FOURTEEN years after Strictly Ballroom made women weep and men take up dancing, Paul Mercurio has settled in a bayside suburb with his wife, Andrea, their three children, Elise, 16, Emily, 14, Erin, 10, and two dogs.
Black-and-white photographs of Mercurio in motion for the Sydney Dance Company decorate the lounge walls at Casa Mercurio. When he was dancing for the SDC, Mercurio earned raves from the greats: Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Wife Andrea Toy also danced for the SDC and when they were travelling the world together, they fell in love and eventually married.
“We are nomads,” he says. “Very much used to being on the move. We’ve now been here for more than 4 1/2 years, the longest we’ve ever lived somewhere and the longest I’ve lived anywhere since 1981. “No wonder we have the `itchies’! A renovation means we can be here long-term.” Asked if he still dances, Paul scoffs: “Are you kidding?”
About the closest he gets to a dance floor these days is judging Channel 7’s Dancing With the Stars. Shunning Hollywood for family life in Australia after Strictly Ballroom has led to some career sacrifices and a variety of jobs. In 2001, he spent five months in Vancouver choreographing robots in the Alex Proyas film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, before heading home to sell computers for a few months. Later that year he got the call to play Guy in The Full Monty.
The Mercurios like where they live, but the house does not suit them. Two bedrooms between three girls, two of them teenagers, has proved troublesome. “The girls want a room each. This is what’s motivated everything,” Mercurio explains. Architect Adam Woledge stepped up to develop a design brief for the couple. Mercurio gave a guided tour of his house recently to Archicentre and to Woledge. The brick house has been renovated at least twice by previous owners, once to the front and once to the back, obscuring its original character.
Woledge thinks the house was probably built in the 1960s. The front gained a huge master-bedroom ensuite and walk-in-robe which Paul and Andrea like. The back of the house has a narrow, exposed brick extension under a steep, timber-lined ceiling giving it a rustic character. Meanwhile, the boxed-in rooms in the middle of the house could use some of the fluidity associated with Paul’s dancing.
Other than the need for an extra bedroom, the Mercurios are eager to resolve a pokey laundry set-up and shift the central bathroom to an outer wall with a much-needed window. Out the back, they want to extend the house with a combined kitchen, dining and living area linked to a year-round entertaining area with swimming pool. The wishlist includes a revitalised garage to store Mercurio’s motorcycle and an office from which he can work and brew beer.
With motorcycling, brewing is one of his favourite pastimes. For the Mercurio household, the kitchen requires special consideration. “The great thing about the kitchen is it’s the hub of life. We spend a lot of time here,” Mercurio tells Woledge. “One of us will be cooking and someone will be standing there with a glass of wine chatting or you’ll be cooking and the three kids will be chopping up stuff.
“I want an open-plan kitchen with a big bench, stools and a massive pantry.” Several weeks later Woledge comes up with a design concept that leaves the existing house untouched through to the lounge and third bedroom. Opposite the third bedroom, Woledge converts the existing kitchen into a large bathroom. On the other side, he designs a laundry with easy outside access. The west wall of the family dining area would be knocked out to make a bigger and better space, creating the open-plan of the Mercurios’ dreams under a single pitch skillion roof.
A row of clerestory windows to the north, set high in the wall, would keep the area bathed in natural high light and encourage a natural cross-ventilation path. “The large open living spaces are well suited to the everyday demands of contemporary living and the opposing skillion roof forms provide a good, modern touch,” Woledge says. “There is a strong visual link to the rear private open space and also expansive north-facing clerestory glazing to take advantage of natural daylight.” The new kitchen is not only open to the dining and living areas, it is more spacious and ideal for parties. There is also an extra-large island bench and extra storage.
“I like this,” Mercurio says, pointing to the floor-to-ceiling pantry lining the east wall. By extending the lounge into the back yard, Woledge’s plan creates room for a fourth bedroom (much to Emily and Erin’s delight). It sits flush on the southside, with its own access. Woledge has made great strides in rezoning the house. A heavy-duty sliding door at the entrance of the kitchen/living room will be handy to muffle any revellers if others are trying to sleep.
Out the back, he turns a liability — the garage — into an asset. “The garage occupies much of the rear yard but it is structurally sound and removing it would be somewhat onerous,” he says.
“What we have done is incorporate a free-standing pool house and office — which is linked to the garden — with the capacity to act as a covered pavilion. “Upstairs, Paul would have his office and on summer days, from the balcony, he could watch the family swim in the kidney-shaped pool.”
Story — Archicentre’s Shane Moritz