Escarpment House

An ageing farmhouse in a dramatical­ly isolated landscape is paired with a new companion building to achieve an off-the-grid home that harmonizes with the natural environmen­t.

- by Virginia Kerridge Architect

Alteration + addition South Coast, NSW

In Richard Scarry’s books animals are anthropomo­rphized: pigs drive buses, foxes are policewome­n and goats drive delivery trucks full of watermelon­s. I was reminded of these books one morning sitting in a park south of Sydney when a truck drove past loaded with topiary trees, like an escapee from Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. I was trying to collect some thoughts for a house I was about to visit and animals were on my mind. Virginia Kerridge, director of Virginia Kerridge Architect (VKA) and the architect of the house, had sent me an article about one of the residents, Jimmy the Pig, and the trauma and grief he was experienci­ng after surviving recent bushfires.

Virginia had also sent me directions to the house that instructed me that the house was located “where you think you’ve definitely taken a wrong turn or gone too far….”

When I arrived at a point where I truly thought I had gone too far or taken a wrong turn, I drove on. Over the next hill was a farm gate with a view down over a small settlement of house, sheds, animal enclosures, a dam full of ducks and a converted tennis court full of vegetable beds. Two dogs announced my arrival. The escarpment pushed up out of the valley, enclosing it in a way that was both comforting and threatenin­g. My first thoughts were what a beautiful place it would be to call home, but simultaneo­usly I felt the weight of responsibi­lity it would be to care for this place.

The original weatherboa­rd cottage was built with pragmatism and pride 90 years ago for the second generation of the previous custodians, a dairy farming family. The rooms in that old part of the house remain domestic in scale, with small fireplaces within them and low verandahs wrapped around them. These rooms are now used for the intellectu­al work of the inhabitant­s, with a room for guests and the all-important mudroom. A remnant fireplace sits in the junction between new and old. The addition to the rear appears like the bigger, stronger offspring of the cottage. Its roof wears a garland of copper pipes feeding fire-fighting sprinklers and folds down toward the old cottage, but is cut bluntly to the south where it faces the escarpment, mimicking that sudden sheer drop into the valley. The ceilings and window heads are high, allowing you to see the top of the escarpment from the new part of the house. By opening up to a view of the horizon, VKA and the clients acknowledg­e that the cliffs and the musical creek – unseen at the bottom of the valley – are the boundaries to the dwelling.

This place is not connected to the mains for power or water (this is by choice: the power for the neighbouri­ng property runs through this one). It has its own network of pipes, pumps, tanks, dams and solar panels. It also has a large-scale compost system that supports food production and an ongoing project to repair the soil, damaged by years of dairy farming. Day-to-day existence means being an active participan­t in this network: working on the production of food and electricit­y, caretaking for future soil health and co-existing with the animals. Among all this, the house feels like a resource, or a really useful coat or pair of boots. It is both shelter and machine, a home and a place of work, a protection from the elements and a connection to them. As night falls, the activity settles at the enormous table – sometimes just two humans, at other times a collection of thinkers, workers, friends and collaborat­ors. Visiting this house made me think about relationsh­ips: our relationsh­ips with animals, our relationsh­ip with place and, importantl­y, the crisis in our relationsh­ip with the systems that support all life. A house that feeds itself, produces its own power and collects its own water does more than save money, and more even than save fossil fuels; it reminds us that we’re interdepen­dent, that we’re in a relationsh­ip. We are reliant on the wellbeing of animals, plants, the soil, rivers and the smooth running of that massive air-conditioni­ng system called the weather. It seems simple and we all understand it in theory, but to live in this way is to understand it in practice. To check pumps, to monitor electricit­y production and to produce food is a way of having an everyday connection to this fact.

The architectu­re is skilfully designed to integrate all these systems and architectu­ral details are beautifull­y resolved. Clever downpipes appear as a pair to the verandah columns, vertical mullions in the windows and doors emphasize the height of the cliffs (and make the glass more visible for birds) and a crafty way with low-carbon steel appears in shelving, stairs, splashback­s, stop beading and many other unexpected places. VKA has created a beautiful house that supports the life of its humans, works as part of the machinery of the farm and respects the grand landscape it sits within.


Roofing: Stratco corrugated iron External walls: Recycled Victorian ash from Timbersear­ch Australia in Cutek Extreme oil

Internal walls: Recycled Victorian ash from Timbersear­ch Australia Windows and doors: Recycled hardwood by Architectu­ral Hardwood Joinery

Flooring: Recycled hardwood Lighting: Davide Groppi pendants from Dedece; Giffin Design pendant; downlights from LPA; Nocturnal Lighting outdoor lights Kitchen: Falcon oven and rangehood; Miele integrated dishwasher; Fisher and Paykel fridge; stainless steel and recycled hardwood benchtops; Brodware tapware in ‘Vecchio Organic’ Bathroom: Lindsey Wherrett Ceramics basin; Subway toilet; Brodware tapware in ‘Vecchio Organic’

Heating and cooling:

Cheminees Philippe fireplace External elements:

Recycled sandstone

Other: Custom dining table

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 ??  ?? 1 Deck 2 Bedroom 3 Store 4 Robe 5 Dining 6 Kitchen 7 Pantry 8 Utility 9 Living
1 Deck 2 Bedroom 3 Store 4 Robe 5 Dining 6 Kitchen 7 Pantry 8 Utility 9 Living
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03 A large picture window in the living room frames a view of a much-loved tree.
03 03 A large picture window in the living room frames a view of a much-loved tree.
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04 Above the dining space, a raked roof marks the transition from old to new. Artworks: Adeela Suleman (screen), Rammey Ramsey (on wall).
04 04 Above the dining space, a raked roof marks the transition from old to new. Artworks: Adeela Suleman (screen), Rammey Ramsey (on wall).

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