How Do Iconic ‘Gingerbread’ Houses Maintain Appeal in the East?

Buying a property is not always about making money or up-sizing to accommodate a growing family. Sometimes it’s about the pure passion of owning an ornate and classic piece of architecture – something that is ours to make more beautiful.

This is the case for many living in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, with its leafy streets and lovingly restored terraces decorated with ‘Paddington lace’. We always enjoy wandering through the streets of the East, latte in hand, marveling at how these picturesque gable-fronted terraces, which were constructed around the same time with a replicated look, now have been painstakingly renovated to reflect the tastes of the different owners. The variations in the facade colours, garden style and iron lace give a great indication of who the residents are, their varying styles and their values.

Along with so many others in Sydney, we get drawn to the aptly named ‘gingerbread’ houses in Woollahra – single storey Victorian Gothic terraces dripping with the Paddington lace – we so admire. There are some beautiful examples of these on Union Street and St James Road.  However for many of us the best expression of this architectural style is the unique collection of gorgeous little white homes lining Waimea Avenue, such a treat.

The ‘gingerbread’ description is largely a result of the ornate bargeboards – the functional but non-structural element of a building that covers the raw end of the roof framing rafters. Bargeboards allow builders the artistic license to paint, carve, decorate and sculpt according to the style of the building. We like the gothic carved bargeboards which are thicker and heavier in appearance and more reminiscent of traditional doll houses and the icing on gingerbread houses. Other architectural characteristics include stone structures, large expanses of glass, sharply pointed spires and intricate sculptures.

The majority of these gingerbread houses were built in Sydney during the second half of the 19th century by small speculators who would construct the first house to live in themselves whilst subsequently building the other four or five adjacent houses in the terrace. It’s suggested that any shortcomings or the size would have been constrained by the wealth of the builder, not so much the buyer.

As with many houses built in the same era, these terraces tend to be dark and damp due to poor ventilation and thus unfortunately are more prone to mould. Built to combat the English weather rather than our warmer climate, the adjoining walls left little window space and were definitely not designed to embrace the ‘great outdoors’ as modern housing does. As with typically middle class housing the toilet and laundry structures were in the backyard.

Even with a myriad of heritage laws set to preserve these houses, talented and creative builders and architects are able to come up with beautiful and very clever ‘tweaks’ to ensure that light and air can still flow through while remaining sympathetic to the building’s historic characteristics. For example, a sneaky bedroom and study are often added upstairs out of sight of the street, and the clever placement of skylights can capture some northerly sun into what used to be the darker parts of the house.

These little treats very rarely appear on the market and when they do, even at street level the value can fluctuate depending on whether it remains close to its original state or has been cleverly renovated to reflect our modern style of living whilst preserving the main features.  While some things like afternoon sun can’t be bought at any cost, minor flaws can be fixed and the original features enhanced, preserved and expressed playfully with your own personal touch.

For those interested in buying a good quality historic property, there is a lot to consider in order to respect the building’s heritage, context and location, but the reward and personal pride in owning such a classic property has and will stand the test of time.

If you are interested in purchasing a historic house, speak to one of Cohen Handler’s buyer’s agents who can assist you in buying well. Contact us now.

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