Ravenscourt Renovation

The restoration and renovation of the iconic Birchgrove residence “ Ravenscourt “ started in April 2019. It is listed on the local heritage register and took 3 years to get through the design and approval stage.

The project began with excavation to a section of the waterfront garden area to accommodate the construction of a new structure known as the summer house, it is located on the site of the original coach house. The Summer house is comprised of large entertaining space to the first floor with a 3-car garage and basement area on the ground floor. A suspended slab supports the steel portal frame for the single span double hipped roof to create the open plan layout of the summer house. Floor to ceiling glazing to the north, south and east elevations

Glass walls with full height aluminium stacking doors on the North, East and Southeast elevations makes the summer house open and the wrap around Acoyer deck with glass roof open up the building to natural light and the prevailing north east breeze.

As the building is set 3m below the adjacent courtyard the excavation was battered and benched to allow the slab and retaining walls to be safely constructed, a new driveway extension was cut and filled to provide access to the garage. Asbestos was discovered in the soil in the areas to be excavated so testing was carried out and 190t of Asbestos Containing Soils was removed from site. A total of 255t of material including rock was removed from the summer house portion of the site.
The portal frame steel structure consisted of 4t of steel beams and columns that were delivered to site using a 25t TID Crane to get the steel down the driveway then erected using a 13t All Terrain crane. The roof is completed with a standing seam colorbond steel roof, Internal fit our includes engineered oak floors, Timber and stone kitchen and Timber ceiling linings.

The next stage of the project was the restoration of the Heritage listed house to the front of the property.

On completion of the Summer House, the clients relocated from the Ravenscourt house and took up residence in the summer house while the restoration of Ravenscourt was undertaken.
Ravenscourt was first built in 1840 as a modest cottage which was then added onto between 1875 and 1885 to meet the form is takes today. Over the years many additions were added and our clients brief was to return it to the form it took in the 1880s.
Strip out works included removal of the enclosed rear verandas, enclosed kitchen and bathrooms that had been added to the front of the building on the original veranda, and removal of internal elements not in keeping with period of the house.
Modification of internal walls and floors were made to suit the new layout and provide modernisation of services with all walls and ceilings being repaired and restored using tradition methods of timber lath and plaster. Traditional lime render areas were restored using lime based render products and the exposed original sandstone walls were treated for desalination using Westox cocoon. New Lead DPC were cut in to the lower ground floor walls with new concrete floor slabs poured ready for new engineered flooring.
While working in the lower ground floor area an old well was discovered under the floor. This well was 4m deep and dug into the bedrock. Water seeping from the bedrock was collected in the well as along with a number of clay stormwater pipes coming into it. We cleaned out the well, back filled with granular material and install drainage so that the water was able to get out thus keeping the water level well below the underside of the new floor slab.

On the upper floors, new structural steel portal frame was install to recreate the rear verandas with the original wrought iron balustrade, columns and fretwork reinstalled after being removed from site to be repaired and repainted. The structural steel was designed in a way to support the original columns and iron work in a way that the original ironwork is not carrying any building load and is essentially a facade.
The front Juliet balcony was reinstated in its original position with reclaimed balustrade panels that were modified to meet compliance with the new standards. New glass windows in aluminium frames with louvers below the balustrade level were installed to enclose the the rear verandas. The Iron spiral staircase that leads to the widows walk was sand blasted and restored along with access restored to the widows walk deck and a new flag pole.

We restored and reconstructed the original 6 pot chimney to serve the 6 fire places in the centre of the house while all 9 fireplaces were serviced and reconstructed to function as either wood burning or gas heating. A new Slate roof with traditional lead roll top ridge and hip capping was installed on the main roof along with new copper bullnose roofs to the verandas.

Internally all original timber skirtings and architraves were restored and repaired, missing pieces were matched, and new decorative timber brackets were hand carved from Australian Red cedar sourced from Port Macquarie. All cedar doors, frames architraves and the original cedar staircase were hand repaired and French polished.

Overall the project has been restored to in a manner trying to stay true to the original fabric of the building while updating the functional parts of the home to meet the modern needs of the family. Our client’s brief was to reuse as many of the original elements from the original house in the renovation and this was achieved by re purposing floorboards, skirting, architraves and wainscoting detail from rooms that were being converted to other purposes such as wet areas and re using these in a traditional manner. Much of the original fabric such as sandstone, original timber ceilings, timber lintel beams were cleaned up and left exposed to tell the story of the original house. Even an Australian cedar decorative timber archway that was discovered buried in a wall was restored and re installed in the main entry hall.

There were a number of significant challenges to be overcome during construction as can be expected with a building of this age. It was known there were damp issues with the house’s lower levels and there were significant leaks throughout, all of which would be rectified in conjunction with the works however very early in the project we discovered the source of much of this is a large underground water course that runs through this and adjoining properties which really only stopped flowing after long periods of dry weather. This prompted a rethink to the sub soil and surface drainage design. We excavated a ‘moat’ around the front of the building to below footing level which then uncovered very loose brickwork and a lot of bedrock. The foundation walls were shot created and waterproofed and multiple layers of sub soil drainage and drainage cell installed prior to back fill. Strip drains in the driveway, in front of patio thresholds and additional pits pipe the stormwater and ground water to the harbour as per the local council conditions. These additional drains also help overcome the large amount of overland flow from the street in major storm events.

The Lower ground floor areas were to have the timber floors remain in one of the kitchens however this was found to be is such poor state with many of the framing timbers sitting directly on dirt. The bedroom 4 area on the lower ground floor was to have the existing tile removed and new engineered floor installed however when the tiles were removed a floor made of a bituminous asphalt material was found and no concrete slab. This was when the underfloor well was discovered. As a result of this the whole lower ground floor area, 170m2 had to be excavated by hand and prepared for a new concrete floor slab.

Deconstruction and restoration of the upper levels required the original skirting, architraves and wainscoting to be labelled, removed and stored while the Oregon and kauri floors were lifted and salvaged for re use where possible. Much of the original lime render and lath and plaster was found to drummy and was removed and replaced with lime based traditional alternate plasters such as plasterlite and Westox course stuff. Traditional ceilings and cornices were repairs with vented cornices having broken parts replaced by taking castes off the original and then replicated and reinstalled.

When we commenced repair work to the widows walk roof area on the top of the tower we discovered large cracking in the corbel courses and sill detailing as a result of sustained water ingress that had effected the lime based mortar. This required crack stitching with Thor anchors along with tying of the corners with structural steel and strengthening the support anchors for the spiral staircase. The 6 pot chimney that had been demolished to roof line some 40yrs prior had been filled with the rubble and large stones and as such had to be taken apart to ceiling level in order to be cleaned out and then re constructed. The render banding and detailing was then moulded in situ by hand.

It has been such a pleasure and very rewarding experience for the team to work on such an iconic project in the local area of Birchgrove and to get such positive feed back from the local community we are so proud of the end result achieved for this wonderful family, the asset will last a further 100yrs and beyond.