Take the weather with you
A contemporary beach house built to stand the test of time aims for transparency, writes Robyn Willis
Architects often compare designing houses like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Making all the pieces fit together — without banging anything into place — to create a seamless result takes thought and careful planning.
But when architect Richard Cole was called to design a house for this site on the headland in Mona Vale, the puzzle was all too familiar.
“We do seem to specialise in sites like these,” he says.
While the sloping site overlooks the ocean, the best views are to the south, exposing the house to southerly winds. Drawing light into the house would also be a challenge, while any building materials chosen would need to be able to withstand strong winds and salt spray.
“The challenge was to capture the views and the northern sun and keep it open but be able to shut it down when the weather is not too favourable,” he says.
Richard was keen to create a contemporary beach house to replace the small old cottage on the site that would look comfortable in its landscape rather than making a big architectural statement.
He designed a four-bedroom home with two levels at the street front and two overlooking the beach that slotted together like pieces in a game of Jenga.
“The key strategy was a split level plan that stepped down the site so you enter and go up half a level to the living and then down half a level to the pool and rumpus and the backyard,” he says.
The parents enjoy a separate suite on the top floor overlooking the street and another beach beyond, while additional bedrooms are on the lower floors. Richard used the central stairwell to pull light into each floor.
“The open stair pushes the light down and gives the house transparency so you can see all the way through,” he says.
With the front of the house facing north to the street, he inserted highlight windows to get the light without compromising privacy.
The extended roofline sits lightly on top like an umbrella on the sand.
Light and exposure to the weather conditions on the southern side of the house have been carefully managed.
“Having views to the south is always challenging but we have a big bank of doors that open right up,” Richard says. “They’re all double glazed so they have good insulation.”
Low maintenance, long life
A house like this was always going to demand robust materials and quality building practices. Local builder JJ Building took on the job of constructing this complex build.
“It’s getting the right materials for the location and putting it together so that it will last,” Richard says. “It comes down to the details and the choice of materials.
“You’re not building details that are going to fail over time — there’s no cutting corners on something like this.”
Materials included sandstone, fibre cement sheeting, steel and glass, along with white mahogany, a dense Australian hardwood.
While the doors and windows will be oiled routinely, the rest of the timber is expected to weather to a silvery grey. The garden, designed by Outdoor Establishments, puts the final puzzle piece into place.
Casual breakfast bar dining perfectly suits this beach house.
Frangipani trees frame the street entrance to the house.