For an architect and her young family, the chance to build and transform a small, old terrace was an opportunity worth the challenge.

“When we were expecting, I was thinking ‘this is the worst place for a child to live in. It was in such terrible condition” laughs Adele McNab on the very early days of Riley’s Terrace.

Riley’s Terrace, named for McNab’s son born just before completion, was 62 square metres of old school Sydney tucked into the sought-after, intersecting thoroughfares of Redfern. At 3 metres wide, it is a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ property, but crossing the compound-like threshold reveals a space that belies its small footprint and offers a lesson in space management.

“It was challenging,” McNab admits, “there was no natural light, the original bathroom blocked all the natural light. The courtyard needed to be the centre of the house. We completely gutted it”

Riley's Terrace. | Design: Adele McNab Architects. | Photography: Clinton Weaver.

"We so often go into client’s homes, and we see Laminex from 20+ years ago still in great condition. We specify Laminex in many of our projects because of its simplicity, enduring nature and matt finish that often works so well with the material pallets."

Adele McNab – Director, Adele McNab Architects
Laminex AbsoluteMatte Surf Kitchen Joinery. | Design: Adele McNab Architects. | Photography: Clinton Weaver.

The scale proved to be the biggest test, but the small site gave the new family and architect something to rally around. “This was always a passion project, but following my father’s passing, it was something we could throw ourselves into, where we could experiment, where we could do what we wanted.”

The courtyard filters light in every direction, operating as a kind of sunroof; the powdery matte walls absorb the light, creating pockets of warmth while throwing beautiful shadows throughout. Inside, a round skylight repeats the sentiment: illuminating the spiral staircase and rooms upstairs. McNab talks of the fabric and the rawness of Redfern influencing the palette and the desire to have a strong connection to the land and response to the Redfern area.In the courtyard, an established grass tree acts as the home's personal guard. Standing proud, its black trunk is a stark contrast to the plastered walls. Here, the light, bench seat and solid awning are all the ingredients you need for a moment of peace.

Connecting each space, the familiarity of materials and colours are repeated with comfortable aplomb, establishing themes and motifs that are gentle and subtly persuasive. Walls and archways of hand-finished lime cement are left in its raw state, just as the timber of the door and window frames are finished with minimal treatment, grounding the design with unadorned beauty.

Laminex AbsoluteMatte Surf Wardrobe Joinery. | Design: Adele McNab Architects. | Photography: Clinton Weaver.

“AbsoluteMatte works with the textural elements of the material palette for Riley’s Terrace. With the afternoon westerly sunlight, we get a beautiful non-reflective matte finish where the colour has a soft glow and tonally layers with the cement walls behind.”

Adele McNab – Director, Adele McNab Architects
Laminex AbsoluteMatte Surf Wardrobe Joinery. | Design: Adele McNab Architects. | Photography: Clinton Weaver.

Riley’s Terrace uses Laminex AbsoluteMatte in Surf a complement to the stone, lime cement, plywood and timber tones of the house. Used extensively in floor to ceiling wardrobe cabinetry and for the kitchen benchtop and splashback, it fits alongside, holding its own within the make-up of the house.

Amongst the textural elements of Riley’s Terrace, McNab’s deft hand at restraint expresses the real feat here – the transformation of a small footprint into a home that feels large and inviting. The old real estate mantra of buying the worst house on the best street rang true and despite the challenges, the potential of the property shone through, both figuratively and literally.

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Design: Adele McNab Architects
Cabinet Maker: Ultraform Joinery
Photography: Clinton Weaver