Tips for Buying Art Deco Apartments in Sydney’s Inner Eastern Suburbs

Cohen Handler Buyer’s Agents Michael Connolly and Hugh Murray-Walker each have over 10 years experience purchasing Art Deco apartments in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. They share their tops tips for purchasing these timeless and appealing older-style units.

With an appealing character and excellent livability Art Deco apartments make very desirable homes as well as excellent investments.


The best of these old-style apartments can be found around Sydney’s foreshore and city fringe. In particular, the Eastern suburbs of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay have a high density of these types of apartments, and many of these are excellent preserved examples of the classic Art Deco architectural style.


The charm of the Art Deco style, popular during the 1920s and 30s, lies in the architectural details, such as high ceilings and ornate plasterwork, as well as the types of quality materials used. Characterised by simplicity, geometry and functionality, Art Deco apartments are also seen as being well-built and structurally sound having ‘passed the test of time’.


Here are some tips about what to consider when looking to buy an Art Deco apartment:


  • True to style − The most desirable buildings have a clear Art Deco style and a handsome facade. Look for motifs in the brickwork, curved forms, nautical elements and streamlined embellishments. Hallmarks include the distinctive stepped summit, motifs such as the rising sun, lightning zig zags and bold geometric patterns.
  • Common areas − Foyers that retain their original design features enhance the value of a building. A foyer stripped of its original charm or one that contains incongruent elements reduces the overall appeal of the building. Timber panelling, decorative mirrors, stained glass and attractive metal highlights are great features to look for.
  • Building maintenance and repairs − With this architectural style now approaching its centenary, Art Deco buildings that have been neglected may be facing major maintenance issues, such as concrete cancer, rusting lintels, cast iron plumbing, VIR (Vulcanised India Rubber) electrical wiring, ageing timber windows … the list goes on. When buying into any old building it’s important to look into the maintenance history, and it’s a must to invest in a thorough building inspection. Try to choose buildings that display proof of ongoing preventative maintenance as well as evidence of responding to major issues as they arise.
  • Company title or strata title − Company title is a form of ownership that predates strata and which is common in Art Deco buildings. It means that owners effectively purchase shares in the building corresponding to the comparative value of the unit based on size and location. This entitles the buyer to exclusive use and occupation of their unit, and shared use of any common property. While many buyers may be wary of buying into company title buildings, we find that as long as you understand the differences there are no significant drawbacks. In fact a number of company title buildings in our portfolio are more efficiently run than their strata counterparts. Some company title buildings are restricted which means renting is either not allowed or allowed only after a period of residency in the building. Typically these rules protect a majority owner-occupier mix—which is usually a good thing—but if your intention is to rent out immediately you’ll need to look for a non-restricted building.
  • Restore to glory − The most desirable Art Deco apartments have classic architectural features such as curved walls, decorative timber mouldings and plaster cornices still intact. Original materials will include glazed terracotta, vitrolite (coloured glass), pressed metal, piano finished timber, polished granite and marble. Few Art Deco apartments are in completely original condition and most have now been subjected to multiple updates. Unfortunately Art Deco was not always fashionable and throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s many Art Deco features were replaced with incompatible decor. If you have a bland unit a smart designer can reinstate some of the original charm.
  • Renovations − As mentioned above, there is a lot of value in remaining true to the original Art Deco style, however it doesn’t need to look like something out of a museum. One of the reasons Art Deco is such a liveable style is that a sympathetic renovation can marry well with modern tastes and create a timeless look. All renovations will date over time however a renovation that is sympathetic to the original style will be easier to update in the future.
  • Unlocking hidden value − While it may take a forward thinking board or owners’ corporation to instigate, many Art Deco buildings have the potential to unlock hidden value. For example, flat roofs can be turned into appealing roof decks; large unused attic spaces could be amalgamated with top floor units; unused side passages sold to ground floor units; and balconies can be added to provide some outdoor space.

Art Deco apartments remain a popular residential and investment choice, especially for those buyers who are looking for a non-generic property with timeless appeal and character features.

If you are interested in buying a classic Art Deco apartment in Sydney’s inner Eastern suburbs, contact Cohen Handler now to ensure you find the right property at a price that suits your budget.

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