1 March 2024

Award-winning architectural renovation preserved the meticulous simplicity of a mid-century masterpiece

| Vanessa Hayden
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The home at 20 Blackbutt Street, O’Connor, took out the Canberra Medallion in the ACT Architecture Awards in 2010. Photos: home.by holly.

Known as an H House, 20 Blackbutt Street in O’Connor has been described as “both transparent and blank walled, introverted and extroverted, radical and traditional” by its owner, award-winning architect Joanna Nelson.

According to sales agent Holly Komorowski, from home.by holly, it’s a home worth celebrating due to its unique 1959 values, enhanced with a thoughtful renovation that has paid clever homage to its mid-century charm.

“One of the highlights of this home is how the architects have retained and respected the original design and footprint. Important textural and whimsical details have been lovingly kept,” she explained.

“These days, it’s all too easy to just pull these places to pieces or knock them over, and seeing the energy and investment that has been put into not doing that here is really exciting.

“It feels beautiful. It’s so liveable.”

The house was constructed utilising an innovative plan that sees two parallel wings connected by a hallway in the shape of an H. Both sides of the house open to private courtyards, providing outdoor spaces that cool the home and invite people to gather.

The simple modernist form is sheltered by a towering brittle gum and enveloped by lush gardens on a 754 square metre block.

The entrance is to one side via a shady courtyard greened by climbing vines. The placement of a corrugated water tank combined with a bright yellow door and slate crazy paving create a magical entry sequence.

“It is in a really nice pocket of O’Connor, on the high end of Blackbutt Street, and there is a real feel of connection to the surrounding bushland,” said Holly.

“We’ve had lots of engagement so far, particularly from communities that follow mid-century and architectural homes in Canberra, but I think this will appeal to many people. It’s something different and it hasn’t been completely deconstructed.”

The renovation, which included extending upward, was a collaborative effort by Nelson and Nino Bellantonio from AiL Studio and was awarded the Small Project Architecture Award and the Canberra Medallion.

“Winning the Canberra Medallion is a real accolade to what Nelson and Bellantonio have achieved here. It is a real acknowledgement of the architectural significance of the restoration,” said Holly.

Joanna Nelson first found the house in 2004 when she moved to Canberra with her family.

She had been in sole practice for 17 years and was interested in collaborating with another architect. She read about one of Bellantonio’s renovation/addition projects in Canberra and contacted him in 2007. By happy coincidence, Nino already had a long association with the H House and had once considered buying it himself.

The two architects considered the heritage aspects of the project, preserving and amplifying its essential qualities while providing adaptations for the 21st century.

The combined living and dining room has been kept intact with its large windows and flow to a sunny courtyard and alfresco dining.

A new studio and balcony sit above the entry hall, accessed via a spiral staircase within the courtyard. This addition gives a light and airy, versatile space with a balcony that looks out across treetops to Mt Ainslie and down to the swimming pool below.

“The repurposing of the original brick garage, taking the roof off and recreating it into a private swimming pool was just so clever,” said Holly.

“There is a real Mediterranean feel here with the whitewashed walls and the reflection of the light. It’s quite awesome.”

Garden walls provide a sense of containment, and a citrus orchard hedges the rear fence line, providing a bounty of fruit. Vegetables prosper within a dedicated caged enclosure that protects the harvest from the resident possum.

The classic glass doors of the garden shed look out to green lawns, while finely worked wrought iron, depicting the elegant form of the ibis, adorns the original garden gates.

“As an agency we have sold some amazing homes with gorgeous aspects and this one is no exception. It is great to celebrate them, which is so important about this one – it hasn’t been knocked down.”

Holly is known for her love and understanding of this type of architecture in the area.

“Canberra was a city of design after all, and largely constructed in the 60s and 70s, so we have a lot of modernist influenced architecture here,” she said.

“There is a lot in O’Connor too, and it developed at that time as a lot of academics were coming to the ANU in Canberra and were willing to build in more experimental ways.”

Other features include tallowwood and Victorian ash parquetry flooring, a mosaic-tiled bathroom with an open shower and island bath, and a slate-paved alfresco barbecue area with solid terrazzo seating and under-house storage.

20 Blackbutt Street in O’Connor is open for inspection on Saturday, 2 March, between 12:30 pm and 1 pm and Thursday, 7 March, between 5:30 pm and 6 pm. To learn more about the property, contact Holly Komorowski on 0491 850 701 and check out all the latest listings on Zango.

Don’t forget to check out Zango’s Skyfire competition where you could win a double pass to the Official Skyfire VIP Function at Regatta Point.


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