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Waiwera House

This imposing ltalianate house was built in 1888 by John Yates Nelson and remained in the ownership of his family until 1981.

The house was developed in two stages. The first stage of High Victorian style comprises two main rooms on each level now the living room, music room, and bedrooms 1 and 2 with full width balconies overlooking Lavender Bay. The balance of this first stage comprised kitchen/scullery at ground level and another bedroom at the first floor. In about 1910, a sympathetic second stage was added to the south of the original house and comprised loggia, passage and study now the family room on the ground floor and a bedroom now bedroom 3, passage and bathroom on the first floor. This second stage is Edwardian in character.

Not long after World War 11 the house was extensively and insensitively altered, the internal stair was removed and it was divided into two flats. The client required the two flats to be converted back into a single house, this was done by selectively restoring the High Victorian and Edwardian portions and obliterating the post war damage. The planning of the house was substantially rationalised with best advantage being taken of the extensive harbour views and the creation of various private courtyards screened and secured from the street. The concept was one of architectural intervention, where uncompromisingly modern portions were overlain and interwoven with the Victorian remains, the latter were faithfully restored where feasible.

The northern wall of the house was originally without windows since it is built on the site boundary. The result was a characteristically dark interior. Extensive use has been made of roof lights, skylights and panels of glass block where privacy was required to introduce daylight into the centre of the house.

A skylight and the light well have been inserted way above the dining room from which the bathroom upstairs also “borrows” the light. Light is controlled in most rooms with the use of louvre blinds and modern downlighting has been installed throughout. Modern classic leather and chrome furniture add to the illusion of light and space.

Outside, the roof was restored using second hand slates and an authentic cast iron lace pattern was chosen for the balconies on the harbour side of the house. Balcony roofs, moulded fascias, finials, dentil courses and plaster brackets have all been replaced, but are replicated from the originals.

A workshop/store was cut into the solid rock beneath the parking area adjacent the street to provide much needed storage space and a workshop area.

The entrance courtyard sets the tone for the house with the use of warm, beige colours, sandstone paving, glass block screen. A new front door is located where the back entrance once was. A new hand made plaster arch, a specially designed wrought iron security screen a spouting lions head fountain many potted plants and espaliered Camellias on the boundary walls complete the ltalianate mood.

The entry has been reinstated in its 1910 position by demolition of a post war bathroom. The powder room on the right replaces a post war entry to the 1910 addition. The powder room is clad in Imperial Red granite. The entry itself is paved in Nero Assoluto and Bethel White granite.

A triptych of Japanese woodcut prints “Crossing the River Oi” by Ando Hiroshige (1830) and another by Ginko (1890) one of the Famous Lady series and a Louis XIII Buhl cabinet complete the entry hall arrangement.

The dining room is lit by natural daylight gained from the skylight above. Opposite is an aquatint, “Homage to Gaudi” (1980) by Joan Miro. The open cabinet adjoining the kitchen houses a collection of architect-designed tableware including examples by Aldo Rossi, Arne Jacobsen and Richard Meier.

The kitchen is totally new, a hard edge modern composition of steel grey Italian laminate, black and white granite and stainless steel with a laundry hidden behind flush folding doors.

In the family room, an original marble fireplace has been restored and the floor resurfaced with light silver ash parquetry. The original small glass door leading to the garden has been replaced by large double doors and side lights in a pattern sympathetic to the original Edwardian timber work in this area.

The floor on the verandah adjacent to this room as well as that on the front verandah have been restored with tessellated tiles using a pattern as close as possible to the original. A cool rainforest, garden and random sandstone paving blocks lead from here to the swimming pool.

The garden facing the harbour has been designed for entertaining with built-in barbecue, refrigeration, sauna and swimming pool enclosed with cantilevered frameless toughened glass panels so as not to obscure the view. The living room is dominated by the stunning view of Sydney Harbour with the Bridge and Opera House as centrepieces.

This room contains an original marble fireplace with paintings by John Coburn and an Alexander Calder lithograph. A major wall has been demolished to integrate the original entry hall with the living room. The circular steel columns symbolise this intervention whilst the adjacent plaster arch has been restored and highlighted. Built in curved bookcases and drink cabinets provide a background for the piano, harp and prints by Mondrian and part-Aboriginal artist, Raymond Meeks, in the adjoining music room.

On the upper level, is the main bedroom containing an original marble fireplace and french doors to the balcony which was rebuilt (having previously been enclosed in the post war havoc).

The new shower room features Nero Assoluto and Harcourt granite with toughened glass shower screen and skylight above.

Bedroom 3 is located in the top section of the 1900-1910 addition and is apparently the bedroom where one of the Nelson family died - a presence has apparently been felt here by the subsequent occupants over the years. The bedroom has two timber framed balconies, one on each side which were restored in the original Edwardian manner.

The new bathroom is a composition in mirrors, glass blocks, white glass mosaic tiles, Nero Assoluto and Jacaranda granite. Behind the glass block wall, the light is ‘borrowed’ from the dining room skylight above as this is otherwise an internal room.

Bedroom 4 was designed to accommodate an older child and is self contained with ensuite bathroom and independent access from the car parking area via a new galvanised steel stair.