3-Garden House

The 3-Garden House in Dulwich Hill uses solar passive design to reconfigure a typical inner-city workers’ cottage to achieve three key goals:

  • create a clear connection to nature and adapt the house for climate change
  • create adaptable and flexible spaces
  • provide accessibility for ageing in place

, | 120m2
Gadigal & Wangal, Dulwich Hill, NSW
Private Client | Completed 2017

“After the renovation we can move to different spaces for various activities or to suit the time of day, and it’s nice wherever we are”

– Sharon, owner


Clive and Sharon had lived in this house for over 25 years, yet they had never really loved or enjoyed it.

Over the years, they had considered renovating, but their busy lives – with work and many activities including music, art and reading – meant they hadn’t found the right time.

After retiring – when they were spending more time at home – they contemplated selling up and moving, but instead decided to take the plunge and explore how they could modify their house to create a home they would love spending time in.

Our initial design conversations soon veered away from the specifics of internal space requirements towards the possibility of creating a new void in the living space, to frame the entire living experience as a series of connected gardens.


We reconfigured the entire house by inserting a new central courtyard which provides a protected and private outdoor space. The way they use this new space can be adjusted daily and across the seasons to suit their needs.

We also rearranged the internal plan to zone the house into private and public areas, which can be closed off or combined so that activities which could be discordant – such as music practice and quiet reading – can take place at the same time within the home’s small footprint.

These new works also make the most of existing front and rear gardens, with the compact house intentionally arranged around three pocket outdoor rooms that bring in breezes, sunlight and garden views.

The central courtyard is highly operable thanks to a motorised retractable waterproof roof, which can be opened or closed for sun, shade or rain protection. The kitchen and lounge connect to this outdoor room via sliding glass doors, allowing these three spaces to blend together or be compartmentalised.

A side passageway provides an alternative, accessible entry into the home, and two large gates between this passageway and the courtyard can be closed to control prevailing breezes or opened to take advantage of northern sunlight warming the neighbour’s brick wall.


Each of the garden spaces has a different character to provide a rich and varied experience of nature, as Clive and Sharon move through and use their home.

The front garden meets the public domain with a riot of native grasses and banksias, complemented by an existing Japanese maple tree.

The central courtyard is an urban garden where sun, shadow and sky provide connections to the great outdoors.

The original rear garden is framed by a stately magnolia and the remains of a Chinese tallow, and new understory planting creates a lush setting.

This careful and considered space planning and the use of various dynamic elements means the house can easily adapt to and accommodate the owners’ changing needs.

In this compact project, we incorporate solar passive design strategies that work together to create a harmonious and responsive building system. This creates opportunities for Clive and Sharon to make adjustments that suit their needs across the rhythms of the day, across seasons and to accommodate lifestyle changes.




Arborliz | Garden design

Oscar Prieckaerts | Joinery

Brett Boardman | Photograph