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A village atmosphere

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To shoehorn this contemporary home into the footprint of a house previously on the site, the architect designed a disparate series of towers and boxes


As our cities grow, so too does the pressure on finding land suitable for building on. Add to this council restrictions imposed to safeguard the rights of residents, and it's easy to see why contemporary urban architecture is becoming increasingly challenging.

The original home constructed on this site had burnt down and council by-laws required that any new building would be restricted to using the existing footprint.

Architect Dion McCarthy of Designarc had previously designed a house for the owners of this site, so was asked to take on this project.

"The husband is an enthusiastic admirer of modernist architecture, but his wife prefers a house with a warmer, more comfortable feel. She wanted her home to be a safe haven, rather than a wide-open, glass showcase," says McCarthy.

"To address her concerns, yet still adhere to the contemporary theme, we came up with a design that includes four disparate towers and boxes – a village concept where the different elements speak to each other."


The design loosely draws its inspiration from the hill villages of Tuscany with their many towers. In this case, each structure contains a living space with a different function and is defined by the materials it is finished in.

Two plastered towers flank the front entrance, living rooms and the upstairs master suite to the left and an office on the right.

In the French limestone-clad tower in the centre of the house – and representing the village square – is a double-height entry foyer and the main hallway and staircase. Hidden from the street, behind the three other the structures, a shorter, plastered tower contains spare bedrooms and bathrooms.

"A limited palette of materials and colours contributes to the contemporary appearance of the house," says the architect.

"However, materials were chosen to ensure it feels warm and welcoming, rather than formal and antiseptic. This simplicity also helps to tone down the active layout of the house."

To maintain the theme, interior and exterior finishes are the same throughout the house.

For the walls of the plastered towers, the architect chose warm, earthy Tuscan colours, which complement the warmth of wood cabinetry built into most rooms. Cabinetry and floors are all in Anegre – a light-coloured timber with a distinctive grain pattern.

To introduce light and air into the house, most rooms have large sliding or French doors that open onto courtyards. Few of the rooms have opening windows, instead relying on air circulation through the doors from the courtyards.

"Because the site was hemmed in by neighbours, and we had to work within the existing footprint, landscaping was very important to ensure the whole concept worked," says McCarthy.

"We worked closely with the landscape architect to create a seamless whole. A large proportion of the experience of the house is the expression of the landscaping," he says.

Landscaping introduces both formality and informality into different parts of the garden; adds texture and interest; breaks up the axis of the house; and creates and highlights the entry point.

"By working with the landspace designer, we have ensured that there are unobstructed views, both from inside looking out and from outside looking in. For example, by using fixed glazing and hidden window frames, nothing distracts the eye when looking into or out of the house.

"The effect is that wherever you are in the house, you feel close to and part of the garden," McCarthy says.

Even the staircase to the upper level is designed to maintain the transparency of the house. Positioned to one side of the stone tower behind the dining room, it is constructed from slotted stainless steel straps and fixed glass, and is suspended from the building structure of the upper level. Laminated maple treads add rigidity to the staircase.

Upstairs in the master suite a fireplace introduces warmth to the bedroom. Windows here are high enough off the floor to block out the street, while at the same time framing distant views of skyscrapers on the city skyline.

First published date: 22 October 2004

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Credit List

Architect and kitchen design Dion McCarthy, Designarc (Los Angeles)
Landscape architect Michael Schneider, Orange Street Studio
Main contractor Kambur Development
Structural engineer Dan Echeto
Roof Elite Roofing
Door and window joinery Aluminium from Fleetwood
Tiles Beige limestone from European Stone Concepts
Flooring Beech from M&F Hardwood Floors
Paint Benjamin Moore
Lighting Halo
Heating Split System from Carrier
Home theatre Wraytel
Kitchen and bathroom cabinetry manufacturer Pico Cabinets
Kitchen cabinets Anegre
Countertops and backsplash Green granite from Roma Marble
Tapware KWL
Oven, hobs and ventilation Thermador
Microwave Dacor
Refrigerator Sub-Zero
Dishwasher Bosch
Bathroom basin Kohler
Bathroom taps Harden