by Neometro

A Zen Experience.

Architecture, Design - by Stephen Crafti
  • Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

17th March, 2021

The best beach houses offer a completely different experience from those found in the city or suburbs. Often more relaxed and informal, one’s shoulders immediately loosen up as one approaches the water’s edge. In the case of this beach house, located in Portsea on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and designed by Ola Studio, it is in sharp contrast to the owner’s city abode, a sophisticated residence filled with a lifetime’s collection of contemporary art and objects found on her travels. 

The owner had always had a holiday house at Portsea, located on the cliff face and only 400 metres from this new plot. Formerly the 750-square-metre plot came with a single-story timber house thought to be built in the late 1940s or early ‘50s. “This time she was looking for something that was quite simple, almost a ‘Zen’ experience, given she regularly travels to Japan,” says architect Phil Snowdon, director of Ola Studio. 

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

As there’s a three-metre fall across the site, the new timber house appears as single storey at the end of the sunken sandy driveway. It’s only when one passes through the front door and a modest open courtyard, that the spaces and voids become apparent. “Our brief included generous wall space to display art, but one that felt completely open to the elements,” says Snowdon, pointing out the garden, designed by landscape architect Fiona Brockhoff. 

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

One of the drivers for the interior palette, which is predominantly white, came from initial remarks made by the client. “From memory, her words were ‘fuzzy’, ‘white’, ‘organic’ and ‘cocoon’,” says Snowdon. As a consequence, there are limed oak floors in the kitchen and living areas, along with limed timber for the kitchen joinery. White terrazzo features on benchtops and the walls are predominantly painted white: however, to create that fuzzy ambience, there are also shades of pale grey. 

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

Although the former beach house from the 1940s was liveable, it didn’t offer the accommodation that was required. “Our client regularly has family and friends staying over, so the brief included four bedrooms, one of which could also be used as a second living space for grandchildren,” says Snowdon. At ground level, there’s a guest bedroom and ensuite at the front of the house and to the rear, are two additional bedrooms, with a third room doubling as an additional bedroom or as a second living area. “The U-shaped floor plan was really generated by the swimming pool, orientating this to the north and making it feel as though it was integral to the living areas,” he adds.

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

On the first floor is another play nook: a mezzanine-style space that allows the grandchildren to survey their parents, peeking out into the void below. “The ceiling height here is not much more than 1.5 metres. It was always conceived for the young children,” says Snowdon. However, the first floor is virtually given over to the owner, with the main bedroom, ensuite and dressing area, together with a study nook at one end, and an outdoor deck at the other. And to allow for complete isolation, or Zen quality when the house becomes too boisterous, Snowdon included sliding doors in this wing, made from glass and perforated metal to ensure a cocooned effect.

Franklin by Ola Studio | Derek Swalwell

Unlike some clients, who are not quite sure where their architectural ‘journey’ is heading, Ola Studio’s client is well versed in architecture, design and the broader arts. “At our first meeting, we were handed quite a large dossier with numerous images not only showing her own art that needed to be accommodated, but also the type of furniture that she was planning to buy. It was a great brief coming from an extremely informed client. And as with the best projects, we were also given artistic freedom with our interpretation,” adds Snowdon.

Architecture + Design | Ola Studio

Photography | Derek Swalwell

Landscape Design | Fiona Brockhoff 

Words | Stephen Crafti 


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