Concept design – June 2015
DA – August 2015
Construction September 2015- 2016

The Story

The Lymington house, a curved green-grey façade of wide windows and screened polycarbonate ‘bubbles, sits high above Kangaroo Bay in Southern Tasmania. Uphill, the stand of protected Blue Gums (a habitat of the endangered Swift Parrot) provided cues for the building form, the need for maximum solar gain, low window reflectivity and the colour palette.

The dense stand of Blue Gums to the west cut all of the late winter sun, so the house is designed for maximum solar gain. Another key aim throughout the house was therefore to achieve maximum light penetration; the result is a lovely play of light through the house all day (and often at night). The stunning views to the south east are the focus, in deliberately sparse interior detailing. The sole female owner requested a low maintenance building, in which she could easily entertain guests, but also shut off her living zone, while they were staying. The building develops the architect’s existing practice of designing low-impact, narrow houses, in which views can be seen ‘through’ as well as ‘from’. This client had seen another of the architect’s recent projects, which displays this principle, and that of aging-in-place and realised these attributes were essential in her final home. All windows are double-glazed, but the stars are the 13 Velux Roof Windows over the northwest spine, which moderate ventilation and light. Low reflectivity glass (0-10% reflectivity) to all windows minimises Swift Parrots impacts. Two LaserLite polycarbonate ‘bubbles’ function as conservatories, openable for venting in the summer and retaining warm air in the winter.

The owner had four requirements, and each has been achieved beyond her expectations; low maintenance, a space that allowed for aging-in-place, a building that sits ‘quietly’ in the landscape and one comprising two bedrooms and ‘magic’. The latter refers to the ability of the spaces to delight, and the wonderful play of light – a ‘changing panorama of colours and clouds’. The inner living area is flanked by two ‘floating’ polycarbonate ‘bubbles’; one a protrusion of the long kitchen, the other a private sitting area. The owner spends her day in these translucent ‘spaces with a view’ – in the mornings with a coffee and later in the day, with a book.

Above the house is a stand of very old and protected blue gums. The form of the house reflects several of the felled logs in this stand – roughly tubular, grey-green, burled at various points and now wedged into the slope. In turning its back to the west, the house’s log-like form required a simple cutting into of the slope. The view up to the house from the road reveals a low, green-grey building that replicates the pitch of the slope. When plantings of endemic grasses and low shrubs mature, the built form (and the driveway) will disappear completely. The colours of the house –interior and exterior – are those found in the stand of gums.

The owner’s bedroom, bathroom, private sitting room and study are clustered on the southern end of the linear build. The guest room and en suite, art room and third toilet (for “visitors who aren’t ‘staying’ guests”) are at the northern end, beside the garage. Between the two sleeping zones is a dining and living area, which opens, to the west, onto an entertaining area and above are four high-set clerestory windows. To the east is simply and totally view. The owner, a sole female, has health issues and all built-ins are designed for easy operation, reach and maintenance, without compromising storage, and aging-in-place. Cooking for six diners – a passion of the owner – is a ‘pleasure in the clever kitchen’.

The architect chose the interior, exterior paint colours and Marmoleum floor colour, based on the colours in the adjacent stand of Blue Gums – bark, leaf and stem. He setout the basic planting palette and sited the swale to move surface water into the adjacent reed bed. Due to the difficulty in finding local experienced joiners, a black Ikea kitchen replaced the original and markedly more expensive kitchen joinery specification. The architect’s considerable experience with specifying Velux Roof Windows, Marmoleum flooring, the Laserlite polycarbonate ‘bubbles’ and evacuated solar tube hot water system meant these could be ordered and installed quickly and correctly.

The project arrived on budget through careful negation with the client and contractors. For example, a black Ikea kitchen has replaced the original and markedly more expensive kitchen joinery specification. This then offset the installation of the (initially rejected) Marmoleum floor, which the client now loves, due to its warmth and softness underfoot. The thermal mass of the 200mm core-filled block wall, on the western side (R8+ insulation), the Velux windows (argon gas-filled) and evacuated solar tube hot water were also implemented to reduce long-term ongoing costs.

This is a steep site; however, the placement of the building has meant minimal site and water-flow disturbance. The house sits below a stand of protected Blues Gums, a habitat of the endangered Swift Parrot. As a result, all windows have low-reflectivity glass to minimise parrot impact.

Due to the architect’s experience with large span commercial buildings. This house has had the same principles applied, as in commercially grade insulation at R8+. The insulation comprises 300mm polystyrene under the slab and, on the eastern side, 25mm of polystyrene under corrugated iron and a breathable membrane. To the west, thermal mass is achieved with 200mm core-filled block wall, internal to the cladding. This building is an exemplar of aging-in-place, with ankle-height gutters, Marmoleum flooring in living/dining/kitchen and corridors and minimal overhead fittings. Cross ventilation is achieved transversely through the Velux windows and two Laserlite polycarbonate ‘bubbles’ on the south eastern facade, and axially down the rear spine of the house. These ‘bubbles’, a modern take on the traditional conservatory, generate and retain warm air in winter, but are easily vented in warmer months. The landscaping around the house is of two types; first, narrow and easy-to-maintain vegetables, herb and fragrant plant will be in close proximity to walkways and the retaining wall on the western side. All other planting will low-water tolerant endemic grasses and low shrubs, which will eventually conceal the house and driveway from the road below, bed the house into the existing paddock and not obscure any of the astonishing views.