A huge transformation has been under way at a South Bowenfels home.
Once a small and dark kit home, the spacious home now makes the most of its amazing views across the Kanimbla Valley and is filled with natural light.
The end result has thrilled owners Helen and Robert Swinton, who can now make the most of their surrounds in a home with a distinctly modern feel.
Once Sydney-siders, Helen recalls the moment when she decided she'd had enough of city life. One morning, driving her kids to school, she said it took 45 minutes to cross a single intersection.
A job opportunity for Robert offered the family an opportunity to move and they took it eagerly, making Lithgow their home in 2014.
"We liked the area so much we decided to stay. The lifestyle is more laid back, friendly, and there was space for the kids to grow and develop different interests," Helen said.
However, they found it difficult to find a suitable rental when looking for a place to live. On a scenic drive through South Bowenfels one day, they spotted a 'for sale' sign.
"It was a nice looking cottage in classic country style with these fantastic views," Helen recalled.
Robert said they immediately saw the property had potential, but also some drawbacks. The house was dark, lacking storage, an extra bedroom and a study. The views could only be appreciated from the outside of the house.
A large shed closer to the road quickly became home to an office, spare bedroom and extra storage space.
"Every time we entertained we would have to drag everything out again, and because the shed was distant from the house, it was uncomfortable to access in winter for visitors, and as a daily home office," Helen said.
When it came time to start the renovation process, Helen took on the role of owner-builder.
Drawing on her knowledge of materials from her days working in the building industry, she began to design a redevelopment of the house that aimed to be both modern and practical, and using fibre cement wherever possible to minimise maintenance and protect against fire.
With the help of a freelance architect, Helen developed a contemporary architectural foundation that was adapted to suit site and construction needs.
Cemintel Barestone was used in an effort to seamlessly connect the home with the rugged Australian bushland, while complementing the sculptured form of the exterior. Its raw stone finish is designed to weather naturally and blend into the environment around it. It was installed with Sikaflex Panel 10 over timber and metal framing, creating a cavity or double-skinned wall. Underneath the Cemintel panels, Bradford Proctorwrap was used to wrap the frame to stop wind-driven rain and dust.
Each Cemintel panel was installed with a precise gap around it, Helen said, so Proctorwrap was critical for eliminating wind entering the home, retaining warmth inside, allow the building to breathe and rain to naturally drain within the cavity wall without entering the house.
Working with two local carpenters, David van Praag and Greg Dodson, Helen created her vision for the property. She was not interested in a heritage look, she said. Instead, she wanted something that would work within its setting, making the most of the natural elements and indulging her "love" of fibre cement and architectural design principals.
"I'd fallen in love with fibre cement cladding many years ago and I knew it would last a long time, be extremely tough and low maintenance, and most importantly give the building a 'wow' factor and an edginess in its raw application," Helen said.
The new extension took six months to complete, 12 months to renovate the remaining house and included an extra living area, a new bathroom, larger laundry with storage, and a relocated and expanded light-filled kitchen in the heart of the home. In the end, the function of much of the home was shifted.
"It is a much easier and comfortable place to live in," Robert said.
"It flows nicely."
The new kitchen's main element is the view, with large windows showcasing the valley.
"It is completely different every day, it's like having iMax in your own home," Helen said.
"The utility of the kitchen is what I love. You can have four people in here working together all at once."
On foggy mornings, Helen said it could feel like you are floating on thin air.
"The first morning we came in [to the completed kitchen], it was a pea-souper. It felt like we were in a spaceship."
There was an emphasis on reuse and natural elements within the home. The narrow brushbox floorboards, which run throughout the living area and kitchen, were reclaimed from an old Sydney establishment, which had been used as a funeral parlour, aged care home, dance hall and reception venue over 60 years. Redgum slabs from Marrangaroo feature resin insets of stones, insects and plants from the street.
Interior paint colours were chosen by Katoomba interior designer Debb Hawkins who, inspired by the view of Hassans Walls, chose sympathetic colours that allows interiors to "sit quietly" in the background to allow views to take centre stage.
"Where the view is, the room colours are soft and natural, recognising that people need to see the view first, and in other rooms she used striking earthy colours to create drama and contrast," Helen said.
Oversized kitchen windows incorporated planter boxes created with CSR Aquachek allow for year round growing of herbs and salad leaves (at the moment, cherry tomatoes are dominating).
Helen said the end result would not have been possible without an enormous amount of enthusiasm and collaboration by a huge list of excellent local tradespeople.
Now it's onto planning for the next set of renovations - after all, there's still the garden and shed to go.
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