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Many of the houses in the upper North Shore were designed by leading architects of the day, whose work reflected their own interpretations of an Australian architectural style. Award-winning 19th and 20th century architects who worked in the area included Sir John Sulman, John Horbury Hunt, Augustus Aley, Walter Liberty Vernon, William Hardy Wilson (of Wilson, Neave & Berry), Russell Jack (of Allen Jack & Cottier), John Brogan, Albert Hanson, Leslie Wilkinson, Sydney Ancher, Arthur Baldwinson, Harry Seidler and, more recently, Hugh Buhrich, Glenn Murcutt and Richard Leplastrier.
The architects' designs often took full advantage of the beautiful, natural settings of their North Shore locations. The wild, rocky terrain of some of the sites, however, made building work difficult. Some of the houses were controversial in their day, attracting the ire of the local council and neighbours alike. Today, the North Shore retains a significant collection of important and heritage-listed properties.
Renowned architect and North Shore resident Sir John Sulman (1849-1934) was well known for his design of church buildings, commercial projects and his involvement in town planning. While living in Warrawee he built Ingleholme, in Boomerang Street, Turramurra, originally as a cottage for his parents. Sulman later redesigned the cottage into a sprawling home to accommodate his own family of seven children. The family lived in the house until 1910.
Sulman was continually changing and extending Ingleholme. The building work was said to have 'caused a good deal of comment' from the neighbours who would 'drive round in their buggies on Sunday afternoons to see rooms "up in the air" as they phrased it…' (The Story of Ingleholme by John Sulman, 1927, manuscript MLMSS 4480/84).
The cottage had a formal garden which featured a substantial glasshouse and large eucalyptus trees. An array of topiaried evergreens, trimmed into shapes such as balls and spears, became something of a talking point in the neighbourhood. As did the children’s pet cow which grazed in the paddock beyond the formal garden.
Walter Liberty Vernon
Walter Liberty Vernon (1846-1914), New South Wales Government Architect, was most famous for his grand public works including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, completed in 1909. However his own house, Wendover, built in Normanhurst in 1895, was a more modest affair. Named after a picturesque village in Buckinghamshire, England, the unpretentious exterior belied an elegant interior decorated with antiques and fine furniture. The sprawling grounds featuring large trees and cottage gardens allowed Vernon to indulge his passion for gardening.
William Hardy Wilson
Architect William Hardy Wilson (1881-1955) is regarded as one of the leading lights of Australian architecture of the twentieth century. Having travelled in Europe and the United States of America, he was influenced by the Colonial Revival architectural style.
In 1913 he entered practice with Stacey Neave in George Street, Sydney, attracting mainly residential and small commercial comissions. His admiration of early Australian architecture influenced the designs of his houses. Two of his most well-known works are in Sydney's upper North Shore.
'Eryldene', Gordon, was the North Shore home for his friend Professor E.G. Waterhouse, completed in 1914. Now a heritage-listed museum, it is famous as much for its garden and camellias, as it is for its house design.
Wilson’s own house and garden, 'Purulia', Wahroonga, is said to be one of his best works. When it came to building a house for his own family, he selected an elevated site on Fox Valley Road, overlooking Sydney. Completed in 1916, the Wilson family only lived there until 1922, when it was sold.
The cottage was a simple rectangle in plan with a low pitched roof. At a time when more elaborate housing styles were popular in the area, the simplicity of his house brought opposition from neighbours and the local council. Overall the house was very modern for its time, and later became a prototype for many North Shore homes.
'Purulia' anticipated one of the twentieth century’s biggest social changes – living without servants. the kitchen, for example, was designed as a space for the family to gather together. The design of 'Purulia' and its garden were closely integrated. The garden design is based on formal geometry which complements the rectangular form of the house.
Leading architect William Hardy Wilson (1881-1955) designed this house for his friend Professor Eben Gowrie Waterhouse (1881-1977), a lecturer in modern languages and renowned expert on camellias. Completed in 1914, the house was influenced by the colonial revival architectural style which Wilson had seen while travelling in the United States. Now a heritage-listed house, garden and museum, ‘Eryldene’ is probably one of the best-known houses on Sydney’s upper North Shore, famous for its beautiful garden of camellias.
'Eryldene' is a long, low, white house, with a pillared verandah and a flagged path leading to it through a garden brilliant with flowers... It is satisfyingly modern behind its quaint exterior, and its plan and treatment suffer from none of the disabilities usually inseparable from old world houses... In the garden the more ordinary suburban treatment has been happily abandoned in favour of flagged paths, masses of colour in the shape of flowering shrubs in huge tubs, flower beds and borders…It is astonishing what a beautiful and interesting garden can be made on these lines, a source of never-ending joy to its possessor, and incidentally providing an unusual and delightful setting for his home.
(“Eryldene, a Hardy Wilson House, home of Mr E.G. Waterhouse at Gordon, NSW”, The Australian Home Builder, Jan 1925)
Modernist architect Arthur Norman Baldwinson (1908-1969) designed houses for many artists and prominent individuals in the North Shore and across Sydney. His designs included a house for graphic designer and artist Douglas Annand (1903-1976) and his wife Maida, for a wild site on Lady Game Drive, Killara, in 1949. A studio was later added in 1963.
Annand made his artistic mark on the new home, adding murals and graffito drawings to the interior and exterior of the house. He would regularly host large dinner parties, inviting his artist friends (including Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend and Lloyd Rees) who famously decorated the toilet door with their drawings as a memento of their get-togethers.
Baldwinson’s designs took full advantage of the beautiful, natural setting of his North Shore locations. The wild, rocky terrain of some of the sites however made building work difficult.
The house he designed in 1957 for Geelum Simpson Lee, a Dean of Economics at Sydney University, is thought to represent the culmination of many of the modernist concepts Baldwinson was developing in his residential design during the period. The house, built in a densely wooded block in Wahroonga, is still owned by the family and is largely unaltered.
Austrian-born architect Harry Seidler (1923-2006) designed Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga (then Turramurra) for his parents Max and Rose Seidler in 1948. It was his first Australian commission, after arriving from America where he had studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard University.
Controversial in its day, Rose Seidler House is now owned by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and is thought to be one of the finest examples of mid-century modern domestic architecture in Australia. The influential house was awarded the Sulman Medal in 1951 and served as an exemplar for modern housing for decades to come. Sydney’s North Shore has a number of modernist design houses by leading architects of the 1950s, including Sydney Ancher, Arthur Baldwinson and Russell Jack (of Allen, Jack and Cottier).
Houses of a style new to Australia are appearing on Sydney’s North Shore. One is at Turramurra in wild country … The style is still novel in Europe and America, and the architect…Harry Seidler, believes that Australians will accept the new style now that they can see houses that have been built here.
(Cooper, Nora, “Sydney showpiece”, Australian Home Beautiful, Feb 1951)
Rose Seidler house retains a close relationship with two neighbouring Seidler houses, Marcell Seidler House and Julian Rose House, on part of the original 2.6 hectare family estate of natural bushland overlooking the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
In 1967, Harry and Penelope Seidler designed a house for their own family in Kalang Avenue, Killara. Seidler’s architectural practice was thriving and this house represented the state of the art for the period, winning the 1967 Wilkinson Award for Residential Buildings. The family resided in the property for many years and it is still owned by the Seidler family.
...Although located in an established living area, it has no neighbours as it is surrounded by natural bush reserve which assures complete privacy. The site is however, very rugged which would discourage most people from building. In this case this was considered an advantage and even a challenge...
("Architects' own house", Architecture in Australia, April 1968)
The State Library of New South Wales has an extensive Harry Seidler collection which includes over 6,000 architectural plans and drawings, photographs, specifications and personal papers. Find out more about Australia's best known modernist architect.