North Shore architect buyer's guide

Sydney’s leafy North Shore is a blend of the modern and the traditional… and that can be a trap for unsuspecting buyers. Before you set your heart on a property and hand over your deposit, if you are planning to rebuild or renovate, it’s worth speaking to your architect first.

At Playoust Churcher, we’ve been working as North Shore architects for decades. We know what to look for when buying on the North Shore… and more importantly, we know what to avoid to save you heartache down the track.

Playoust Churcher Managing Director Brett Churcher is both a qualified architect and a qualified property valuer.

Combine his skills with his knowledge of the North Shore and you have a winning partner in the journey to your North Shore dream home.

Demolition constraints

The first issues that any potential buyer on the North Shore needs to be aware of are the heritage and conservation zones and controls that can seriously impact on the work you are able to do to your home.

And what you can and can’t demolish as part of a renovation can critically impact any planned works. It’s something Brett has been through with many clients:

“Often we have clients purchasing homes on the North Shore who think that they will be able to demolish a lean-to as it isn’t part of the original home… but if council believes that the lean-to has some character that adds heritage value to the original home, you will not be able to demolish it.

The other thing that many clients don’t realise is that even if your home isn’t heritage listed, heritage controls still apply within conservation zones. The restrictions on your home will also be impacted by any neighbouring homes that are heritage listed.

We go through a thorough heritage DA process with our designs in heritage/conservation areas and that all starts with engaging a heritage consultant very early in the process, even before you have purchased the home.”

Size and space restrictions

Other concerns that we often see impacting our clients are the restrictions that heritage controls and North Shore council regulations have on the height, setbacks and floor space of a home. Brett explains:

“In a heritage or conservation zone, first-floor additions need to be located towards the rear of the property and are not to be dominant when viewed from the street.

Further to that, we are also restricted in the amount of floor space and built-upon area for the residence, and that can affect the design.

Some clients can find themselves unable to add the number of extra rooms they would like because they are limited with a first-floor addition and if they extend out they lose the backyard. It is a balance between getting what you need from the home and ensuring you don’t lose too much value in the home.”

And if you are purchasing a larger home, you will also be faced with increased side and rear setbacks.

“A percentage of the site width and depth is used to calculate the setback dimensions. Each home has a building envelope that it must sit within, which can also impact any first-floor additions and how large they can be.

Council wants to control building bulk to maintain the character and aesthetics of the North Shore,” says Brett.

Working with the natural landscape

Building in the landscape setting is an important philosophy of North Shore homes. It’s about respecting the surrounds and building into the character of the area.

In some cases, it is more than a simple nod to the bushy surrounds… if you have a tree in the backyard that adds significant value to the canopy of the area, you will be unable to remove it.

And if you do, you could be facing fines up to $50,000 and possible jail time. This is something that councils take very seriously. Brett explains:

“If we are in any doubt as to whether a tree can be removed to accommodate the design, we will engage a specialist arborist on the value it contributes to the area. Previously, we have been able to step designs around trees… but if you have your heart set on a particular style or design, it is best to know early if a tree is going to be problematic.”

The landscape and shape of the yard are also important factors in ensuring a good end result. So often you will walk into the backyard of a big block on the North Shore and the yard feels smaller than it is because of a poorly positioned pool. It’s critical that your architect is involved in the design of the whole site so your home flows seamlessly from one property boundary to another.

Connecting the old with the new

Renovating a heritage home isn’t as simple as coming up with a design that matches the original architecture of the home. In fact, when council reviews designs, they want to be sure that there is a clear distinction between the old and the new. As Brett explains:

“Any new work has to carefully consider how it sits in relation to the existing home… and there needs to be a clear break between the old and the new. This may mean a small walkway between the two parts of the design or we might step the new wall in a bit from the old part of the wall.

It’s about ensuring we don’t blur the lines between what was done in the 1920s and the work we are doing now. Council actually encourages and rewards creative design. They want additions to heritage homes that add value to the character of the area… and you achieve that with good, clever design that is sensitive to heritage concerns.”

Your North Shore property partner

As North Shore Architects, we are passionate about designing homes that support your lifestyle within the beautiful surrounds of the North Shore. From St Ives to Pymble, Killara and Lindfield, we are skilled at designing modern homes as well as sensitive heritage and conservation projects.

Contact us to speak with one of our talented architects as you navigate your property purchase on the North Shore on the journey to your dream home.

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11 Marian Street
Killara NSW 2071

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