The beautiful blink-and-you-miss-it Elizabeth Bay is well tucked away from the hubbub of King’s Cross and bustling Macleay Street in nearby Potts Pott.

Still, this harbourside enclave is incredibly population-dense – and as you wander around, you’ll spot some of the grandest and diverse inter-war architecture in the country.

Visitors may come for Elizabeth Bay House, but the locals are the ones hoping to snap up an old art deco residential apartment.

Darnley Hall: prestige and panoramic views

The prestigious Darnley Hall is just one of these exclusive addresses. It’s located at 12 Onslow Avenue just minutes from the harbour-hugging Beare Park and Potts Point’s bars and restaurants.

It’s hard to miss the distinctive neo-Georgian façade, which features dramatic Roman arches and a striking marble-tiled foyer. The entrance porches are flanked by tasteful Ionic columns and the seven storeys above feature 12 apartments of varying sizes, each with generous terraces to capture those sea breezes and panoramic Sydney Harbour views.

The story behind its design

Darnley Hall was designed in the 1920s by architects Sir Charles Rosenthal and Harry Cooper Day, and today is recognised as 12th on the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAiA) register of 20th Century buildings in Australia.

By all reports, Rosenthal in particular was a larger-than-life character who seemingly had multiple lives: he began his architectural studies at the age of 15, but went to war at 17. He later became a Major-General and was affectionately known as ‘Rosie’ to his men, due to his benevolence to the soldiers at the battlefront.

Rosenthal received a knighthood and further acclaim and, on his return to Australia, was often called on to lead the Anzac Day march through Sydney. He got his first job as a draftsman in Perth, where he also enjoyed acclaim as an opera singer – and he apparently later moved to Melbourne, travelling the Nullabor on a bicycle! Rosenthal became a highly regarded architect later in life, and served four years as president of the NSW Institute of Architects. He was also president of the Australian Museum in Sydney for four years.

Aside from Darnley Hall, Rosenthal and Day also reportedly designed Clanricarde in nearby Billyard Avenue, and built war memorial arches at Lawson and Blackheath.

History of Darnley Hall

Darnley Hall was named after a 15th Century Scottish Earl – the Earl of Darnley – and we’d have to agree it’s really quite a fitting title for such a grand old building.

As a residential building in the 1920s, Darnley Hall was considered quite advanced for its time, with an electric lift, hot water services and a slow-combustion garbage disposal system known as a ‘kernorator’. We’re guessing that’s not in use these days, what with climate change fears and of course the trend more towards wheelie bins … but we wish we could’ve seen it in action!

Famous residents

Many well-known movers and shakers have owned apartments in Darnley Hall – including former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Past lives at Darnley Hall have also been documented for posterity by Sydney Living Museums. They photographed the apartment 9, which was owned by Edward Francis Keep and Betty Keep. Betty Keep was a fashion journalist and fashion editor at the Australian Woman’s Weekly from 1947 until 1972. Their daughter Margo inherited Number 9 when her mother died in 1993, and the apartment was refurbished by famed Sydney interior designer Leslie Watford. Margot added her own touches of pink and yellow to ensure ‘a good flow of colour’ in her home. It’s certainly an acquired taste!

Apartment Number 12

The apartments of Darnley Hall are of varying sizes, but it’s no surprise this is one of the most tightly held residential blocks in Elizabeth Bay, with the jewel being the two-storey, five-bedroom penthouse at the top of the building: Apartment 12.

High ceilings, original architraves and grand spaces abound in the 350sqm penthouse with 50sqm of terraces. It has been sensitively and extensively renovated in recent years, with original period features retained alongside a more functional layout and new contemporary flair.

Property developer Tony Benjamin and arts consultant Kym Elphinstone bought the apartment in 2007 and spent two years remodelling it, with the help of interior designer Tonka Andjelkovic. Tweaking the floorplan was a given, as the original huge ballroom split the bedroom wing to take advantage of the views. That space is now a grand scale living and dining room, where panelled walls and remilled, antique French oak parquetry floors evoke a Parisian vibe. The kitchen, however, was given a different treatment: stainless steel and marble (designed to remind the couple of a favourite restaurant). The study, too, has another look again: a dark and moody old English den, modernised by the contemporary joinery in the form of a dark timber diamond-shaped bookcase.

On the main terrace, with its stunning harbour views across Elizabeth Bay and up the harbour to the Heads, is a vertical garden reportedly inspired by French-born botanist Patrick Blanc. It requires no soil, is self-watering, self-fertilising, and adds a lush ‘living wall’ to the dramatic outdoor space.

Intrigued by Darnley Hall’s prestigious penthouse? You’re in luck: it’s on the market right now. We can’t wait to show you around!

Article by Jason Boon

In a real estate market that is the focus of Australian, and indeed worldwide attention, Jason Boon's results in the Sydney scene make him a highly significant figure within the industry. A long-term specialist in the Potts Point and inner eastern suburbs area, he is uniquely placed to leverage his skills and local knowledge as the area undergoes significant change and diversification.Jason ha…