November 6th, 2019.
When the owners of this beach house wanted a permanent home to retire to, they called on B.E Architecture. With Portsea beachfront, overlooking Port Phillip Bay and the pier, the client’s brief called for something that felt solid, yet also responded to the weathered rock face edging the property.
The land (approximately 700 square metres), subdivided from a neighbouring 1920s home, is a prime site. The brief also included generous separate accommodation for the owners’ two adult children and their grandchildren. “There was no point in trying to recreate a beach shack when so many people need to be accommodated for,” says architect Andrew Piva, a director of the practice.
B.E Architecture knew it had to create a relaxed beach house, but with a larger footprint. So Pacific teak timber features extensively at ground level, wrapping around the guest quarters and separate accommodation for the extended family, while pockmarked Italian travertine was used to express the upper level, conceived like a self-contained apartment for the owners. “The approach is usually to create a chunky ground level to anchor a home, with a lighter approach to the upper level,” says Piva, who explains the inversion. “We particularly wanted to express the textures found along the coast, hence this limestone and our search for chunky blocks that came with deep crevices,” he adds. The timber-battened awnings used for the first floor not only diffuse the eastern and northern light, but also add to the beach vernacular.
As with many of B.E Architecture’s designs, not everything is revealed at once. Entrance to the Portsea home is via an enclosed front garden with a continuous timber battened wall containing the garage on one side and a discrete entrance on the other. “We see homes, whether it’s urban, rural or coastal as providing a ‘journey’, where things slowly unfold, rather than being exposed all at once,” says Piva. The surprise is delayed by providing an undercover external walkway that leads to the front door. Here, the view of the bay is fully revealed directly ahead, together with a double height void over the lobby. “In a sense, it’s about ‘release’ and taking you into a new environment,” says Piva.
Although a sculptural timber-edged staircase connects both the ground and main floors, there’s a strong level of division between both. “It means that the owners don’t need to feel they have to occupy both levels, with most of their time spent above (with the exception of using the shared laundry below). The children and grandchildren can enjoy spreading out, with their accommodation including two bedrooms, a bathroom and a generous kitchen and living areas. The separate guest suite is as considered with a kitchenette. “It means that several people can use the house at the one time, something that regularly occurs,” says Piva.
For the owners, who predominantly occupy the first floor, there’s very little need to shift away from the substantial living area, linked directly to the wrap-around terrace. One side has been left open to the sky, while the other side has been covered to allow for alfresco dining. And although the finishes and fittings are more ‘relaxed’, there’s a sense of detail that resonates through all of B.E Architecture’s work. Teak veneer joinery extends across one entire wall of the kitchen, creating a timeless and minimal aesthetic, with the island bench being slightly wider to cater for the entire family getting together to prepare meals. “Obviously it was important to capture the view of the bay and the rocky shoreline. But we wanted the design to feel relaxed and far from precious,” says Piva. “Saying that, everything still needed to be well resolved and executed,” he adds.
Although the house clearly reads as one from the exterior, it has been cleverly zoned, with spaces clearly articulated, and finishes which respond to the needs of the occupants. The lower level, for example, features tongue-and-groove walls that allow for more robust use by the children, while the first floor is just a notch above in terms of refinement. Here, you’ll find oak flooring and, as Piva says, a slightly ‘warmer palette’ of materials.
The Portsea house was certainly conceived as a permanent home that happens to occupy a prime site. “There are elements that are relatively raw (the pockmarked limestone, for example), but it’s far from being a ‘tent’,” says Piva. Few, if any, would disagree!
B.E Architecture can be contacted on 03 8416 1600.
Words by Stephen Crafti.
Images by Derek Swalwell.