84 Kambala Road, Bellevue Hill, NSW, 1957–65
In 1956, shortly after Snelling separated from his first wife, Nancy Springhall, and sold their house at Northbridge, he purchased a Bellevue Hill property on the corner of Kambala Road and Sheldon Place. This became the idyllic home of his family with second wife Patricia Gale, and his architectural studio.
Subdivided from Sir Mark Sheldon’s Trahlee colonial estate, the land sloped down in both directions from its south-west corner, and included two historic buildings. On the south-west corner was a two-storey stables with staff quarters on the first floor, built in stone in 1835. The other building, built of brick on the north-west (downhill) corner, housed a laundry, ironing room, bathroom, and two more bedrooms originally used by staff from the Trahlee mansion.
Shortly after Snelling moved his home office from Rose Bay to Kambala Road, he knocked a large hole in the first floor west wall of the stables, revealing expansive views across Double Bay toward the city skyline. Then he gradually renovated the existing buildings as a family residence and guest house, taking six years to finish the project (before minor dining room renovations in the mid 1960s). His architectural office, including desks for six contract architects, was on the lower ground floor of the stables, opening to a garden which he landscaped with tropical plants, Melanesian carvings, an amoebic swimming pool, and a Japanese-landscaped fishpond.
He retained the original sandstone foundations and main walls of both buildings to save money and avoid council requirements that new houses must be set back twenty feet from street boundaries. (That rule could have halved the size of his intended garden court and forced him to landscape a superfluous new front garden.) The stables became the main home and office, and another wing was added to form an L around the east and north edges of the site. Turning its back on three boundaries, the house exploited distant views from Bellevue Hill towards Double Bay and Sydney city.
The sloping site provided three storeys of accommodation on the northeast corner while appearing to be little more than one-storey high from the street. The new Kambala Road façade incorporated a glazed passage (alongside the footpath) leading from the carport to the front door. At night, this covered way was internally illuminated like a lantern, and the movements of arriving guests could be seen as dynamic shadows. Under the eaves, two clerestory windows transmitted morning light into the bedrooms, including the master suite above the double carport. Growing through holes in the carport’s projecting roof were several mature peppercorn trees.
Occupying the south-east corner of the upper floor was a living and dining room accompanied by a kitchen and square balcony with a redwood (cedar) pergola. From this deck, a concrete-balustraded external staircase gave access to the lower garden. In the centre section of the lower level, two children’s bedrooms and a shared bathroom were provided. Nearby was undercover parking for two cars. From this garage, internal stairs led up to the master bedroom suite, which included a private balcony, dressing room, small built-in beauty desk, and lounge seating.
The kitchen incorporated Snelling’s preferred Thermador stainless steel electric appliances, which he imported from California. They included a cooktop with charcoal grill, an underbench warming drawer, twin ovens, and a dishwasher. To complement these stylish fixtures, Snelling installed a Revco stainless steel refrigerator, stainless steel benchtops, light switchplates, a wall-mounted can opener, waste grinder, exhaust fan, and a benchtop food processor. Copper saucepans were displayed along the splashback of olive green laminate. Three sliding shoji screens (similar to screens by Gordon Drake in California) could close off the kitchen from the adjacent living area, or they could be left open for conversations across the servery.
On the lower floor, Snelling’s study and meeting lounge occupied the southeast corner with sliding doors opening to a timber-floored sundeck below the upstairs balcony. North of that was his drawing studio with desks allocated for six draftsmen and a receptionist-secretary. This professional zone could be accessed by descending a staircase from the open carport. An adjacent shower-lavatory could be entered from either the studio or the garden.
On the northeast corner of the lower level, a square area incorporated a laundry, workshop, air-conditioning equipment, and a wine cellar. Along the north boundary, another wing included bedrooms for a nurse and a guest, sharing a central bathroom. Wrapping around those rooms was the staircase to the carport and beyond that the master bedroom suite or ground floor living areas.
On the site’s north-west corner, the original servants’ quarters and laundry were converted into a small, two-bedroom, two-storey, self-contained flat. The garden was organically designed like a tropical Pacific resort. It was divided roughly into halves, one area grassed and the other paved with randomly laid blocks of sandstone. A lily pond filled with koi carp, landscaped with boulders and papyrus and shaded by an old peppercorn tree, was installed beside the lower sundeck outside the drawing studio. Water sometimes tumbled into this pond from a spout fixed above. Lush shrubs with sculptural leaves and colourful flowers were planted to the south and northwest of the swimming pool near the west boundary. Beside the lily pond, the west wall of the house featured a tall, narrow panel of decorative brick filigree. This Wright-inspired feature allowed sunlight to dapple across the interior of the drawing studio and the upstairs hallway of the children’s bedroom zone. A similar panel adorned the south-east wall, allowing light to play in the kitchen.
Snelling was an expert at designing discreet and dramatic lighting effects, which he explained to clients and staff as being 'evening dress' for his architecture. In the garden, concealed spotlights illuminated key plants, and custom-made metal pagoda lights diffused light downwards onto parts of the lawn and terrace. Gas flares were set into the sandstone paving around the swimming pool to create spectacles during parties. Inside the house, fluorescent tubes were concealed by timber pelmets designed to throw light upwards or downwards. Spotlights illuminated his Khmer stone heads and other Cambodian artifacts. His scheme for this house won the NSW Illumination Engineering Society’s domestic lighting award for 1971. After the Snelling house was sold to new owners in 1976, the property was rebuilt.
—Buhrich, Eva. 1971. ‘Old house with a new look’, The Sydney Morning Herald (Homes and Building), 18 November, p. 16.
—Daily Telegraph Gas Cook Book. 1960s.
—Delandro, Betty. 1972. ‘People and fashion’ The Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 December, p. 11.
—Dunlop, Susan. 1966. ‘Architect gathers … antiquities from the Far East’, Woman’s Day with Woman, 28 November, pp. 94–95.
—Grundfest, P. J. (Peter). 1963. ‘Fluorescents in homes’, The Sydney Morning Herald (Homes and Building), 13 August, p. 18.
—Hunt, John. Personal communications, ca. 2003–2005.
—IES Lighting Review. 1971. December, cover.
—Kalmar, Steven. 1964a. ‘Before – and after’, You and Your Home. Sydney: Shakespeare Head Press, pp. 102–105.
—Pemberton, Gary J. 1984. Douglas B. Snelling: A Monograph of His Works (B. Arch dissertation). Sydney: New South Wales Institute of Technology.
—Royal Australian Institute of Architects. 1964. Exhibition of Members Work – Blaxland Gallery 28th May–6th June 1964.
—Philippine Architecture and Building Journal. N.d. ‘Snelling residence, Douglas C. Snelling, architect’, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 34–35.
Sun Herald, The. 1970. ‘Fascinating device cleans pool’, 12 April,
—Sydney County Council. 1966. ‘Much-travelled architect selects all-electric’. The Contactor, December, pp. 88–90.
Sydney County Council. 1971. The Contactor, December.
—Sydney Morning Herald, The (Homes and Building). 1963. ‘House that grew from 1835 model’, 29 October, p. 20.
—Sydney Morning Herald, The. 1971. ‘Awards for best lighting’, 11 November, p. 18.
Sydney Morning Herald, The. 1979. ‘Stable that architect’, 17 February, p. 99.
—Vogue Australia. 1964. ‘More rooms planned by men to please themselves: Douglas Snelling’, June–July, p. 66.
—White, Mary. 1966. ‘Where past and present meet’, Australian Home Journal, November, n.p. (Clipping in Sydney: SLNSW MLMSS 8801/01.)