‘Simms House’
No.5 The Boulevarde, Cammeray

In 1938 the architect Ernest Maxwell Osborn designed one of the best examples of an Inter-war Functionalist house in the North Sydney area.

Osborn took advantage of the sloping rocky site both to tuck a second bedroom beneath the main floor and to maximise views over the deep gully that separates Cammeray from Northbridge. The curved front with its large steelframe picture window turned the living room into a viewing platform.

Indeed, curves are the recurring motif of the house with the rooms opening out from a central circular hall. It was a very different floor plan to that of the semi-detached houses typical of the previous generation. The sliding doors separating the living and dining rooms anticipated the open plan that would become a feature of Modernist houses in the 1950s.

Osborn had been accepted into the Faculty of Architecture at Sydney University in 1926; one of only three high school students to be offered a place. Leslie Wilkinson, the Head of the School, was a strong proponent of the decorative Mediterranean-style architecture for Sydney. However, by the 1930s Osborn was obviously influenced by European Modernism and designers such as Le Corbusier, Eric Mendelssohn and the Bauhaus school who emphasized simple, austere, undecorated functional design as a means of creating efficient, democratic and beautiful homes for modern mass society. Transported to Australia and America, however, the streamlined curves also suggested movement and speed and the glamorous excitement of modern times. It is possible, too, that Osborn had seen first-hand saw the similarly-styled 'Prevost House' in Sydney's Bellevue Hill, the work of  Sydney Ancher and Reginald Prevost in 1936.

In 1939, when it was probably completed, the 'Simms House' must have been a striking addition to the landscape at Cammeray, perched up high and very visible from the trams and cars crossing the somewhat anachronistic Gothic-inspired Suspension Bridge that had spanned the gully since the 1890s. The curved facade of the house was unusual, as was the apparent flat roof. In fact, Osborn hid a slightly pitched roof behind a parapet that gave the impression of a flat-roofed building.

This very northern part of North Sydney - Cammeray to Long Bay and Willoughby Bay - was one of the last areas to be developed. It accommodated grazing horses and dairy cattle well into the 20th century. The biggest structure in the area was, and still is, the grand castellated Suspension Bridge - built as part of a failed real estate venture ruined by the Depression of the 1890s. The block that the 'Simms House' sat upon was offered for sale back in 1902 as part of the Bridge Estate but had evidently remained empty for the next 35 years. Those below the house were still undeveloped by the 1950s. By the 1970s the area had filled with Modernist houses of varying designs and the 'Simms House' seemed a little less unusual.