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Undergoing an immense transformation by Sydney based architectural firm Hess and Hoen, the Iconic Hermitage Estate in Vaucluse reveals a refreshed new look interior and a vibrant new grounds and swimming pool pavilion. We spoke exclusively with Brian Hess about the project.


What were you inspired by when envisioning the Hermitage project?


Definitely the history and location. The old Gothic sandstone building, perched high atop a cliff face overlooking Sydney harbour was breathtaking. There was much to reference and much to respect. During the process, there were constant moments of surprise when discovering previously unused areas of the property. Responding to this in real time was really exciting. Not every aspect of the design could be fully realised prior to building beginning. There was the ability to design, assess and reassess along the way. The result becomes much stronger I believe when taking this approach. A strong vision is a must, but allowing moments of serendipity most certainly creates a great project. The project called for texture, pattern and use of natural materials to connect all the elements harmoniously and with a sense of timelessness.


What was the brief?


The brief was pragmatic. The layout of the two level building needed to be completely flipped on its head. It wasn’t working for the client. Kitchen was relocated to ground level. The bedroom now takes pride where the kitchen once existed. This pragmatic approach continued until the internal programme was just right for the 

owner – someone who had lived in the house for a long time and understood it well. With all this knowledge in hand, we knew what to do.


Works involved part demolition of a 1960’s extension (which was added to the old gothic structure during the 60’s) with the integration of new openings, walls, doors and windows. The internal finishes were replaced along with new fixtures and fittings throughout. Previously concealed, old sandstone walls were integrated back into the overall design – and celebrated..! Internal layout reconfigured to provide for the day to day living requirements of the owner. External works included extensive landscaping.


Once we felt we had it right with space, light and a sense of order, we began to look at how we would approach the feel of the space. Essentially, this is very much a reflection of the owner…the person using these spaces. How they use the space, what they use it for, and how they want to feel when in each space. Careful selection of materials, matched with an understanding of how humans respond to them becomes the driver of this next phase. Until I establish what materials I am going to work with (based on client responses to how they will use the space etc), I don’t even think about how it’s going to look. My projects are not concept driven or trend driven. Nor are they influenced by style. They are driven by the need to work with the highest of quality (and in many cases natural) materials whose essential qualities, humans can connect with. Materials that age and patina with use and time. The projects must look better with age. 


Understanding that space needs to nurture is so important. Understanding nostalgia, memory and a sense of place is essential. Homes are where we create memories. The investment is in the future, creating memories with family and friends – for the long term. With this in mind, residential design becomes more than what is on trend – it transcends time.


What other projects are you currently working on?


A large private residence in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. The residence has a colorful history with parts of the building important to the Heritage of the area and it's architectural typology. Another dream project.


Where is your all time favourite destination and why?


I would have to say Cavas Wine Lodge just outside of the town of Mendoza - a short flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For the location, architecture, food and the wine. The view from the lodges to the snow covered Andes Mountains is breathtaking.


Where to next?


Sao Paulo - Brazil

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