Tusculum Street Residence

July 18, 2012

Smart Design Studio’s recent Tusculum Street Residence in Sydney’s Potts Point mixes sculptural form, high gloss and muted colour to beautiful effect.

This article appeared in Inside magazine 72: Homegrown.
Above: The rear extension houses the elegant kitchen and casual dining area.

William Smart’s talent for sleek engineered finishes is an extraordinarily well-developed tool in his architectural repertoire. Smart Design Studio’s most recent project, Tusculum Street Residence, in Sydney’s Potts Point, is the latest to benefit from the creative director’s obsessive sense of perfectionism that sees every line continuous, every join precise and every angle just so. The project itself required a two storey house with little depth to retain its facade while being not only seriously extended into the block, but also wholly reinvented as a contemporary home.

The house deliberately exists as two halves; the front, or existing portion, is defined by colour, while the extension is limited to black and white with the occasional touch of raw linen. Connecting the two is a continuous flooring of wide blackbutt floorboards painted a glossy white. The four levels and two halves of the house are navigated via an incredible feat of engineering and design in the form of a spiral staircase of self-supporting stairs occupying the entire width of the house. Central to this is a steel column that was craned into place in sections then filled with concrete. A high-gloss metal finish in a rusted burgundy shade, reminiscent of the automotive industry, has been used on both the column and handrail, while the stairs are 16-millimetre steel, featuring mitred corners and white timber inserts.

As a sculptural form anchoring the house, the effect is extraordinarily beautiful and continues to be so as the eye moves up and down between floors. Assisting the eye’s vertical journey is a narrow aperture of louvered glass that runs the full height. At each landing the floor continues straight out from the stairs, flanked to the right by continuous cabinetry in black stained ash.

The study is an intimate retreat in all white.


On entry, the deep interior and stairwell are glimpsed from an entrance hall in pale blue grey that ends with a lit glass display of glass artworks in an abundance of colour. To the right, the wall is hung with paintings in vivid green while the left wall is occupied by two pairs of oversized white panelled doors. The first of these opens to a lounge and dining room in deep burnt orange punctuated by furnishings from Cassina, while the second opens to reveal a bathroom on one side and storage on the other.

Smart’s fascination with engineering is evident in the bathroom, where a glass shower wall sits flat and invisible against the tiled wall until swung seamlessly into place. He has used this device throughout the house, with cabinetry walls that become doors to one section while revealing secret rooms, staircases and storage in another.

The most surprising of these hidden worlds resides behind a section of wall cabinetry on the third floor, which exposes a narrow staircase when released. Once ascended, the stairs open to an attic room, which Smart has created as an all-white music studio. While not concealing this passage, the section of cabinetry sits snugly from floor to ceiling as a door to the master bedroom.

Smart’s design for this particular room is simple yet highly engineered, with every detail considered, from the hardware on the windows, which have been stripped back and burnished, to the layers of linen drapes edged in rust, and more robust blinds. A walk-in robe, a toilet and a bathroom have all been given their own rooms within the bedroom and are concealed behind cabinetry. The bathroom is a particularly gorgeous exercise in design that is both masculine and comfortable.

The guest bedroom's large picture window frames a nearby tree, as well as letting in an abundance of natural light.


The whole features an abundance of striated, black and white Rosso Levanto marble, which provides walls and cabinetry. Smart has broken this with mirror glass panelling in a deep purple black, and the gentle tones of a custom made bath in creamy Corian. The centrally entered shower is enormous, with twin rain shower roses and another of Smart’s invisible doors that slide into place as needs dictate.

Also on the third floor, but to the rear of the house, is the first of the guest rooms. This is, in fact, a suite comprising a lounging area, bathroom and bedroom. The bathroom is gloriously appointed within a floor to ceiling cylindrical form that is internally defined by a smaller circle of floor to ceiling curtaining. It is wonderfully space age, quirky and pairs beautifully with the round lines of the stairwell.

Further back still is the guest bedroom itself, magnificently finished with a picture window framing the foliage of a large tree and city glimpses. The very end of this room is finalised visually just short of the window with a steel frame recessed at bottom and sides to accommodate the otherwise entirely concealed blind. Effectively, the recess provides a shadow line that reinforces the precise angles of the room.

Directly below this guest room, Smart has used the same dimensions quite differently to create a study that is interactive with the lower floor. Indeed, a sizeable sweep of floor has been left open to provide an atrium defined by a short curving wall. Floor to ceiling curtains in natural linen can be compressed to the left side wall of the study or extended along the void for privacy. One of the owner requisites was that the house provides accommodation for an extended family of visitors. As such, the cabinetry in this room opens to reveal a Murphy bed that is otherwise completely invisible.

A long island bench in the Corian gives the kitchen's practical features flair.


The kitchen and casual lounging area occupying the lower floor is particularly beautiful thanks to a grey Travertine floor and a long island bench of Corian in a similar finish. Floor to ceiling glazing looking into a moss garden creates the entire left side, while black stained ash is continued to the right. Ending the room is a series of bi-fold doors. Smart, however, has never been satisfied with the visual mess of bunched frames and has contrived a device of the same cabinetry used on every floor to wrap around the doors when opened. Compounding the visual clarity is his adherence to existing lines, which dictate that the device mirrors the above profiles to provide a visual repetition across all floors. It is, in fact, an extraordinary achievement in design that renders the end of the house entirely free of encumbrance regardless of interior or exterior aspect. Effectively, this allows a continuation of the kitchen to the exterior compounded by the use of Travertine throughout.

Once outside, a series of stepped rises function as seating, a barbecue and garden beds. Smart has taken the idea of indoor/outdoor living a step further by enclosing the whole in a three-metre high solid wall. Large stones have been craned into place and a garden of surprisingly ebullient grass of the non-mowing variety and native violets has been planted for textural variance. At this point, it should not come as a surprise that a section of wall has a discreet keyhole and turns into a door leading to the car park concealed below the garden beds.

The indoor/outdoor living space is best viewed from the stepped rises of the garden beds.


Smart is undeniably a perfectionist; he is also intrigued by the opportunity clever devices provide. Which is not for a moment to suggest their use is gratuitous, rather Smart secretes engineering throughout his design as functional solutions that provide the least interference with the visual simplicity of the whole. The resultant aesthetic is at once sublimely rarefied and utterly practical.

  • Mark K July 18th, 2012 1:42 pm

    Nice! It’s funny really when you look at the last image. If the apartment building was built after the low rise, they would have had to use opaque glass in the windows. (If it was Melbourne) In this case the owners were not that fussed about a design with significant glazing visible from next door.

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