“They were starting a new business that could be based from home and they were looking for a more relaxed way of living,” says architect Antony Martin, director of MRTN Architects, who refers to this new house as a ‘beach house’ on weekends and a more ‘permanent’ style family home during weekdays. “The idea was also to be closer to the beach and in a more bushland environment,” adds Martin, pointing out the creek that runs down to the beach from the sprawling 2,350-square-metre site.
Although this plot is large by urban standards, only one-third of it could actually be built on, given it’s on a cliff face with a stream. Originally an English-style garden that formed part of a large estate (comprising six parcels of land that was subdivided), the brief to MRTN Architects was for a low-slung single storey house. And, as with a beach house, a dwelling that was low maintenance and would allow the family to enjoy their new surrounds. While some of the neighbours chose to build McMansions, the Mt Eliza house is fairly modest by today’s standards, at just over 200 square metres in area. A separate studio that also doubles as guest accommodation, which also formed part of the brief, allows the owners to run their business from home.
Constructed in concrete block and partially clad in silver top ash, the single storey, split level house follows the contours of the land (hence the raked ceiling that varies in height). Framed with outdoor terraces to the north, the floor plan was deliberately skewed to take advantage of the views over Port Phillip Bay and also Melbourne’s skyline, a rarity to have a combination of the two vistas. Given the change in levels, combined with the honed concrete block walls expressed in the home’s interior, there’s a nudge to the 1970s, but also a place for contemporary living. And while there’s a central passage that links the single carport at the front to the kitchen, dining and sunken lounge to the rear, this has been ‘carved’ out with strategically placed blade walls to maximise the northern light, and importantly the water views. “As you descend into the floor plan, these views become sharper,” says Martin.
While the children’s bedrooms and shared bathroom are located on the southern wing, they have a rumpus room on the other side of the passage that leads to their own outdoor terrace (loosely delineated by concrete blade walls). However, they also enjoy using the sunken lounge adjacent to the kitchen, with its built-in stereo system/banquette seating that forms a balustrade between the kitchen. Given the brief was for a simple and economical house that was also low maintenance, MRTN Architects used a restrained palette of materials, including charred concrete floors and, in the kitchen, oak joinery and a feature wall of cream Japanese tiles. These tiles not only reflect the sunlight but also the outlines of the landscape beyond. Other areas, such as the dining room, also benefit from unimpeded views of the garden and swimming pool, with the concrete block feature wall separating the sunken lounge featuring a large aperture. “My clients were keen to have open plan living, but also sight lines that allowed the family the cohesion, but also separation, they were after,” says Martin.
The house is certainly low key, with the emphasis placed on creating a relaxed and uncomplicated home. There may not be a basement for car parking or a room dedicated to a home theatre or gymnasium. But it’s certainly a great house that offers a new way of living and is still relatively close to all the action in Melbourne. “A lot of people are starting to reassess what they actually need in a house, rather than simply putting together an extensive wish-list that really has no bearing to the way they actually want to live,” adds Martin.