“I got some Bavarian beers here and guacamole… should we get started with a tour or something?”
And this was how an afternoon interview with Australian actor, writer and director Brendan Cowell began at his Newtown home.
4 years earlier, the trio of Dave Klees, Mick Fahey and Virtue Projects’ apprentice at the time Kale Huggins (who is a tradesman with Virtue Projects to this day) were on the tools for Brendan, turning his ideas etched on a drink-stained piece of draftsman’s tracing paper into a creative urban reality.
Brendan Cowell is a very funny and creative guy, and we were lucky to catch him, literally a day after filming had been wrapped up for his part in a Peter Brock biopic.
The point of catching up was to see how his home had been treating him after a few years, and to grab some insights and reflections from the process of designing and building with Virtue Projects.
Virtue Projects co-founder Dave Klees was on hand to catch up over a beer or two and see how things were going.
When Brendan purchased the narrow terrace home it was one of the last properties in the area yet to be renovated.
The wave of gentrification had already swept through Newtown, and now it was Brendan’s turn to see what he could make out of a tired old terrace from a bygone era.
Well, as it turns out, Brendan’s creativity doesn’t end on the stage or screen. The home he imagined is simply breathtaking and inspiring in equal measure.
“People can’t believe it when they walk into the place.”
“In terms of the space being about transitions, you kinda come in here and go, ‘I’m in a Newtown Terrace’ and then people come in here and see a 40 ft void and go wow!”
“The philosophy was living, thinking, dreaming”
On the ground level, Virtue Projects helped Brendan create a space that was for ‘living’.
A social space where people could catch up, have a few drinks, a dinner or whatever.
The polished concrete flooring makes it easy to keep clean, and the large glass retractable ceiling above keeps the air flowing through the whole house.
“It is kind of amazing, just having this light and air coming into the home, and I like the manual aspect of shutting the big window yourself.”
‘Thinking’ happens up the spiral staircase, on the middle floor of the terrace.
It is here where Brendan spends long hours writing and reading.
“This is where all the magic happens. I sit in here and I write. It’s got beautiful flow up here, and I get this beautiful light in from Haberfield”
“This is my favourite room in the house. It’s fucken magic!”
On the ‘thinking’ level a semi-covered walkway connects Brendan’s office/library with a bedroom on the street-facing side of the building.
Leaning on the internal rail you can look down into the ‘living’ area below, and up to the open sky above.
It was on this creative ‘thinking’ floor of Brendan’s home that some reflections on the construction stage of the project were shared, and some insights on how the relationship between builder, client and architect can play out.
“It all went really well (the construction process). The architect, the owner and the builder. They kind of form a triangle, and with a triangle, inevitably there is going to be some things that are or aren’t communicated at different times. But eventually you figure it all out and the project keeps developing.”
“I was overseas a lot of the time during the build, but it went really smoothly. These guys were so efficient and so clean, and honest guys.”
“There were some surprises along the way, such as when we had to underpin the neighbour’s house to avoid it collapsing, which was annoying. But we knew when we dug down that that would be where the mystery costs might be.”
Finally, the ‘dreaming’ stage of Brendan’s home is warm, quiet and cozy.
It still has a certain charm, but with fewer inspirational flourishes of the ‘thinking’ level (and it definitely isn’t as much fun as the ‘living’ space).
The ‘dreaming’ level is just as Brendan wanted it essentially — it is a space to close one’s eyes and drift off.
Nothing more, or less.
Living. Thinking. Dreaming.
Brendan Cowell’s home is a masterpiece of character and inspiration, made for a character who continues to inspire.
This project (in Dave’s own words) was one of the most complex, challenging and rewarding of his (and Virtue Projects’) career.
Nothing was straightforward or simple, but everything was beautiful, and driven by a creative meaning and purpose.
The end result: a place to live, to think, and to dream in.
A huge thanks to Brendan for the beers and guacamole. The next round is on us mate!
Also many thanks to photographer Jessica Lindsay for documenting a great afternoon!