• Keith Smith concept sketch on the cover of Architecture and Arts, 1956.

39a Parriwi Road, Mosman, NSW, 1955–58

Snelling’s most unusual house of the 1950s was built by radio broadcaster Keith Smith for his family on the steep hillside rising from Chinamans Beach on Sydney’s Middle Harbour. With its gravity-defying, triangular structural framing, this residence reprised the ‘Googie’ designs built in Los Angeles by Snelling’s 1947 employers, Douglas Honnold and John Lautner. Snelling’s Keith Smith concept sketch was published on the cover of Architecture and Arts magazine in February 1956. (

The main floor was elevated above the rocky hillside by a projecting, split-level concrete slab supported from two inverted-triangular side walls, built with rendered brick, that each touched the ground at two points. Three bedrooms and a study, with a cedar-panelled hallway, were clustered at the north end of the house. Centrally placed on the east side were a kitchen, with stainless steel appliances and yellow laminate benchtops, and a bathroom, with red laminate walls.

A sandstone-paved entrance foyer was centrally placed on the west side (entered through the carport). The living and dining area shared the south zone; facing west to a monumental sandstone fireplace and east to the harbour view. This east facade included sliding glass doors opening to a viewing terrace-sundeck, which appeared (from the concept drawing) to be a sharply tilted element of the architectural composition and incorporated (in lieu of a balustrade) a 15-metre-long concrete planter box filled with shrubs.

The building was topped with a butterfly roof, flaring up to the east over the main house and west over the entrance and double carport. Alongside its box gutter, Snelling incorporated skylights and clerestory windows to transfer sunlight to the foyer and living room and to focus daylight on shrubs in a planter box along the feature wall of the carport. These panels of glass were supported and intersected by exposed timber trusses. Beside the carport was an amoeboid fishpond and Japanese garden; this was shielded from the street by a painted plywood fence and accessed from the study via a small jetty, from which occupants could feed their koi carp.

Indoor and outdoor staircases led to a photo studio, laundry and storage areas in the basement, beside a large terrace. Internal finishes included oregon ceilings with exposed beams, vertical wall panelling of shiplapped cedar, stainless steel appliances (locally made by Metters to emulate the imported Thermador models usually specified by Snelling), and various light fixtures for general and special effects. Because the owners demanded privacy, this house was not photographed or published when completed.


—Architecture and Arts. 1956. ‘Keith Smith house designed by Douglas B. Snelling architect’, February, cover, p. 31.

Cross-Section. 1956. 'In Syd, this house will sit tripod fashion', March, p. 2.

—Pemberton, Gary J. 1984. Douglas B. Snelling: A Monograph of His Works (B. Arch dissertation). Sydney: New South Wales Institute of Technology.

—Smith, Keith. Personal communications, 2002.

—Smith, Rodney. Personal communications, 26 and 27 May 2015.