Armadillo

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The Hurlstone Park House by Carla Middleton Architecture

Located in Sydney’s inner west, the Hurlstone Park House by Carla Middleton explores the invigorating push and pull of contrasts. In reinventing the existing cottage with a polished modern extension, the accomplished architect plays with natural light and shadow, the crisp white interiors providing a beautiful template for tactile decorative touches.

Styling by Claire Delmar
Photography by Tom Ferguson

Tell us a bit about your career path. How did you end up where you are today?

I always wanted to be a painter of portraiture. I studied art at school, and my final HSC artwork (a self-portrait) was selected and hung on exhibition. I had always been very creative and remember from a very young age going furniture shopping with my mother and helping her style the home. I remember at 14 years old my mum taking advice from me about which pieces to buy, textures of fabrics and styling. When I finished school, I loved art and really loved mathematics, so architecture became a great fit.

Whilst studying at university I worked for both a large firm doing hotels and then a residential architecture practice and just knew the residential side was my passion. I loved the personal relationship between architecture and a family home. My parents still live in the family home that I was brought up in and it is such a happy place. So many happy memories, beautiful natural light and a grounding place to grow up in.

I worked for three great residential practices before starting up my own practice, each teaching me different parts of an architectural practice. One practice taught me the importance of a concept, another the importance of understanding how to build and document, and the third practice taught me how to run a business within architecture. All three experiences were so different but vital to where I am today.

I took maternity leave to have my first baby and, before I knew it, I was flooded with commissions. It was a very daunting time but exciting. I spent years juggling work and motherhood, furiously working whilst my kids napped. Now that my kids are older, I have a practice based in Bronte and love working full-time. The time I now spend with my kids is cherished. The practice is rapidly growing, and I just love my job!

How would you describe your sensibilities as an architect? Is there a common thread between all the spaces you’ve designed?

The greatest asset that my clients have told me is that I listen – this is my superpower. I try to be patient with new clients who have not used an architect in the past. I have a great passion for architecture but at the end of the day this is their home. There is a fine line between engaging an architect for their expertise, but also listening to a client and ensuring this is the home they will love. The collaborative process for residential architecture is wonderful; I typically have a concept in my mindset but input from the owners provides the additional layers that take the project to the next level. This is where the project becomes a self-portrait of its inhabitants. The clients bring their style, features, idiosyncrasies, and way of life to the project.

The common thread with all of the spaces I design is to ensure they are site-specific. Designing spaces is a process of decision-making – where is the sun rising, where is the sun setting, where are the predominant breezes, where is the neighbour, where is a beautiful existing tree, what is the view overlooking – and once you filter all the site-related issues, the location and design of the spaces is bound by these constraints.

Intuition plays a large part in the way I work. I find my hand responds when sketching faster than my brain is processing the thought. Architect Glenn Murcutt taught me at uni, and this is the greatest gift he instilled in me as a student.

Give us a little insight into the design brief for Hurlstone Park House and your process from the initial brainstorming to the final installation.

The brief for Hurlstone Park House was the typical young family brief – well-sized bedrooms for a growing family, bathrooms, and an open living, kitchen and dining area that was well connected to the outdoors. The initial design came intuitively when I attended the site and felt the overpowering presence of the two neighbouring buildings, flanked either end of the site by jacaranda trees. The northern light came from the side of the house so to avoid feeling overlooked by the neighbour, my intuition told me to pitch up to the sky.

We love your ethos of creating homes that are “a self-portrait of its inhabitants”. With this project, what were your clients’ must-haves?

The clients’ must-haves were all the basic elements of the brief, but natural light was everything to them.

"The clients bring their style, features, idiosyncrasies, and way of life to the project."

There is a beautiful juxtaposition between the original cottage and the recycled red brick extension. What quirks or features did you set out to preserve, and what modern design details or amenities did you introduce?

I think it is important to preserve as much of the features of the original home as possible. This is Sydney’s heritage, and we have to preserve it for future generations. The rear extension was a modern extension on the back of the existing structure – to pay respect to our past, we must not try to copy it otherwise it becomes a pastiche.

As a sustainable brand, we were delighted to see so many eco-friendly elements incorporated into the home. Can you share some of them with us?

Sustainability is a huge part of my work. It is a vital role for an architect to consider the design, material choices and orientation of a project. It is not an afterthought in my practice, it is intrinsic. Some of the sustainable aspects of this project include an abundance of natural light for heating and happiness, and cross-ventilation through the centre of the home to be able to open the front and rear doors and get a breeze in summer. Two of the skylights can open (in the bathroom and void space), which allows for hot air to rise and then be released. We also selected recycled materials, reusing some of the existing bricks from the old part of the house and bricks that would have ended up in landfill. Most importantly, an environmentally-orientated architecture and spaces reduces the use of artificial heating and cooling.

We’re honoured to have some of our rugs featured in your projects. Can you share any tips when it comes to choosing a rug for a space?

Armadillo rugs are incredible. Go to the beautiful showroom and discuss choosing a rug with a professional – and feel the rugs underfoot! 

Do you have any advice on creating a home that will defy trends?

This is tricky because what is a “timeless” material? How do we define this? Trends are highly influential because these days we are bombarded by imagery on social media. I think to defy trends you need to get back to the basics of architecture and respond to the site, orientation, owner’s brief and problem solve this – the spaces will evolve. I try not to push a style onto a site!

Recent studies show that our interior spaces have a very real impact on our wellbeing. How did opening up the skylights impact how the main living space is experienced?

I’m not surprised by those studies; this is what I experienced from my family home and this is the experience I want for my kids growing up. My practice’s focus is that the home should be your happy place. “Happy” is such a colloquial word but it is simple and true. If your home is a happy place to be in, then my job is done as your architect! This concept means the most to me and my practice of architecture. I believe a happy home is created with an abundance of natural light, privacy and a garden or a distant view of a garden. It doesn’t need to be a huge garden, just something small and beautiful.

The skylights have had a huge impact on the main living space. The size of the skylights allows you to see the movement of the clouds from the northern and southern aspects of the home. The proportion of sky to the interior surfaces (namely, the ratio of sky and cloud to plasterboard) gives you a sense that you are outdoors whilst remaining inside.

I just received a message from the owners telling me that the space is getting them through the current lockdown!

Where are you turning to for inspiration these days?

Nature, nature, nature and books. Instagram is a highly distracting and fast-paced, evocative tool that I try to avoid whilst I’m designing a new project. Meditation and calming down the mind to have clarity when designing is an important part of my process. I turn off my emails, go for a walk, turn on some music, find a nice place to sit and then start designing. Travel was always a huge part of my inspiration, but this is less available these days.

What excites you about the future of Australian design?

Australian design is incredible at the moment and since COVID-19 there has been a new appreciation for our interior spaces but also our own personal outdoor spaces, whether that be a courtyard, a skylight, a view from a window or a large backyard. The idea of looking inward, not only within Australia as a country but also inward to our own little pockets of space, allows for great briefs to all our local designers.

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what is your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?

It’s very hard to pick one favourite but I love the Sierra rug. It is so soft underfoot. To be able to see the handmade element within the rug is very grounding.

Follow Carla Middleton on Instagram.

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