Elizabeth Bay Penthouse

2020

Phillip Rossington and Neil Haybittel, of
BVN

Private Client
Client

The apartment had been quite glamorous in its heyday but when we bought it, it was run down and in need of a major renovation. The demolition itself would be a big job. We wanted to remove the old lap pool, knock down and replace the pavilion, and gut all the downstairs rooms. Only one or two walls would remain.

Bellevarde had been recommended to us by a friend who had built a house with them in Palm Beach. We had heard from a friend that they were the best builders in Australia. Wanting to do our due diligence, we asked for proposals from five builders. Bellevarde’s response stood out from the pack. We met with John Fielding and awarded them the project.

Daniele Feltracco, our site manager, was awesome. We have high expectations about quality. Daniele’s expectations are, if anything, even higher. Nothing was too much trouble for him. He understood that this was to be our home and he made sure that things were done to a very high standard. He worked really well with the architects, Phillip Rossington and Neil Haybittel from BVN, and he went above and beyond to ensure the goodwill of all our neighbours. Daniele was so respectful of everyone in the building and surrounds.

We had originally thought we would need some massive crane lifts to get materials into the building but Daniele came up with a neat solution that saved us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. He devised a pulley system that would allow the guys to load everything in themselves, half a tonne at a time. We could do away with the expensive crane lifts altogether. It also stopped the mess and disruption of having to carry anything through the internal stairs. The savings were extraordinary.

The site required quite a lot of scaffolding, some of which needed to be erected in the courtyards of other residents in the building. Luckily, we had help with that. Jak Gannon, who had taken charge of much of the demolition work, was fantastic at interacting with our neighbours. With charm and friendly persuasion, Jak was able to successfully negotiate the scaffolding issues to everyone’s satisfaction.

John would visit the site periodically, bringing his many years of experience and wisdom. At one point it became clear that the lintels on the walls of our apartment needed to be replaced at an estimated cost of around $100,000. While the lintels were part of the building’s “common property” we felt it was our responsibility to pay for the repair. John sat in on a site meeting. He listened for a while before proposing a typically elegant solution. He and Daniele started drawing plans and reorienting the bricks. They found a way to do it for $15,000 instead.

Even when he wasn’t there, John’s influence on the project was amazing. Before the internal stairway was installed, there was just a big hole in the floor between the two levels of the apartment. We were in the apartment one day when the skylight was being installed and noticed the quality of the woodwork on a cap that had been made to cover the hole. It looked like a finished piece rather than just a temporary measure so I asked John why it was so nicely done. He said that if John came and saw that we hadn’t done something properly, there would be “questions”. The same level of perfection was evident on the wooden form-work underneath the plaster on the walls. It was immaculate and looked like the finished product. It may have cost a little more but it is the kind of quality we wanted.

It’s hard to identify a favourite part of the finished apartment. We love the deck, the internal stairs, our vegetable garden, the main bedroom. It’s all wonderful. Bellevarde are such a pleasure to work with. We would gladly build with them again and have already recommended them to a friend.

Phillip Rossington and Neil Haybittel, of
BVN
Architect

Renovating a penthouse apartment above occupied units and located in a sensitive inner city suburb was always going to pose challenges in construction. In addition, tight one-way street access, ageing and haphazard base building construction, inadequate existing fire protection systems and separation, undocumented past renovations, base building services defects and countless water leak issues essentially mandated the complete demolition and reconstruction of the top two building floors and extensive remediation works to the remaining brick facades and to the ground floor lobby, entry, parking and storage areas. Despite having a clear design intent for the penthouse, when it came time to invite tenders and cost the entirety of the works there were still a lot of unknowns and risks.

Selecting the right contractor for the build was, therefore, crucial and to this end we interviewed four building companies during a site walk-through where we received mixed reactions; not all builders were comfortable working through uncertainties and managing the program, budget and delivery incrementally. Bellevarde, on the other hand, were enthusiastic and able to demonstrate their experience working within similarly constrained sites. They also understood that their role included a significant time overhead for communicating site conditions back to the client and design/consultant team in order to work through issues as well as in reconciling necessary remediation work with the new works.

The most important selection criterion for the client was the builder’s ability to demonstrate a long track record of satisfied clients and the highest level of finish which Bellevarde were able to do convincingly through numerous references.

Once awarded the project, Bellevarde quickly mobilised team members with appropriate past project experience. Jak Gannon took on the initial role of coordinating site establishment and strip-out. Jak exceeded all expectations in his ability to communicate with the neighbouring residents within the building and with the immediate neighbours. This ensured the best possible start to the lengthy build.

Daniele Feltracco then joined the project in the role of site supervisor and quickly drilled down into all the details of what we were working with, all recorded in meticulously detailed site sketches. These helped us to finalise the documentation with confidence which included some adjustments to the structural design as well as a lot of coordination around drainage and mechanical services. Daniele's experience and ingenuity were invaluable and with his input we were able to weave all mechanical services into the inter-level floor zone and to keep all drainage services within the tenancy without requiring access to the units below. With Daniele’s help, we were able to keep the drawings reflective of the site conditions throughout the build meaning off-site fabrication elements integrated smoothly from steelwork to joinery and right down to the multitude of custom sized stone tiles.

Daniele was supported by Campbell Fisher in the role of contract administrator. Campbell was equally diligent in his communications with the team and in his maintenance of cost records. His regular reporting during weekly site meetings allowed the clients to make informed and timely decisions. This was an important part of maintaining client confidence and peace of mind throughout the build despite many twists and turns relating to the base building.

In conclusion, the project was delivered without significant delays and in line with the initial budget forecast and allowances prepared by Bellevarde. The owners absolutely love the end result. They are also quick to praise the Bellevarde team for their respective roles throughout the build and they acknowledge the process could have been far more stressful and costly with a different team. The team at BVN share this opinion and we sincerely enjoyed working with Bellevarde on this challenging and nuanced project. We would not hesitate to recommend Bellevarde or to work with them again in the future when the opportunity presents.

Neil Haybittel, Architect

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