To describe this new house, designed by Matt Gibson Architecture and Design and located in bayside Melbourne, is an exercise in the careful use of adjectives and qualification. For to speak solely of the materials as we see them from the street – stacked stone, blackbutt timber, black steel, glass, lots of concrete – is to risk conjuring mental images of something massive, monolithic, possibly austere.
But in the hands of this practice, these materials have been used to achieve a very different effect, as you can surely see in the photographs accompanying this review. The timber-and-stone-clad lower level recedes among the shadows of the front garden; this part of the facade is wonderfully textured, with the black-steel-shrouded entry providing a central focal point. But what really catches the eyes of passers-by is the upper level. Essentially a concrete frame to a wall of glass, it’s large and rectilinear but certainly not massive or monolithic, flaring outwards like some elegant aperture for observing the outside world.
The surprising lightness of the upper level is largely a result of the concrete’s wide, flat profile and artfully tapered edges – it narrows from a four-hundred-millimetre-thick wall to one-hundred-millimetre-thick rounded edges at the front. This combination of materiality and execution explicitly represents the architect’s synthesis of his clients’ brief: they wanted a home imbued with a mid-century modernist sensibility, and concrete was to be a key building material.
Although the house looks from the outside as though it is clearly separated into two levels, inside the relationship between lower and upper levels is far less binary. Passing through the black front door, visitors are delivered into a double-height lobby that feels as much like a gallery as it does a residential entrance.
The white walls are hung with paintings and awash with sunlight coming in through roof windows, and a short balcony provides a glimpse of a walkway between upstairs bedrooms.
A few steps further into the house, the ceiling height lowers before opening out again into another double-height space, this one much more expansive, with living, dining and kitchen areas, and concealable sliding glass panels that open out to the north-facing rear garden and the pool and cabana beyond. It’s a lofty space made all the more airy thanks to its direct connection to the outdoors, and the subtle palette of white plaster walls, polished concrete floors and oak-panelled ceiling does little to distract from the outward view. Materials and colours have been chosen as a subtle backdrop to the clients’ daily life as well as to their art collection.