by Neometro

An Iconic House by Renato D’Ettorre Architects

Architecture, Design - by Stephen Crafti

8th December, 2021

When architect Renato D’Ettorre’s clients requested that he create an ‘iconic’ house, there was initial trepidation. And although the site in Sydney’s Gordon’s Bay offers spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean, the bar was high.


As there’s a walkway that passes this house, thousands of people (particularly during the summer months) would also be the critics. “It’s such an exposed site that everyone was going to have an opinion. But our clients (a couple with three children) supported us from the outset,” says D’Ettorre, director of the practice. Aiming high from the start also rewarded the practice with the prestigious Wilkinson Award from the Australian Insitute of Architects (NSW Chapter).

Replacing a two-storey 1930s duplex that was past its use-by date, Renato D’Ettorre Architects created a new four-level house on a site of approximately 700 square metres. Constructed in concrete, brick, glass and with a ‘veil’ of terracotta-coloured breeze blocks, the house reveals a number of facades and forms, appearing to be chiselled out of its sandstone foundations. “I drew inspiration from the coastal setting, but I also had in my mind the approach of Alvar Aalto, whose teachings stressed the necessity to design a house that was commensurate with its location,” says D’Ettorre. It also required a certain level of patience from the client. “We could have easily used concrete breezeblocks (for that veil) but they didn’t seem to be the most appropriate material to create that softer Mediterranean feel,” he adds.

Given the fall of the land, entry to the Gordon’s Bay House is from the third level, directly below the main bedroom, ensuite and terrace which occupies a half level. On level three there’s a garage, home office, a study area for the children and protected outlooks thanks to these breezeblocks. “I didn’t want to reveal the views all at once. You’re conscious of the ocean beyond, but its not until you reach the lower levels that you really take in where you are and how unique this site is,” says D’Ettorre, who created a discrete façade to the street that consists of Mondrian-style windows that pierce the brick wall. “These windows are all at eye level, so you can enjoy seeing people stroll by or feel more part of the scene from the southern terrace that leads from the main bedroom. 

Luscious green marbled treads lead to level two that includes the galley-style kitchen and informal dining and living area. Concrete ceilings and floors frame the kitchen joinery made from bead-blasted stainless steel – creating a slightly industrial aesthetic. And surprisingly, at a time where lifts in homes is the norm, this one is only linked by stairs, with a spiral steel staircase connecting the main living spaces to the three children’s bedrooms and ensuites below. “I’m not a huge fan of lifts. There’s something quite magical about using stairs and enjoying the way the levels gradually unfold,” says D’Ettorre, who also included an area for the children to hang out and meet their friends, along with a music room and cellar, the latter almost forming part of the sandstone rockface. 

D’Ettorre also included a swimming pool that ‘hugs’ the house, creating more internalised water views and allowing one side of the pool to create a continual play of light into the lower levels.

This house is considerably more than the views which it embraces. Walls are often angled, almost scalloped into the built form with areas such as the ensuite bathroom to the main bedroom appearing to be outside rather than protected by glass. The Gordon’s Bay house has become an ‘iconic’ house even though this is a tall order for any architect, past or present. “When I first heard that word, I felt it was almost onerous, well beyond my abilities,” says D’Ettorre. The jury judging this house for the awards obviously conferred that it was now iconic!

Architecture + Design | Renato D’Ettorre Architects

Photography | Justin Alexander

Words | Stephen Crafti 


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