Double Life House is a 100-year-old terrace home in Sydney’s Surry Hills, sitting inconspicuously among a row of Victorian terraces. The seemingly untouched mild exterior belies the sanctuary created within for the owners, from the application of steel, concrete, timber and brick, thereby, revealing its true identity.

Designed by Breathe Architecture, Double Life House has an extremely modest footprint but gives the impression of seemingly limitless space.

“Double Life House discreetly incorporates hidden discoveries to achieve expansive living in the relatively humble plan. Like Superman’s Secret citadel, discovery awaits you at every turn,” Breathe Architecture said.

The floor plan has the width of a single room with a small courtyard bringing up the rear. Inside, the rooms are creatively divided, introducing flexibility in the home. Just past the entrance, there’s a sunken concrete living room where the ceiling has been peeled back to reveal the herringbone struts of the original floor structure to the rooms above. A stream of natural light invites you deeper into the plan, with the space opening up into the kitchen and dining area, and courtyard. A narrow concrete stairway leads to another courtyard off the rear upstairs bedroom.

The modest footprint notwithstanding, there’s a great sense of openness and connection to the outdoors throughout; in addition to the two courtyards, the house also offers framed views of surrounding Ash trees and an upstairs outdoor shower surrounded by greenery, which opens up to the sky.

To retain as much of the existing 100-year-old building as possible, the architects decided on careful ‘dematerialisation’ – or stripping back and exposing the materials rather than adding superficial layers to achieve simplicity. The sunken concrete living room with its exposed herringbone struts is a prime example.

“Double Life House is about dematerialisation, simplicity and consideration. It works with the existing and any added materials are robust, honest and unpretentious to maintain the home’s integrity, strength, humility and longevity,” Breathe Architecture commented.

The materials palette includes mild steel, recycled timber floorboards, concrete, raw brass tapware and herringbone brick facing tiles.

Midnight Blue brick tiles from Robertson's Building Products Pty Ltd are used throughout the space, contributing to the robust and humble palette. Brick tiles have been installed in the living room and courtyard to seamlessly connect the indoor and outdoor spaces. In the bathroom upstairs, the tiles replace ceramic tiles to create a sturdy floor.

True to its name, the exterior of Double Life House keeps the world guessing, while on the inside it’s a beautiful, quiet place of retreat.

Photographer: Katherine Lu