jason Williams, Don drew inspiration from the client himself – a working ceramic artist who lives with his partner and their two dogs. His vision was to convert this warehouse into a spacious residence and ceramic studio complete with kilns. ‘It was a massive leap of faith from this very patient and brave client,’ says Don. 

‘Since the building took up the whole block, we took the roof off to let the light in through the open courtyard. Now every room has a view of greenery from inside or out as well as inner-city rooftop views,’ says Don, whose husband-and-wife company has been incorporated since 2012. Now with a team of 10, it includes two HIA apprentices. 

‘Everyone’s got new ideas so it’s good getting different perspectives. I’m totally open to that. But no-one had done what we were doing with this warehouse conversion.’ 

The original property was positioned below street level, which affected the drainage. ‘To solve this, we installed a clever pump system and pump station – similar to car parking zones at Westfield centres. We had to drop this in then drain it because we built the whole house after that.’
Building the warehouse took ‘bucketloads of effort and guts from a large team’, says Don.
‘Our client wanted to display honest elements. He appreciated the language of the building itself.’
The converted property, now known as The Pottery, is a steel portal frame building with brick infill. The steel frame was on the boundary, hard against existing neighbouring structures. ‘This meant fire rating it in situ required a lot of work,’ says Don. 

‘The frame is exactly the same today as it was 90 years ago. We just treated it and left it intact. Interestingly, some of the frame actually came from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They’re stamped with the foundry that imported all the steel for the Harbour Bridge. Bits and pieces were used in this warehouse. They’re all covered up now due to the fire rating, but I managed to take a few photos. It was a little heartbreaking to know it will never be seen again.’ 

Originally, the outside walls had glazing with steel wire running through it. ‘It was too expensive to put fire-rated windows on the boundary,’ says Don. ‘Instead, we left all the brickwork and steel portal frames, and removed all the cladding. Then we wrapped it in a fire-rating system all the way around from the inside out. To do this, we had to scaffold it over the top of the neighbours’ houses.’ 

Another difficulty was peeling all the old asbestos. ‘We kept finding tonnes and tonnes of it,’ recalls Don. ‘It took ages to remove.’ 

After two years of ‘bucketloads of effort and guts from a large team’, the final stage of the project was removing the roof off the middle section. Here, the internal section of the property became a tranquil courtyard, which provides lush greenery to this industrial-inspired home. In addition, solar panels were fitted on the roof.
At the circular hole in the roof was cut from a pitched roof, so it appears as an off-centre figure eight.
The property wasn’t zoned residential, so historical and geotechnical surveys were required.
‘The owners wanted to base the home around this open green zone, drawing inspiration from Japanese homes,’ says Don. For style and functionality, the interior includes a stand-out spiral staircase and an external lift with access to the residential levels from the internal courtyard. 

‘The courtyard is circular, so all the external stairs are made from curved steel. The circular hole in the roof was also cut from a pitched roof, so it appears as an off-centre figure eight, even though in planning, it’s round. This presented unique fabrication and design challenges.’ 

Completed in 2022, the result of this impressive build is a unique multi-level residential space, with open zones, green areas and intimate living spaces with areas for artwork displays and family gatherings. To bring warmth and character to the residence, reused and repurposed materials were sourced from the original engineering shed and from other demolition sites. 

‘We reused original timber sliding doors as well as old lights, switches and other bits and pieces we found,’ says Don. ‘Original curved metal elements were used, as well as wall Zincalume cladding on the inside. This is pretty much the cheapest galvanised shed cladding you can buy but it works perfectly with the building. 

‘Overall, our client wanted to display honest elements – he wanted to show off all the original bearers, joists, cabling and plumbing. He certainly didn’t want a luxury effect. He appreciates the language of the building itself.’

The Pottery home and studio at a glance

Builder

Don Gee Building

Architect

Jason Williams

Location

St Peters, NSW

Materials:

  • Cladding: Bluescope Zincalume steel from Lysaght
  • Home lift: Eltec HLG lift installed by Next Level Elevators
  • Lift shaft: Ladding by Radial Timber.
  • Kitchen: BK Joinery.
  • Kitchen surfaces: Concrete benchtops by Youdell Constructions. 
  • Paint: Palm Beach Black water-based stain from Porter’s Original Paints.
  • Interior pot plant: 1800mm-diameter corten-steel pot from Entice Metal Works.

First published on 21 March 2024

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