“In 2005, obituarists of Sydney mid-century architect Neville Gruzman commented on his character: passionate, dedicated, single-minded. And his buildings: complex, unusual, intensely personal, serene, shimmering and reflective. He also became notorious for lawsuits against clients, relatives and former friends. Ironically, his handling of Desmond Kennard’s house in Canberra led to Gruzman being sued for negligence. And yet the house that eventually emerged is a small masterpiece”.
Neville Gruzman’s 1961 “Kennard house” is an iconic Canberra mid-century modern home. While not heritage listed, it is unique and beautiful. This was Gruzman’s first Canberra comission. The original plans were drawn by his assistant – now Pritzker Prize winner (and our mentor/lecturer) Glenn Murcutt.
A Challenging Design
The house, however, is not perfect. During the construction and afterwards, Kennard sued Gruzman for negligence. The roof leaked resulting in damp damage and the study’s ceiling was too low. The home was a “bachelor’s house” and didn’t fit the brief for our clients.
Two earlier renovations (from the 60’s and 80’s) tried to extend the home and solve some of the structural issues. While the first was well built, this extension blocked much of the view. The entire home originally opened up to the views of Mt. Ainslie. This was central to Gruzman’s original design. The second renovation was not in keeping with the home’s mid-century heritage in either style or quality.
Our clients love mid-century Canberra as much as we do, but no one wants to live in a leaky house. The brief was to rationalise the layout of the living areas, restore the views and solve the water issues.
We addressed the water issues by simplifying some of the roof junctions and ‘fall’. Check-measuments showed that the roof was completely level. Our designers worked hard to keep the original character of the eaves and roof line. This simplified roof reduces the maintenance required to keep the gutters functioning. We used the details in the original drawings to make sure any changes matched the existing.
The house’s small living area with sunken lounge made it unfurnishable. Despite the house now having four bedrooms, the living areas were still designed for one. The original alfresco area (now functionally replaced with the deck) didn’t connect to the view or to the living room. To solve these issues, we filled in the sunken lounge and extended the living area into the afresco. This also gave us the opportunity to add more windows along the view-side of the house. It was very exciting to restore the views back up to the level that Gruzman had envisioned.
- Builder – CJC Constructions, Canberra
- Photographer – Kasey Funnell Photography
- Engineer – Design Construct Industries
- Certifier – Heritage Building Certification
Restoration which respects Neville Gruzman’s heritage palette.
Challenging some of his spacial assumptions about the functions of the home.
Matching the original Jarrah hardwood floors and vertical grooved timber panelling
- Restored original clerestory windows
- After almost 60 years, the roof no longer leaks
The clerestory windows had already been altered in a previous renovation. Gruzman’s original plans showed the room ending at that point. Awkward structural columns blocked the view and broke apart the room as a result. Our team worked to open up the space and hide the structure within the walls and ceiling. We restored the view to that which Gruzman would have originally responded to. We filled in the sunken lounge to better acommodate the spacial (and safety) needs of our clients. This restoration work was finnicky and very detail-oriented. Thankfully, we are so happy with the result.
Materials + Space
The space left of the column/beam is the original heritage mid-century fabric. From the column to the right is our extension. The original living space was designed for a single university lecturer. The home can now elegantly acommodate a family. The extension takes all detailing cues from the original home’s mid-century architecture.
Restoration - Windows + View
The generous deck was an existing feature of the home that our clients undeniably loved. The space overlooks Canberra’s iconic Mt. Ainslie. The doors and windows opening onto the space (pictured right of the deck) were cheap 1980’s frames. We worked to replace bring the finish back to the quality and proportion of the original house. Our extension is visible from the outrigger column, forward.
Although we don’t agree that the kitchen should be separated or hidden from the living rooms, we did eventually choose to respect Gruzman’s original plan, here. We did, however, extend the kitchen in length. This is more practical for our clients. They love cooking and needed a larger, more functional space. We also added in some natural light in the form of a clerestory window (to match the other side of the living room).