The client is a family of 5 with three young children and their pet Cavoodle.  They have been living there for over 17 years. Our clients are very social and have a very strong bond with their three young children. These two factors were of utmost importance when reflecting the design of their forever home. Social spaces like Kitchen, Living and Dining needed to feel interconnected to allow the family to connect and re-fuel through simple daily activities like cooking and washing.

Studio Name: CplusC Architectural Workshop

Design Team:

  • Project Architects: Clinton Cole & Ryan Ng
  • Builder: CplusC Architectural Workshop
  • Project Manager: Christina Cheng
  • Site Manager: Will Bradley

Area: 277.5sqm
Year: 2020
Location: Sydney, Australia


  • Structural Engineer: Partridge Engineering
  • Landscape D&C: Bell Landscapes
  • Plumbing: NB Consulting Engineers
  • Electrical: Online Lighting & Beacon Lighting
  • Solar: Australia Wide Solar
  • Cabinetry: BWO Fit Out & Interiors
  • Doors & Window Supply: Windoor
  • Roofing & Ceiling: Flash Metal Roofing
  • Brickwork: Ramos Bricklaying
  • Painting: Orange Painting
  • Furniture & Styling: Jase Sullivan
Totoro House By CplusC Architectural Workshop - Sheet2
©CplusC Architectural Workshop

Further, they hoped to achieve a stronger connection from the house to the rear garden as the relationship with nature is just as important as the people living there.  The client wanted us to design a home to enhance their connection today and allow them to thrive in the future – a home that was more open, warm, sociable, and interconnected.

Spatial Arrangement

The house can be categorised into three different zones: private quarters of the existing house, living space in the new extension and the courtyard and garden.

Totoro House By CplusC Architectural Workshop - Sheet3
©CplusC Architectural Workshop

The existing house accommodates two bedrooms, a master bedroom with en-suite, a guest room and a bathroom. Although all the spaces have been rejuvenated to match the standard of the new extension, its layout has not been significantly changed with the exclusion of the main bedroom. The new design incorporates a large circular window that frames the view of the outdoor living space and backyard as inspired by the Japanese concept of Shakkei. Part of the window is made operable to allow for natural cross ventilation. The frame itself also acts as seating for young children. The room is fitted with two layers of blinds, both solid and translucent, to allow for maximum control of privacy and light.

Initially, there was a disconnection between the original house and rear yard due to topography that hindered the ability of the clients to connect to the garden. The new extension establishes itself as the missing link between the two through a gradual vertical transition that navigates occupants from the private bedrooms to the outdoor spaces and garden. The form of the new social spaces to the rear was designed with context in mind, ensuring no adjacent neighbour lost amenity or privacy. With the new extension mostly hidden from the street, glimpses of the playful space beyond peek out from behind the retained federation-period home.

Totoro House By CplusC Architectural Workshop - Sheet4
©CplusC Architectural Workshop

The new program transformed the previously dark and gloomy living spaces in to one light-filled, non-sequential, open plan living area that correlates to the client’s desire to connect with their children. One can be preparing dinner on the kitchen island while still listening to the kids talk about their adventures at school; or enjoy some Sunday afternoon reading on the couch while the rest of the family plays backyard cricket. Thresholds between interior and exterior are dissolved and provide opportunities for the clients to strengthen their family bond and their relationship with the natural environment.

Design Consideration

The predominant design consideration of the project is the integration of Shakkei and the integration of the circular motif into different aspects of the house to strengthen the connectivity between spaces. In response to the client’s brief for combining the living, dining, and kitchen into one interlocking space, the dining space took on a circular form and act as the centerpiece of the space, finished with a custom-made round timber dining table to symbolize inclusivity and connectivity. However, this posed a challenge in designing for a kitchen island that could complement the unique layout. This was discovered during the construction phase.  Because we are the architect-builder we were able to design an elegant-curved island on-site with the build team, creating the ultimate connector for the overall space.

Totoro House By CplusC Architectural Workshop - Sheet5
©CplusC Architectural Workshop


A warm colour palette was used for the interior of the house to reinforce the cozy feeling of being at home. An amalgam of spotted gum hardwood, steel recycled masonry and concrete create a Mid-Century Modern aesthetic and, with the infusion of Japanese Shakkei technique, it allows the house to cater for both a peaceful and playful atmosphere to suit the family’s needs.

The Team’s Favourite

Our favorite part of the space is the elegant round window of the master bedroom. As a continuation of the Shakkei motif throughout the house, the window allows the clients to be private yet connected to the landscape of the rear courtyard. Double layered curtains are installed to give full control on privacy while the window itself is part glazed, part operable timber to promote air flow into the room. The bespoke window fitting also allows the clients to connect to activities in the courtyard not just visually, but aurally as well. A small cushion is set on the thickened sill of the window and instigate interactions between the occupants and the built form.


CplusC is one of the few architecture firms in Australia that offers both design and building services to our clients. This allows us to have close collaboration between the design team and build team throughout the design and construction process as well as maintain good quality control until the end of the project. Our unique operation means that we not only design and build the home, but we are also able to visualise the complete project, from the structure as a whole right down to the interior finishes.

©CplusC Architectural Workshop

As a significant portion of the new extension revolves around connection between the built form and garden, we worked closely with the landscape designer to develop a solution that softens the threshold between the two. The result is a garden with native plantings and climbing plants that will eventually wrap up and over the master bedroom façade. Collaboration with an interior stylist & vintage supplier enabled the Mid-Century aesthetic of the new interior spaces to be accentuated.

Environmental Considerations

As an environmentally conscious practice, Totoro House utilize both regenerative technologies and passive design strategies in its design to ensure optimal thermal comfort while minimizing its environmental footprint. The design supports the family’s sustainable lifestyle through the installation of a 3kW photovoltaic system and an 8000L rainwater tank to reduce the environmental impact of day-to-day life. Cross ventilation is promoted through opening the rear of the house to help cool the hot summer days. Concrete flooring of the main social space provides thermal mass which delay heat transfer and minimize the impact of high diurnal temperature difference of Sydney’s climate.

Totoro House is also an exercise of building waste reduction. For instance, careful calculation was made with the brass sheet cladding at the rear of the house so that the semi-circle off cut was integrated into the cladding detail to achieve a holistic waste free design detail. Recycled bricks were sourced for the new extension and foundation stones from the existing house were integrated into the native garden design.

What makes it special?

The project is special in a sense that it aims to translate the family bond of the clients into architectural form. Separated spaces were reimagined into one interwoven space. Traditional Japanese technique infused into mid-century modern architecture. Recycled masonry become one with timber, steel, and brass cladding. Totoro house is a house of relationships, connections, and harmony. In an industry that more often celebrates the glamor aspect of architecture, it is important to remind us the significance of meaning in architecture.


Totoro House continue to deliver surprises for our clients from time to time and this is an expectation of high quality beautifully detailed architecture where light is the main player in the spatial delight. We would often receive updates from the clients about unexpected light features such as rare reflections and special silhouettes through a combination of natural phenomenon and design feature. The project is continuing to be playful and adventurous beyond what we envisioned.


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