When faced with the dilemma to stay or go following the 2011 floods, Shez and Ross Letten of Chelmer could easily have taken the latter when faced with the prospect of a major renovation.

“It was a very ordinary house but the termites just loved it,” says Shez, as she recalls the further damage discovered in the process of the flood clean-up.

Water reached the height of the garage, mere centimetres below the main living areas of the home and, in removing cladding to clean up after the water subsided, the damage was more than the couple could have imagined.

“The termites had completely munched their way through the garage wall and into the exterior wall so we thought we’d just get rid of the termites, pretty it up and move to Manly where my husband sails…but we have space here,” says Shez. The home is also in an enviable position with views to the city and overlooking the river.

A plan unfolded for the couple to stay in the family home where they had lived for almost a decade. It held many memories of family life and children growing up, and of Ross’s beloved car collection (thankfully saved before the flood waters surged well above their roofs) but, while the couple had decided to stay in their waterfront home when architect Shaun Lockyer was brought in to the project, they were looking for a big change.

“A number of things just weren’t working,” Lockyer says. “The existing house enjoyed a north-east river frontage but had a very poor connection to the river and living areas were massively under-utilised.”

The primary scope for the project involved the reconfiguration of the existing deck area into the “river room”, an indoor/outdoor space that the clients could use year-round. “There’s not a day we don’t sit out on the deck and enjoy it,” says Shez.

“I wanted to use the area the entire time, without having to worry about the weather.”

Sashless windows by Aneeta give the appearance of fixed glass encasing the new river room, but still offer the practicality of adjustable ventilation. Lockyer uses the windows on most of his projects, he says, after falling for their versatility and appearance in his own home.

Blackbutt timber flooring from the interior of the home continues seamlessly out to the river room, adding to the indoor/outdoor ambience. “It makes for a robust space when you can bring some of the outside in,” says Lockyer.

Cost was a careful consideration of the project. The $360,000 budget included updating the kitchen and main bedroom area while much of the rest of the home remained unchanged. “The approach we took was to focus on the things that would fundamentally change the owners’ lives,” says Lockyer.

Some of the existing deck space was used to extend the main bedroom and add an ensuite while the kitchen was reconfigured to run along a side wall, opening up the adjoining living area to create more space. A study nook was also built in alongside the kitchen, facing north with louvre windows above the desk bathing the space in lovely natural light.

“Changing the kitchen configuration makes the space physically work completely differently and that allowed the living room to be properly furnished which no one had considered before. The living and dining areas are fundamentally the same space but the way the family can experience them now is different.

“Before, it was a very ordinary quasi-townhouse and everything was very straightforward and basic, but creating one big living space that has some drama takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the house,” says Lockyer.

The remainder of the house functions well around the central living area as the heart of the home. Two bedrooms upstairs sit alongside the main bathroom, sewing room and study.

In the renovated garage space, a new laundry now has a brass plaque indicating the height of the 2011 flood and most of the things in the garage are stored in plastic boxes, just in case the waters ever come that close again.


As seen in bmag issue 257