For years, this Sydney Harbour waterfront home had “languished unloved in architectural limbo, as a block of nondescript flats,” describes the team from AJ+C. Far from its original 1877 Gothic Revival look, Maybanke had been unceremoniously converted into an apartment block in 1938, hiding the original stone hood-mounts, ornamental trims, and its tall chimneys behind concrete.
With its latest renovation, AJ+C’s Jim Koopman explains that “so much of the original fabric was gone it had to be reconstructed.” They used the Normanton house next door as an example of what Maybanke may have looked like in its prime, and considered that they “also had to make sure any new additions would be a piece of contemporary architecture in its own right.”
It was no easy feat to add such an exacting contemporary element to the pre-existing building, while also bringing the home back to its original look and feel. Linking the home’s five levels is a glass-enclosed lift and, the renovation’s most striking element, the staircase. “It maximises the sense of volume and then we used the glass lift to provide daylight and vistas through the space on all levels,” says Koopman. “It’s a delicate stair conceived as a piece of black steel and timber furniture.”
Although five stories high, during the working week it’s only the two middle floors that are mostly occupied. “It equates to a one bedroom apartment over two levels with direct access from the street,” explains Koopman. The rest of the time, the rooms above street level are guest bedrooms and living spaces designed for accommodating visiting family.
On the top level, tucked beneath the Mansard roof is a self-contained space that can be used as a home office, guest bedroom or even an entertaining space. It boasts a roof deck that stretches out for views over Snails Bay.
A major task for improving the Victorian structure was to remove and replace the sodden sandstone 1870s foundations. It took eight months and considerable cost to execute. A thorough excavation was completed, suspending the home and sliding slabs underneath the existing walls. During the excavation they found a huge pool of water underneath, which is hard to imagine now given how much sun streams through the kitchen window.
“When we lifted the floorboards here and took the floor away we found an inland lake,” remembers one of the home’s owners. “That water must have been there for goodness knows how long.”
Now at the level below the street, accessed through the concrete stairs or via the glass lift, is the main living space. Below that an artist’s studio has been excavated from the sandstone, which opens out onto the lily pond, garden terraces and plunge pool.
In this image above you can see the transformation of the Maybanke home, as well as an image of namesake Maybanke Anderson, the famous Australian educationalist and champion of women’s rights during the Victorian era. The Maybanke house and the neighboring Normanton were built by Anderson’s brother Norman Selfe, a noted local engineer of the time. While the Maybanke property had received many changes to its façade over the years, Normonton remained as an example of what once was.
There is exquisite detailing above the doors and in small features, such as the bay window balcony. The elegant re-awakening of Maybanke is a delight to homeowners Stuart King and Shark Tank judge Naomi Simson, well-known for her successful business RedBalloon.
The showstopper staircase is a sculptural element for the home. A dripping steel screen acts as a balustrade. “Three rolls of heavy metal,” interjects Koopman about the screen made in Germany, and then imported especially.
Featuring an impressive walk-in wardrobe and a gorgeous ensuite bathroom that overlooks the bay, there is beauty on every level. The shift between preserving historic elements and fusing the building with a new contemporary attachment has been well achieved, with a seamless transition as you walk through the house. The home is designed to work well into the future too.
“There’s a lot of science and technology to make it all work and so that it can be adjusted over the years – Caroline, the project architect, did a great job.” — Jim Koopman, AJ+C
In the dining room and kitchen, the main living space is carved out of the sandstone walls and a handsome niche is created from wood slats. There is a range of textures and styles that blend beautifully together.
In her day Maybanke Anderson took an active role in promoting women’s rights to own property, and improve women’s education. How fitting that the home has received a well-loved renovation to remember its roots, while also pushing forward for reform and architectural growth. Now with Maybanke’s new homeowner, Naomi Simson forges the way forward in her path as a successful entrepreneur and business blogger, giving thanks to Anderson’s hard work laid out 150 years ago. The light-flooded studio is the perfect spot for taking time to contemplate, with views across the bay and beyond.
Which is your favorite room in the Maybanke home tour? Leave a comment below and let us know.
If you’re interested in reading about other celebrity homes, check out this California residence owned by Davis Factor, the great-grandson of legendary cosmetics pioneer Max Factor. Or see more restoration projects, such as the history behind Casa Vicens by Antoni Gaudi.
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