The restoration of the Fishwick house was a two-phase process. Initially the concentration was on stabilising the building, repairing its necessary services and making it a comfortable home for the owners’ young family. This work continued for more than a decade. The second phase was a major restoration project supervised by a heritage architect which lasted over two years and incorporated the house’s landscaping and the regeneration of surrounding bushland. This section describes the most important projects in both restoration phases.
Heritage protocols require that significant work on a listed building should be well documented for the benefit of future generations. Also, in this regard, that contemporary works should be distinguishable from the original. Accordingly, while the material in this section is of a general nature a very detailed description of the main restoration projects undertaken is on .pdf Details of Restoration.
Despite its run-down condition when bought by the present owners in the 1970s, the house was a very good subject for restoration. As well as being on a well-sited block with its curtilage generally well preserved and sympathetic, its fabric appeared to be mostly sound. Also, unlike most other Griffin houses in Castlecrag, previous residents had made no irreversible structural changes. Further, many critical design elements and fixtures which could have been broken or removed during the previous half-century had survived remarkably well; for example, almost all of the house’s original solid brass hardware, ceramic tiles, coloured glass, decorative timberwork and masonry detailing remained intact.
When bought in 1976, fortunately the house was structurally unaltered but was in poor condition and had many inappropriate "add-ons".
Initially, with the help of an architect friend and, through him, an excellent team of tradesmen, work began to stabilise its structure, to solve some serious technical problems, particularly with dangerously failing insulation on electrical cabling, and to stop rainwater penetration. During this early phase a great deal was learned about how the house “worked”, information which was most valuable during the subsequent major restoration.
Peeling away various coverings on the main staircase revealed a small hole...
...which proved to be the only visible evidence of the failure of its supporting structure. A re-build was mandatory.
In the mid 1990s, water damage to the house’s much-photographed stone fireplace suddenly appeared. This proved to be caused by the failure of stormwater drainage pipes concealed within it. This near-catastrophic event sparked the decision to restore the entire house. A well-qualified and highly experienced heritage architect was commissioned to supervise the project. Its scope was wide and included extensive structural work, modernisation of services, re-creation of the house’s interior decorative finishes and detailing as well as rebuilding its four outdoor recreation areas.
Central to Griffin’s principles was that a building should be integrated with and have great respect for its landscape. Therefore the creation of native gardens and regeneration of the natural bushland on the property and in the adjacent Griffin reserves were important integral parts of the work. Again, this section describes this in general terms; for specifics open .pdf Details of Landscaping.
Such a wide-ranging programme required that many difficult decisions had to be made; some were unexpected and urgent, being required to solve problems which arose as the work progressed. Typically these involved trade-offs between the need to ensure the utility of a solution while preserving high standards of authenticity and aesthetics, as well as being mindful of costs. For examples of such tradeoffs and their rationale open .pdf On Restoring a "Work of Art”.
This extensive work on the house was not only technically necessary but also proved to be a defining event. Its careful restoration allowed Griffin’s principles and ideas, as well as his creative powers, to be clearly manifest. Thereafter, because of its unusual and striking appearance, the house received much more attention from those interested in spreading the Griffin story more widely such as architecture and design professionals, heritage bodies and the general media. Most of these chose photographs of elements of the house as their main illustrations.
Structure & Fabric
The most essential and important projects during the initial restoration phase which commenced in the mid-1970s were the stabilisation of the building’s structure and correction of many functional problems. There was a pressing need to overcome serious, sometimes critical failures in waterproofing and the house’s power, lighting, water, sewerage and gas services. For example, sewer lines which ran under the lounge room floor frequently became blocked by root penetration. This required the owners to become adroit users of hired "drain snake" machines lowered through a trapdoor in the flooring. Equally annoying, multiple leaks from heavy rains caused many electrical short circuits in poorly insulated cables and forced the acquisition of a large collection of buckets and old beach towels.
|Some problems were very serious. For example, a small crack in the mortar on a wall of the lounge began to widen rapidly with nearby rendering falling away. Clearly, the worsening crack indicated that a section of the house’s foundations was collapsing. The crack was directly above the north-east corner of the house where the foundation of the exterior wall rested not on the main sandstone platform but rather some two metres below on the next terrace level. Underpinning specialists were called-in. They excavated this foundation and discovered that, while Griffin's builder obviously thought he had found a solid sandstone footing at the lower level, in fact he had rested the foundation on a large, buried “floating” boulder. Much deeper excavations were needed to find bedrock and safely underpin this corner of the house.||
Substantial damage to the lounge's walls was caused by its foundations being bedded on a “floating” rock. Correcting this required extensive underpinning and restoration work.
|Other structural problems such as spalling or “concrete cancer” in the roofing slabs and cracked internal walls were also clearly apparent. Most of the internal ceilings were simply the undersides of the house’s reinforced concrete roofing slabs; in many of these the expansive effect of corroding steel rods was clear from their sagging, deeply cracked surfaces. Specialised repairers worked on many such sites in the house.
In some external walls which were exposed to prevailing weather, many large cracks had appeared in the tuck-pointing between the sandstone blocks. This allowed horizontal rainwater penetration; in extreme cases, water flowed down internal walls. Mostly, these failures were easily identified and the exterior tuck-pointing replaced, solving the problem.
Water penetration through cracks in ceiling slabs caused steel reinforcing rods to rust, generating extensive spalling. This was accelerated through usage of pre-moulded “coke breeze” inserts as light-weight fillers.
|During the second restoration phase in the mid-1990s, other structural problems arose simply because the original materials were over sixty years old and had reached the end of their service lives. For example, the ceilings of the entrance hall and study were built of lath slats in-filled with plaster. Over the years, these began to sag until there was a likelihood of a dangerous sudden collapse. Such problems were not only relatively easy for professionals to repair but also provided valuable opportunities to conceal new service lines within voids which had become exposed during the work.|
|It was often very difficult to find and then fix roof leaks. Griffin claimed that curing concrete roofing slabs under water would permanently seal them; it did not. Evidently in search of a low-cost solution, a previous resident had covered the slabs with a simple tar-based membrane. This also failed over time as it became brittle and cracked extensively. Rain water then found its way into cracks in the slabs which, in turn, accelerated the corrosion of their steel reinforcing rods, causing concrete spalling. It was necessary to find a roofing membrane system which could cope both with the temperature change-induced movements of the slabs and with the problem of adequately flashing them against rough, vertical stone walls. Successively, two quite different membrane systems were installed but both ultimately failed. With time, technical improvements yielded a much improved multi-layered system which was installed and remains effective. Open .pdf Details of Restoration for more specific information on roofing and leakage problems.|
Fixtures & Fittings
During the late 1970s, work on the house was mostly concentrated on stabilising its structure and upgrading its services. The major exception was the necessity to strip out and rebuild the kitchen because of its very poor condition. Its floorboards had become rotten because moisture from the sandstone bedrock had risen through the floor. Most of its cabinets were missing or broken, the rendered walls and ceilings were severely cracked and some concealed service lines were faulty. In rebuilding the room, great care was taken to follow Griffin’s basic design concepts. For example, his original house plans showed the detailed profiling of the original kitchen cabinets and doors; this was followed in the new work.
Aside from rebuilding the kitchen, replacing some chipped ceramic items in the bathrooms and other minor work, the house’s fixtures and fittings received little attention until the major restoration in the 1990s. The heritage architect who then planned and supervised the work stressed that the authenticity of the project would largely rest on the care involved in restoring or replacing prominent internal items such as wall and light fittings, decorative features and furnishings.
Most Griffin houses had their original layouts altered to gain more space. Also, they had generally been stripped of such things as their original kitchen and bathroom fittings, ceramic tiles, door and window hardware and internal glass and timber joinery. In the Fishwick house these had survived remarkably intact, albeit mostly covered with many layers of oil paint. For example, almost all the house’s glass doors still had their original coloured panes of glass and virtually all the brass door and window knobs, latches and handles had survived. Miraculously, some highly fragile items had survived over 65 years of use; for example, both of the house's bathrooms retained their original ceramic shower-heads and these remain attractive and highly functional.
|There were some very fortunate outcomes to seemingly intractable problems. For example, in order to replace rusty galvanised iron water pipes embedded in the walls of the bathrooms, many of the original ceramic wall tiles needed to be removed; some were broken in the process. These were irreplaceable, being of very distinctive shape, texture and colour. Green tiles were needed in the en-suite bathroom, yellow in the second bathroom. The workmen were extremely lucky. They found replacement green tiles in the abandoned dining room ceiling fish pools and yellow tiles behind a 1950s kitchen cupboard which was being scrapped.||
The only known picture showing the dining room ceiling's fish pools replaced by skylights in the early 1930s. However, they became the source of irreplaceable green tiles required for a bathroom.
|Preserving and restoring some original fittings required finding tradesmen with unusual but essential skills. For example, the timber frames of the study’s four sets of glass doors had been painted with high-gloss white enamel. However, the identical set on the opposite side of the entrance hall retained their natural wood finish. Removing the old white paint would have required the use of corrosive chemicals or mechanical stripping. This was ruled out because of their delicacy. Fortunately, a highly skilled tradesman was found, as much an artist as he was a house painter, who used tints to mix multiple brown tones of paint which he then applied over the white paint with very small brushes and comb-like scrapers to create a highly detailed and natural-looking faux wood finish which even included grain patterns and knots.|
|Other significant projects included rebuilding many rotted windows and most of the external doors. This task required fabricating and installing 168 Y-shaped wooden glazing bars of different sizes which were missing from all the upstairs windows and doors but visible in Griffin's plans and a number of old photographs. For descriptions of the most important work undertaken to repair or replace fixtures and fittings, open .pdf Details of Restoration.|
Finishes & Decoration
One of the most striking features of the Fishwick house is Griffin’s manipulation of colour, light, texture and space to create compelling and unexpected atmospheric effects. For this reason, the careful recreation of the house’s surface finishes and decoration was a very important part of the major restoration.
While Griffin was very much a man of his time, a believer in fresh thinking rather than nodding to the past and an avid user of modern materials and methods, he did not follow the then-emerging “Modernist” notion of form following function. In fact he incorporated many decorative elements, some flamboyant, in all his houses. He argued that it is essential to “include romance into our physical surroundings”.  Since the Fishwick house was emerging as a showpiece for Griffin’s design skills it was essential to strive to replicate the atmosphere he sought to create.
While it was important to return the surface colourings and wall textures as closely as possible to those originally used, good heritage conservation principles required that recreated finishes should remain distinguishable from the originals.  In this, the wide experience and advice of the heritage architect was most valuable because many value judgements needed to be made.
|In 1976 when the house was bought by the present owners, the predominant colour of the walls, ceilings, windows, doors and other timber work was white. There were almost no adequate written or photographic records of the original decorative finishes. In practice it was possible to discover most of them, for example behind cupboards or inside wardrobes or through careful paint scrapings. The heritage architect also insisted that any original finishes which scraping had revealed should remain visible, so small patches have been left unretouched on most newly painted surfaces.||
|The original finish on the eight concrete pillars in the entrance hall was uncovered by using a scalpel to lift off fingernail-sized multiple layers of the glossy oil paints which had been applied over the years. It was found that in order to produce their highly textured effect, Griffin’s artisans had initially applied three translucent glaze layers: brown, dark green and then light green. These were partially overlaid with gold pigment which was thickly applied with a sea sponge. Most of these pillars had been badly damaged and required repainting using this technique; however it was found that three were in reasonable condition. These are now displayed in their original splendour. The many concrete pillars which flank windows throughout the house were also decorated using this multi-layering then sponging technique. Scrapings allowed the various original finishes to be revealed then appropriately restored using hand-mixed paints in colour tonings which differ from room to room.||
|Griffin wrote persuasively about the use of colour in a house. He held that a viewer is positively affected by broad tonal bandings in which floors suggest the earth, lower walls suggest the landscape and upper walls and ceilings suggest the brightness of sunlight.  He followed this scheme in the Fishwick house, varying the shades of colour slightly in each room. Scrapings revealed the lower sections of walls to be of organic colours, mostly brown or ochre. These were applied up to picture rail height, about two metres above floor level. Above this, the upper walls and ceilings were painted ivory. Where possible the colourings of all the interiors were restored using this painting scheme.||
Griffin had created the complex textures on the lower sections of rendered walls by mixing multi-coloured pigments in the mortar before it was roughly applied. A meanshad to be found to generate similar textural effects on surfaces already smoothed by many layers of oil paints. Good results were obtained by applying opaque, deeply-toned base coats which were initially sponged with lighter coloured translucent glazes and then partially sponged with more heavily pigmented surface finishes. This produced a mottled, textured appearance, despite the under-surface actually being smooth.
|The broad aim of the heritage architect in the redecoration process was to re-create the likely original atmosphere of each room. For this reason he was asked to advise on the choice of fabrics used in blinds, upholstery and soft furnishings. All rooms with concrete slab floors were provided with coarsely-textured, organic coloured carpeting. Wooden floor boards were sanded and re-oiled and cork tiles on the floors of the kitchen and bathrooms were replaced. He also advised on the design of pieces of furniture which were custom made for specific uses; for example the base of the main bedroom’s “island” bed was curved in sympathy with the room’s unusual shape. Most of the house’s furniture was chosen to contribute to its consistent style and to reflect the period in which it was created.|
When the restoration was complete, all of the internal surfaces of the building had been restored or refinished. Every effort was made to ensure that a visitor entering the house could sense how it might have presented itself in the late 1920s; creating the appropriate atmosphere was very important. To a great degree, it is the novelty, consistency and authenticity of the house’s decoration which has attracted much attention. For more on the restoration of the house’s finishes and decoration including a room-by-room description of the work involved open .pdf Details of Restoration.
In most houses, service cables and pipes for electricity, telephone, water, sewerage, gas, drainage and the like are fed through specifically designed spaces behind wall surfaces, under floors or above ceilings. However, the Fishwick house has mostly solid sandstone walls and reinforced concrete slab ceilings and floors without cavities below them.  Repair or replacement of faulty service feeds is therefore very difficult.
|Such problems were compounded because Griffin chose to embed some service feeds into the house’s concrete slabs before they were poured. For example, before restoration the house had many mild steel conduits embedded in concrete slabs which carried live but obsolete rubber-sheathed electrical cables. In some cases the rubber had perished and the conduits rusted leading to explosive short circuits within the slabs. Similarly, water and gas were carried in galvanised iron pipes which had been inaccessibly located. Severe problems arose when these rusted. Such problems were impossible to rectify without damaging the fabric of the house so, where possible, alternate routes were sought. It was apparent that many tradesmen had previously resorted to running new service lines across the outside walls of the house or above the top roofing slabs to avoid having to find and repair inacessible failures.|
Provision of hot water to the kitchen was an extreme example of this re-routing of a service line. The original galvanised iron pipe presumably failed and was replaced by a copper pipe which ran from the storage tank in the garage, through the house’s northern wall, up to roof level and across the entire roof span. It then dropped to ground level where, by a circuitous route, it entered the kitchen. This was an external run of over 20 metres (65ft). Some seven litres (15 pts) of cold water needed to be drained into the sink before the kitchen tap ran hot.
Further, Griffin’s design concept required that there should be no visible guttering or downpipes on the house’s exterior. Sewerage and drainage from the upper floor ran inside the fabric of the building down mild steel pipes to ground level. There they joined terracotta drainage pipes under the floorboards of the entrance hall and lounge before leaving the house. The failure of a stormwater downpipe concealed within the lounge’s stone fireplace, which is possibly the most photographed structure in the building, caused severe damage. In fact, the urgent need to solve this specific problem reinforced the decision to begin the house’s major restoration.
Problems such as these were often difficult to solve, especially given the need to preserve the heritage qualities of the building. Much time, expense and resourcefulness were required to find acceptable solutions. Sometimes specialised technicians were employed to use such techniques as television probes, in-situ drain relining, embedding cables in the mortar tuck-pointing between sandstone blocks or using very long diamond drills to carry pipes through solid stone or masonry. 
|Occasionally opportunities to update services occurred when a crisis required forceful entry into a void. A notable example was the collapse of the lath and plaster ceiling in the study. This allowed new cables and soundproofing to be installed in the void below the main bedroom floorboards which had become temporarily exposed. Also, the fracture of a terracotta drainage pipe under the lounge floor required its floorboards to be raised. This unfortunate necessity allowed new PVC sewerage and stormwater pipes, as well as modern cabling, to be installed under the floor. As well, the partial collapse of the main stairway permitted a central heating system to be fitted in the void below it. Contemporary services made possible in similar ways throughout the house include multiple power and telephone outlets, ducted central heating, data and audio-visual cables connecting electronic devices throughout the house, satellite television, centrally-controlled security, exterior lighting and a programmable garden irrigation system. Importantly, in all these cases the necessary hardware was able to be concealed from view, thus preserving the house’s authenticity. For more information on service problems and their correction open .pdf Details of Restoration.||
When the current owners bought the Fishwick house in 1976 its only garden was on the relatively flat terrace level below the picture window of the lounge. This had a lawn edged with garden beds which contained exotic shrubs and flowers. They had no access to or knowledge of the three terrace levels below this, or the contiguous Buttress Reserve, because the lower third of their property was literally impenetrable, being infested by bamboo and noxious weeds.  This uncontrolled state of the rear of the block was tolerated because of the many more urgent projects concerning the stability and functionality of the house itself.
|In the early 1990s, when the owners were temporarily living overseas, the local council introduced a mandatory bamboo eradication programme. In their absence, abortive attempts were made by inexpert contractors to remove the bamboo and its matted rhizomes by raising them in large clumps using a block and tackle hanging from the site’s large Port Jackson fig tree. Catastrophically, this slap-dash approach not only failed to eradicate the bamboo, it destroyed many of the house’s original dry stone garden walls which had previously been hidden from view by the bamboo. However, this action proved to provide some side benefits. As well as uncovering an eyesore (a large concrete sewerage pit which was soon removed) it also exposed for the first time in decades some skillfully constructed walled terracing, many wonderful rock formations, a small cave and, astoundingly, a set of sandstone steps still in reasonable condition which opened easy access to the two lowest terrace levels.
...however the bamboo’s stumps and matted rhizomes remained.
On their return from overseas, the owners began a much more disciplined bamboo and weed eradication effort as part of the major restoration of the house and its grounds. Because of bamboo’s capacity to spread its rhizomes very broadly, in order to be effective this work had to be extended into the Buttress Reserve and the neighbouring properties. This massive effort requiring hard manual labour took three years to complete but it also cleared the entire area of weeds, leaving only large native trees and shrubs. This ultimately proved to be excellent preparation for later bush regeneration work and encouraged the natural re-growth of native plants.
After the massive task of mattocking out the bamboo rhizomes, masons built a stone path which entirely encircled the large rear section of the block.
The bamboo clearance uncovered a previously unknown set of stone steps beneath a sheer rocky outcrop.
Weed control after initial manual eradication required laying a cover of mulch on all the lower terrace levels and neighbouring reserves.
Aiming to plan and build entirely new gardens using native plants, the owners enlisted the services of a specialist garden designer. To develop and maintain the new native garden they also contracted an expert with many clients in Castlecrag who specialised in planting and maintaining local indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses. Thus, the restoration of the house and the construction and regeneration of its garden and the nearby reserves were able to be approached and developed as a unified, harmonious project.
A team of stonemasons built new retaining walls using well-aged sandstone blocks from house demolitions. They also rebuilt the badly disturbed dry stone walls, mostly using sandstone rocks uncovered on the property, as well as a delightful garden pond and waterfall directly below the lounge’s picture window. Excavations on the block's lower levels had exposed a number of large boulders with deeply eroded faces worn into extraordinary patterns, so these were integrated into the layout of the pond.  Other major stone projects were building an elevated garden and small ornamental pool in the front courtyard, restoring the sandstone steps to the maid’s quarters and designing and constructing the flagstone path which now meanders through and encircles the entire rear of the block, allowing easy access to the lower three terrace levels and to the Buttress Reserve.
Excavation of topsoil from garden beds revealed intriguingly-shaped natural sandstone boulders and rock formations. The garden pond was designed and built to incorporate them.
Stonemasons found several large rocks on the block to complete the pond’s perimeter. A recycling system was installed to feed its small waterfall.
So large was the area restored and so thorough were the weed eradification, rebuilding, planting and bush regeneration efforts that some three years passed before the native garden was completed. Existing fussy garden beds and exotic flowers, bushes and trees had been replaced by Australian native plants in natural, rugged bushland settings. The plants chosen were more formal very near the house but on the lower terraces they progressively blended more with the flora of the native bush, so that the house, its gardens and the neighboring Buttress Reserve were wholly integrated as Griffin intended.  For more on the house's landscape designs, planting concepts and bush regeneration open .pdf Details of Landscaping.
Footnotes in this Section
1. For more on the construction and watrproofing of the ceiling slabs see the Top Roofs section in Architecture & Design.
2. The Writings of Walter Burley Griffin Dustin Griffin Ed. 2008 pp266-267
3. The Burra Charter defines the basic principles and procedures to be followed in the conservation of heritage properties. Following reconstruction and restoration any new work has to be distinguishable from the original work.
4. The Writings of Walter Burley Griffin ibid pp267-268
5. This was due to Griffin’s technique of infilling immediately under the floorboards to resist rot and repel termites. See the Technology section in Architecture & Design
6. Accurate notes and scetches were made on all re-routing to assist future owners. A notebook containing these has 15 sections covering details of the house’s various systems and service layouts. The notebook has some 45 pages and almost 70 diagrams.
7. The bamboo barrier below the second terrace level was so tall and thick that their children enjoyed climbing into the upper limbs of the nearby Port Jackson fig tree and sliding down the bamboo to the ground below.
8. Hidden pipes and a pump circulate the water from the pond to the waterfall.
9. For more information on the garden see Australian Gardens for a Changing Climate Burns 2008. pp48-53 and Garden Voices Latreille 2013. pp58, 59 & 66