Architects don’t often get a call out of the blue from an unknown voice at the end of the phone saying, ‘I think it’s about time you designed a house in the country,’” says architect David Seeley, director of Seeley Architects, who has established a reputation for designing homes along Victoria’s coastline. With his office at Torquay, Seeley regularly receives commissions to build new homes from Port Fairy to Barwon Heads and even on Tasmania’s coast. “This is my first country house,” says Seeley, who received the call after the owner saw a friend’s new house Seeley had designed in Fairhaven.

This distinctive new home, with its wave-like roof, is located at Lauriston, west of Kyneton, an hour-and-a-half’s drive north west of Melbourne. Surrounded by several hectares of rolling farmland, the owners, a couple of empty nesters who have an olive farm, were looking to upgrade from their 1970s ranch-style home on the property (virtually abutting this new home). The owners, one working in the timber industry, the other as a medical scientist, had contemplated knocking over the ‘70s house, given it was poorly insulated and relatively cold, particularly in winter. “It snows in the winter months and can get extremely hot in summer as it faces west,” says Seeley, who looked at the cost of renovating the old house which with this new place frames a courtyard garden. Apart from removing the 1970s garage, the homestead was only lightly touched, and is now used by the extended family and their children when staying overnight.
While some clients come to an architect with magazine tear sheets in their hands, the owners’ brief to Seeley was primarily a pragmatic list of two bedrooms plus a study or possible third bedroom. “In terms of design it was fairly open. As one of the owners works in the timber industry, using timber was raised in the initial client meetings. The medical scientist partner requested the more unusual detail of copper handles on the kitchen cupboards. For those reading with raised eyebrows, touching copper is a sterilising agent.

 

Seeley’s starting point for the design of the Lauriston house was the undulating topography, with its rows of olive plants, each one with a trough. This undulating form inspired the shape of the wave-like roof, extending approximately 22 metres in length. Constructed in aluminium, with a messmate ‘underbelly’, the roof form in particular has been compared to Hugh Burich’s iconic Castlecrag house built from the late 1960s to the early ‘70s.

However, Seeley sees this comparison as incorrect, given his mind was on the topography, and as Seeley rightly says, “The ceiling in Burich’s house was limited to a couple of curved forms only. “After this house was built, I also saw images of a Japanese beach pavilion with a curved roof form. There are endless examples,” he adds. This writer can also think of numerous examples, including the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.


Seeley’s roof also hovers and twists, beautifully suspended on fine black steel columns. “I like things to look fairly complicated, even though they’re quite simple.” Unlike the roof form, which to be frank, looks extremely complicated and appearing to require a ‘team of engineers’, the floor plan of the 300 square metre house is relatively straightforward. Appearing as two wings or ships that ‘graze’ each other, the home’s northern elevation includes the open plan living and dining area, leading to a covered deck (also under the wave-like roof).

The main bedroom and secondary bedroom, both with ensuites, form part of this wing. In the centre is a courtyard/deck, finished in bluestone. And orientated to the south, are the kitchen, guest powder room and a separate study. A mud room, typical of many country homes, also features here.

While the northern wing benefits from floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors, the southern wing, wrapped in steel, has narrow apertures given the southerly winds coming in over the colder months. “I was keen to frame vignettes of the property,” says Seeley, who also saw the protected deck at the heart of the floor plan as providing respite from the cold. As there’s a significant fall across the property, the main bedroom is ‘anchored’ to the land, while the dining area leading to a terrace, is cantilevered above a carport, laundry and storage areas.

Seeley was also mindful of the number of insects that gravitate to rural properties. So to ensure the owners aren’t continually waving off flies, he included a series of operable mesh sliding screens to the north. “These also act as a break for bushfires,” he says. Inside, the home is fairly stripped back and minimal. Bluestone floors in the courtyard are repeated in a central passage and in the mudroom, while timber, as requested in the brief, features elsewhere. “I took my cue for the bluestone from the pavements lining Piper Street (the main thoroughfare in Kyneton’s shopping strip),” says Seeley. Other materials, such as the beautiful timber and copper-stringed doors in the living areas, that conceal a bar and television equipment, add a tactile layer. Artist Martin Hodge’s distinctive three-dimensional steelwork of a man eating a kangaroo, adds a more ‘intimate moment’.

For Seeley, designing the Lauriston house was a new experience, as much for him as it was for the owners. “Irrespective of where a house is, I always look closely at the location and the inherent nature of the landscape. When you have the opportunity to frame an established golden ash (as is the case outside the main bedroom), why wouldn’t you?”

Everyone sees something different in the Lauriston house. For Seeley, “It’s like water washing over you. There’s a sense of calm as soon as you pass the threshold,” he adds.

Seeley Architects can be contacted on 5261 4163

Text by Stephen Crafti

Lifestyle & Design

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