From Issue 1 – Finding Sanctuary

Articles / Design / Life

Deep in the belly of verdant Wembley Downs is a humble, warm family home tucked away amongst the gumtrees.

The contemporary 193m2 home lies nestled modestly in the valley – cosy, considerate and perfectly at one with its site. Indeed, it is a rare bird in a suburb rife with mid-century residences and, more recently, a spate of less-thoughtful project homes. Being an ardent admirer of the 1962 Commonwealth Games village a stone’s throw away, architect David Weir respectfully ensnared some of the more practical architectural principles of the development when creating this eminently liveable design.

“The vernacular of that development is a high point for Perth suburban architecture,” David says. “It sparked a period of well designed and climate-considerate homes, whereas the vast majority of what gets built in Perth now is environmentally ignorant and wilfully inconsiderate of what goes on around it.”

Thus David says he would like to consider this home’s type and scale, its liveability and the enjoyment it offers its owners, more in keeping with these historical homes. In fact, when talking with the young and passionate architect it is apparent he would prefer it to be viewed as the antithesis of current mass-residential building persuasions altogether.

“As Perth experiences the growing pains of infill in established suburbs, the owners, neighbours and councils need to recognise that the lazy attitude of McMansion ‘design and build’ crowds just won’t cut it on blocks half the size of what was there originally,” David says. “No backyards, no vegetation, cutting down trees to make it an easier job to develop – these things have an effect on the way we live in our homes and our communities.”

As if recoiling from this construction anomaly creeping up around it, this home – belonging to an engineer, an accomplished artist and their two daughters – stands proud, while being simultaneously introspective and private. David focussed on entrenching the home, allowing the site to embrace and interact with it.

“The house is surrounded and embedded in gardens that wrap around and into it,” he says. “They were intended to grow over the house, so now the eaves over the windows have flowering vines.”

The motivation was to create an inward-looking design that offered the family a safe haven.

“They had recently moved to WA from South Africa and wanted to build their own home so that they could put down roots,” David says. “When briefing me, Susan presented me with philosophic musings by Gaston Bachelard on the hermit’s hut as a place of solitude, and a poem on the nature of the home as sanctuary by Pierre Albert-Birot.” At the door of the house who will come knocking?/ An open door, we enter/ A closed door, a den/ The world pulse beats beyond my door – Pierre Albert-Birot.

The somewhat raw and monolithic exterior is comprises of charcoal steel sheet and a painted cedar skin. While the owners originally sought a black house, they concurred that charcoal made an ideal partner for the abundant greenery. Gum trees overhanging the block conspired in this colour selection, too, with their grey and brown skins proposing the perfect tone for such a site-sensitive home. The resultant palette of contrasting charcoal and white is bold and yet grounding. David says he and the owners like to think of the colour selection as, “warm and secretive, like you just want to get inside and hunker down”. The counterpoint of those deep hues is the unexpectedly bright, spacious and lively whites to the interior. Built by MZ Construction, a small yet well-considered floor plan accommodates all of the family’s requirements.

“They wanted a house to spend time in, to daydream, plan and settle down in,” David says.

As such, an open-plan living hub comprising the kitchen, living and dining room encourages family interaction. It is positioned under a ceiling that rakes up in several directions.

“This creates an operable oculus – a skylight tunnel – that brings the sun in and acts as a chimney for hot air,” David explains. “This space was dreamed up to be something like a tent or a teepee, where you’re cocooned but you can stand in the middle and look up to the trees and sky.

“There’s a spot where you can sit and it soars up over you, it gives me a happy little glow”. David says. “I love that architecture, even in a family home, can have that effect.”

Off the living space stem the bedrooms, bathrooms and a laundry, interconnected without the use of any real corridors. David chose to repurpose the traditional notion of a passageway into something more practical.

“Those corridors have been stretched and reworked to become a second living space and a study,” he says. “The girls’ bedrooms and bathrooms come off that second living space, while the master suite faces a southern courtyard, full of plants and greenery.” This courtyard has been paved in council pavers, which were also used as tiles in the adjacent artist’s studio. On the whole, a no nonsense assembly of materials was banded together for function and texture. “We used a really honest palette of concrete, carpet, some beautiful but simple tiles and bronze in the bathrooms,” David says.

Carrying the contrasting charcoal and white palette through to the interiors offers both consistency and an ideal backdrop for the owner’s incredible art and furniture collection – a blend of rich antiques, bold artworks and contemporary staples. What is apparent about the home is that it exists in its duality quite comfortably. It is bold, but never showy. Proud, yet introspective. Dark, and yet incredibly light.“As sun-filled and green as the house is during the day, at night it becomes this dark, calm space to be quiet in,” David says. “This house is a beach house, it’s a bush house, it’s a cool and breezy house, and we think that’s right in keeping with its place.”

David’s design is successful in embodying the virtues of all that is good about quality, sensitive and inventive residential design. And perhaps, most importantly, it has become a varied and dynamic home for a young family to daydream, plan and settle down in.

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