New House Federal, NSW
Arriving to the small hinterland town of Federal in
New South Wales is already something of a withdrawal from the normal run of things. Despite its size, Federal draws in a lot of visitors, especially from nearby Byron Bay, but beyond the main drag things get very quiet, very quickly. A short drive from the village centre, along a well-wooded road, a turn into something more secluded leads to a private driveway and to a fine house by Edition Office.
This residence is designed as a holiday home that may, in time, become a retirement pad. A heavy layer of dark battens along the only public-facing wall opens to reveal a more delicate living space that is remarkable, above all, for its malleability, view and calm. Nothing breaks in here beyond the sound of a pair of whipbirds from the forest below.
The house is organized into discrete zones. Central to the arrangement is a living area that includes a streamlined but well-appointed kitchen as well as dining and living areas. These comprise a square at the centre of the plan, enclosed on three sides by glass doors that retract to make for a seamless transition from the interior to the house’s outer boundary, marked by a deep verandah that wraps around three sides of the living space. A hearth occupies one corner of the room, which can be entirely open to the elements, suggesting the camp or, at least, a form of impermanence.
A narrow atrium – open to the air, populated with tree ferns and with a ground plane that follows the lines of the hillside – separates the main living area from a smaller lounge room, which contains – in both senses of the word – the television and any interference it might otherwise feed back into the living room. It could as easily serve as a home office for the COVID age; a room to one side, separated from the core of the house.
Along the eastern edge, overlooking the rolling forests leading down to Wilsons River, a series of private rooms are accessed directly from the verandah: a main bedroom with ensuite and private deck, a guest room and a children’s room (with a set of four in-built bunk beds). The bathroom allows for a soak in the tub or a rain shower with spectacular views. Closed off from the lounge and dining room, as they would normally be, these rooms establish a boundary for the daytime and evening living spaces, defining the eastern edge of the house to distil the rising sun for the interior, and turning the bedrooms and bathrooms to form a solid, defined limit to the core and its prospect.
Undoubtedly the most compelling element in the house is its lap pool, which makes an explicit nod to the thermal baths in Vals, Switzerland by Peter Zumthor. This pool, further embedded into the hillside below the house proper, is encased in black concrete walls and ceiling and has an infinity edge, offering yet
another privileged but indisputably private framed view of the landscape below. The path from the open-air atrium and its tree ferns down to the pool offers an alternate site topography and a controlled exposure to the elements.
The soaking rainfall to which this part of New South Wales is no stranger, and which is captured for the house’s own water supply, is also drawn in as an atmospheric effect. The cooling effects of the water below and the sound of the pool being run through the filter, yet another.
The building’s shallow roofline, wraparound verandah and deep eaves suggest the colonial homestead. It is rendered in black, a coding that pervades into the verandah and undercroft to reinforce the sense of shade that the play of forms would in any case allow. The almost volcanic palette of the house makes for a stark but compelling contrast with the green of the surrounding grasses and pockets of forest that fill the view, as well as the ferns that sit at the centre of the house. At the same time, its resistance to the view in and its command of the view out also calls to mind the photographs of artillery bunkers on Europe’s Atlantic coast by Paul Virilio.
As something almost geological, the house extends from its hillside as a kind of crag. Details are subordinate to the shape and lines of the house as a whole. The cantilever that extends out of the hillside is made without a fuss, its engineering masked, and services are absorbed into walls and columns.
This elevates the volume of the monochromatic object as something in and of itself, with its facets, recesses and textured surfaces. From the very interior of the same object, though, warm timber surfaces declare those rooms that are meant to be lived in, defining a kind of intimacy that is protected by the foreboding outer casing.
This is, perhaps, the thing that must be said about the house: it stands apart, setting aside the world beyond what can be seen, and in doing so fosters an incredible calm.