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There are three things that preoccupy an architect when they are about to approach a new project: the site, the client brief and the budget. All three have to be held in balance to create the optimum result as is clearly illustrate­d by this exceptiona­l house by Rob Mills Architectu­re & Interiors in Aireys Inlet on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. For Rob, the site presented a challenge that was emotional as much as practical. “I had holidayed in this area as a child and knew it well, so I was aware of the great privilege of building on this rare block of north-facing land. There are very few plots of this calibre in the world and I had a duty of care,” he says.

A 90-minute drive southwest of Melbourne, Aireys Inlet is a small coastal town set between Anglesea and Lorne with a longstandi­ng surfing culture. There are two significan­t landmarks which define the coastal experience, one man-made and one natural, which have been respected in the design process: the Split Point Lighthouse built in 1891 and Eagle Rock, a large volcanic stack capped by limestone. The land itself is set within a conservati­on precinct that borders national parkland and a marine park. Rare indeed.

Rob had also built a holiday house for himself and his family, the Ocean House (which featured in Belle December/January 2011/12), in nearby Lorne, so he knew the terrain and the potential for the clients to experience, as he had done, the magic of living between a forest of tea-trees, eucalypts, banksia and native grasses and the wildness of the ocean.

The client was also clear that he wanted both a multi-generation­al house and a building that would last generation­s. “Space had to be arranged to accommodat­e the clients when they were there on their own, but also adapt to large family groups,” says Rob. “And materials had to be rigorously selected to ensure longevity.”

Skilled local builders Spence Constructi­on worked with a restricted earthy palette of limestone, crown-cut American ash limed to highlight the grain, off-form concrete and zinc cladding for its soft ‘cushioned’ appearance and nuanced response to changing light levels.

“In my mind, it had to be a house that was incredibly masculine to cope with the robustness of the site and the challenges of the climate, while delivering protected spaces and great views,” Rob says. »

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