Fox Johnston director Emili Fox welcomes est inside her sustainable Sydney courtyard home, designed for multi-generational living through a clever dual-key arrangement.

Perched on a cliff overlooking Mort Bay and the city, architect Emili Fox was intuitively drawn to this dual-frontage home, despite its condition being near-derelict after several haphazard renovations over the years. Surrounded by parkland with an existing separate apartment accessed from the lower street, Emili knew the home’s unique potential outweighed its inadequate functionality.

Designed for Emili’s young family of four and their dog Billie, the home easily caters to her immediate family, as well as room for grandparents in the guest suite and a couple in the one-bedroom apartment. Prioritising indoor-outdoor integration and functional family living, Emili Fox’s renewed home is proof that good things take time.

Entering the home, a crazy-paving path leads you past a cosy outdoor setting in the front yard – one of Emili’s favourite spots – directly into the living room. A considered material palette of bagged recycled brick, sustainably-sourced blonde Accoya wood and polished concrete instantly creates a relaxed living environment, brightened by the internal garden lightwell. “This simple material palette was chosen to ensure low maintenance and longevity of materials,” Emili says.

Stepping down into the kitchen, natural light permeates through the full-height back windows and internal courtyard. Emili explains that because the site is so compact, engaging with the garden was essential. “The integrating of the landscape and architecture was key, and controlling sunlight and shade was paramount as was enabling cross breezes to filter throughout all areas of the house,” Emili adds. The practical kitchen conceals storage behind pale plywood joinery with accents of brass in the kitchen tap and door hardware. 

Artwork by Brooke Holm.

The Lampe de Marseille by Le Corbusier for Nemo above the cosy L-shaped window seat.

The living room features the Anita Armchair by Metrica for SP01, Jardan Alby Floor Cushion and the dusty pink Paragon Rug – Primrose by Armadillo.

It’s in the adjacent dining space where some of Emili’s most meaningful pieces sit; her grandfather’s Thonet Chairs that she lovingly sanded back and repaired, and the dining table designed with Nick Mcdonald from Made By Morgen. But it’s the kitchen window seat, upholstered in green velvet, where Emili finds herself gravitating to the most in her home.

Upstairs, the master bedroom has a small harbour-view balcony, while the children’s bedrooms overlook the rooftop cactus gardens. True to Fox Johnston’s practice, sustainability is at the forefront of Emili’s home with solar panels covering the roof, hydronic heated floors, recycled materials and extensive glazing throughout. 

Emili explains that the house is designed to work in the hot summer months by closing it down during the day, and opening it up again once the temperature outside starts to fall. “It’s funny that people seem to not understand this simple trick; they instead open up their houses when it’s really hot – hence the need for air- conditioning!” she says.

The Zaza Sofa by Australian designer Charles Wilson for King Living is scattered with cushions from HAY.

The self-contained guest quarters – accessed separately from the secondary street below – can either be open to the main house upstairs or locked for independent living. The dual-key accommodation contains a bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom and balcony, while the larger one-bedroom apartment features a private kitchen, bathroom, living room and balcony.

Emili and her family live on the ground and upper floor, reserving the apartment for their parents or family guests below. “The design gives as much connection or separation as we all need,” Emili says. “At first, my husband joked that I’d designed a hotel. But he now realises how well the arrangement works.”

Emili’s forever home reflects what she strives to achieve in her architecture practice: designing tactile and robust homes informed by the Australian landscape. Allowing for functional and sustainable shared living, her home innovates to a site and its challenges, transforming the run-down building that once was. 

The Ribbon Armchair by David Harrison for Robert Plumb in the front outdoor space.

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