The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace

The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace

The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace

The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace


There’s something incredibly alluring about Sydney‘s iconic heritage home The Hermitage. Amongst a sea of ageing Tuscan revivals, its well-maintained Victorian rustic gothic bones shine strongly. The home’s harbour-side location, smack bang on arguably the best slither of land in the whole country, might also have something to do with the intrigue.

The Hermitage was built in 1831, and has been owned by the Hemmes family since 1974. In 2011, Justin Hemmes, head of the hospitality group, moved back into the family’s heritage-listed estate, and began renovations in consultation with Brian Hess, of Sydney firm , who oversaw the structural work and interior design.

The overall vision for the project was to preserve the building’s integrity but open it up to allow light and an organic flow through the 7000-square-metre space. Hemmes was keen to preserve the communal and social spirit of the home, while reflecting his personal style with a bright, open and distinctly Mediterranean feeling. The outcome is very much an extension of what we have already seen from Hemmes in his various hospitality ventures – a perfectly imperfect space built around relaxation and pleasure.


The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace

The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace

The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace



The renovation involved a part-demolition of the 1960s extension, and the integration of new openings, walls, doors and windows. The layout of the two level building was completely flipped on its head, an intuitive reconfiguration to provide for Hemmes’ day-to-day living requirements. A major change was the relocation of the kitchen to the ground level, with the master bedroom, ensuite and dressing room taking its place on level one. Striking new features include custom-designed steel arched windows by Skyrange that reference the home’s gothic elements, and a hand-painted steel spiral staircase, custom-designed by Hess Hoen, that was installed to ease the flow between floors.

Once the space planning was complete, Hess Hoen and Hemmes began to look at how they would approach the feel of the space with materials and furniture. Driving the decisions were the experience of the person using the space, and Hemmes holistic philosophy to “leave the space to respond during the entire process – from initial concept to completion.” This encouraged Hess and Hoen to work with honest materials that invoke a human reaction and connection, materials with a story and texture that patina with use and time. Previously concealed heritage features, like old sandstone walls, were integrated back into the overall design. Other materials include natural unpainted clay plaster walls and ceilings, traditional Moroccan Tadelakt joinery, encaustic floor tiles, aged European oak floorboards, raw brass fittings and handblown glass lighting.

When it came to the decoration, Hemmes sourced a mix of old and new, local and imported pieces, to maintain a sense of individuality and personality. In the dining area, a Lindsey Adelman chandelier hangs above a BDDW table and Baxter ‘Summer Arms’ chairs by Paola Navone. In the living space adjacent to the dining area a B&B Italia ‘JJ’ rocking chair from Space Furniture sits alongside a Baxter ‘Chester Moon’ sofa by Paola Navone and wicker armchair from The Country Trader.

Extensive landscaping was completed to allow for a more seamless connection between indoors and outdoors. Downstairs, five-metre hand-painted steel-and-glass doors were installed to open up the ground floor to spectacular harbour views. Hess designed the outdoor area with an international Mediterranean feel, complete with a pool-side bar, olive trees, wooden decking and relaxed seating, including ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Acapulco’ chairs.


The Hermitage by Hess and Hoen | Yellowtrace


We asked Brian Hess a few questions about his experience with The Hermitage and here’s what he had to say.


+ Your favourite thing about this project?

Integration of the old with the new.

+ Most challenging aspect?

Getting the spiral stair just right… Every time I design something, it’s never a repetition of what I’ve done before. I’m always pushing boundaries and adapting new details with different materials. It has to work well and at the same time be beautiful to look at.

+ What did you learn during this project?

That you are always learning with each project. You never go into a project thinking you have it all wrapped up. Leave room to respond during the entire process – from initial concept to completion.

+ What would you have done differently?

Nothing! I love the result… it’s perfectly imperfect!

+ Any interesting or quirky facts you can share about the project?

We turned an existing wood chute into a guest WC.


[Images courtesy of . Photography by .]


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