Perched on a rocky sea-side outcrop in South Coogee, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, this dwelling by architect Renato D'Ettorre provides a vantage point from which one can take in many generous vistas.
To the east lies the ocean with its unbroken horizon to the south lies Lurline Bay nestled in a nook of the headland, to the north west the city twinkles in the distance, and to the west lies Sydney's suburban sprawl.
Working within the dynamics of the site, this highly crafted building has been sculpted from stone, brick, glass, concrete and wood.
The use of these largel maintenance free materials, along with the response to light, site and views, makes it an impressive abode a sequence of dramatic volumes incorporating airy living spaces, light wells, and private, sheltered outdoor zones.
Lightweight semi-permeable walls feature throughout, while durable materials also lend a sense of permanence and sensuous tactility.
Four years in the making, Renato also worked on the construction, which enabled him to fine tune the design and watch the project morph from idea to reality. Viewed from the street this scheme evinces a robust and confident
architectural language, with soft sunbaked tonings reminiscent of a mediterranean villa.
The fortress-like facade made from exposed
concrete, brickwork and a neutral-toned rendered finish using natural sands comprises series of quirky battlements and crenellations. Yet it avoids being kitsch.
It is brave and simple, strongly resolved and
thoroughly modern. Entry to the front courtyard is through a western red cedar and stain-
less sted framed gate. The courtyard is a rhythmic landscape of pebbles, shrubs, water features and a fragrant frangipani tree.
While the theme is formal and structured, it retains a sense of whimsy and sensuality. A school of carp nips at the surface of the pond. Slatted western red cedar screens conceal the weighty front door. They roll back to reveal the interior of the home, while also providing
privacy and ventilation.
Once inside, the eye is drawn inward (along the main entry spine, past a wall of glazed windows, concrete columns and luminous textures) and upward (into the rear of a sinuous staircase, lofty double heights chequered with skylights, and a scalloped walkway).
There is an abundance of light and ventilation in this well of the home, which has the appeal of a gallery or a dramatic public space.
"I tried to create communal spaces that weren't normally attributed to domestic interiors, where people enter and families congregate," says Renato. "I like the appeal of big foyers and galleries, they have a heightened experience of architecture using double volumes."
The building's form makes robust curvilinear explorations, where spaces unfurl off the serpentine stair. The floor plan describes a series of arcs and loops, which builds up a rhythm as one walks through the house.
"The idea was to imbue the building with a sensuousness, and give it a sculpted form by using these sinuous walls inside and out," says Renato.
The polished surfaces of the interior the terrazzo floors, granite bench tops, suede seating and stainless sted -juxtapose the raw, unpainted exterior.
As Renato points out, he intentionally selected "natural materials imbued with their inherent hues and textures, to keep the colours warm and natural throughout".
Walking along the entry spine, the informal and formal sitting spaces, dining room and kitchen are situated to the left. From stainless
steel framed windows, facing south-east, these living spaces have views of the ocean.
And while the seating in the informal and formal sitting rooms is smartly inbuilt -with suede leather, fabric, cushions and the
like -the dining room is home to an elongated table with a dozen moulded plywood Eames chairs. The core of this space features a curved wall, made from raw unpolished limestone. It discreetly shields the kitchen and dining room from the front of the house. The result is a cosy dining room, which follows
the curve of the wall, and a private, partially hidden kitchen with granite benchtops, tiled supports, rock maple joinery and stainless steel.
In close proximity to the kitchen is a circular terrace, which provides views over an elongated swimming pool and a plethora of similar backyards (and swimming pools) -all crowded along the ridge.
Adjacent to these living areas, a sizeable sunny outdoor courtyard replicates the serenity experienced in the front courtyard.
"This north facing courtyard is what I call the heart of the house, as all living spaces look onto it. It has colour, texture, vegetation, water and light -it really is the focal point of the house," Renato explains.
Tucked near the curved wall of the dining room, a gently spiralling terrazzo staircase leads to the lower (entertaining) level of the house. It has an expansive polished concrete floor, a chunky granite-topped bar and glazed doors which lead out to the expansive decks surrounding the swimming pool. Or, if you'd prefer to explore the bedrooms upstairs, sweeping blackbutt stairs lead to a huge landing -the size of most inner city offices.
The landing has inbuilt seating and cedar slats echoed from the entrance, while the slats roll back to reveal the street and an alternative view of the landscaped garden.
Beyond the landing, a scalloped viewing platform allows access to each of the four bedrooms. It also provides views across to the adjacent courtyard and into the colonnaded lightwell of the middle level. The breezy bedrooms have inbuilt rock maple beds and wardrobes. The luxurious main bedroom has a private terrace and a highly-veined marble bathroom, with unbroken views of the horizon.
Small juliette balconies in the children's bedrooms allow for extra airflow, while overhead clerestory glazing lets the winter sun in. "Clerestories were even used in medieval architecture above the nave
in a cathedral. They're a good trick for allowing natural light in, and in summer letting rising hot air out, and they're high enough so even adja-
cent buildings don't obstruct the light," explains Renato.
Throughout, great emphasis has been placed on following the progress of the sun, and the quality of light that enters the building. No air conditioning was installed, as sea breezes cool the interior in the summer and the sunlight ensures warmth in winter.
This evocative yet timeless house is imbued with diverse references and intricately executed geometries of intersecting curves and angles. With its unique forms and volumes it's a world away from homogeneous city living, and with its mediterranean overtones it is a joyous assertion of Renato's own cultural background -as an Australian with an Italian heritage.
And as a retreat for living, the building is imbued with a contemplative, serene and sensual beauty.