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Upon reflection

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Translucent glass walls and symmetrical pools add a reflective quality to this house, which has a strong internal focus

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Adventurous design can be both exciting and rewarding. But designing a very contemporary house to sit in a neighbourhood of traditional, gabled homesteads can present a challenge.

When Dan and Gail Cook looked to build a home in such a location, they veered away from traditional architecture, opting instead for a distinctive, modernist design by architect Jim Nagle and associate Robert Neylan.

"We wanted a pure design that reflected a very disciplined approach," says Gail Cook. "Steel and glass were key materials. But while we loved the idea of living in a glass house, we didn't want to look out at the neighbours."

Nagle says this paradox was compounded by the long, narrow shape of the lot, which didn't allow room to create a private, landscaped retreat.

"The solution was to create an internal focus for the house – a courtyard that could provide both privacy and a pleasant outlook for the owners," he says.

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From the front, the house gives little away, however. Translucent glass walls effectively enable the house to turn its back to the street. While the owners can see out, the view from the front is reflective.

"Even though this house is much more modern than the surrounding homes, it is a quiet insertion in the neighbourhood," says Nagle.

A sense of symmetry enhances the simplicity of this front elevation – the central path is flanked by swards of smooth green grass and leads across a reflection pool that wraps around the front of the house.

"The pool, which flows above graniteslabs, partly extends under the house," says Nagle. "And although the pool is just 2cm deep, it imparts a sense that the house is floating."

Aluminium panels line the front entrance and continue into the house beyond a pivoting glass door. This opens to the central axis, providing a slice of the view, through glazed panels, from the front to the back.

Using exterior materials on the inside of the house and exposing the structural elements of the building is a crucial aspect of the design. The semi-industrial look of the steel beams and the frameless Spider glass panels with their stainless steel fixing mechanisms enhances the contemporary museum quality of the house.

"It was also designed to be a gallery for the owners' large collection of art works," says Nagle. "This is another reason for the double-height volumes of the entrance and living room. We have also created a large expanse of wall space in the living room."

To further enhance the gallery effect, Neylan incorporated linear skylights in several areas, including the entrance and the living room. Here, they allow natural light to wash the eastern wall. A strip of glazing at the bottom of the wall helps to create the effect that the wall suspended.

All the other exterior walls in the living areas are glazed. Sliding doors open to the large internal courtyard and a lap pool that runs along the main north-south axis.

"As with the house itself, the courtyard has a very minimal design and is the visual focus of all the living areas and the master bedroom," says Nagle. "A slight drop in level adds to its drama. This change also means there are three steps down to the dining room and master bedroom, which enhances the volume of these spaces."

Circulation areas in the house, at either end of the lap pool, feature Spider glass that also appears suspended. These areas, which also line up along the main axis, enhance the transparency of the house.

In keeping with the minimalist look, the kitchen features streamlined stainless steel cabinetry. A low strip window provides natural light and a view of greenery outdoors, but allows the house to maintain its inward focus.

Large, cantilevered ebony wood panels create a strong contrast to the white walls of the kitchen, dining room and a walkway on the second floor.

"Floating these panels so they are separate from the main structure of the house clarifies these spaces and makes it easier to read the whole volumes," says Nagle. "They also introduce a textural element and help relieve the cool feel of the glass and steel. Similarly, the granite and teak wood flooring add visual warmth."

The second story incorporates three bedrooms, a sculpture garden and a mezzanine walkway along the side of the courtyard. This features stainless steel bakers' mesh, which also acts as a sun screen for the courtyard.

A basement accommodates a home theatre and a climate-controlled gallery to display the owners' antique doll collection.

First published date: 04 March 2005

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Credit List

Architect James L Nagle, FAIA, Nagle Hartray Danker Kagan McKay Penney Architects (Chicago) and Robert J Neylan AIA (associate), Robert J Neylan Architects
Structural engineer Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer & Associates
Main contractor Thos S Byrne General Contractors (Texas)
Cladding Aluminium plate from PCI
Roof PVC from Carlise
Window and door joinery St Gobain, Kawneer and Megawood from DGB
Stair structure Big D Metalworks
Stair glass DGB Glass Inc
Elevator cab H&B Construction
Elevator mechanicals Schindler Group
Flooring Absolute granite from Dee Brown
Wallcoverings Wenge panels from Julian & Sons
Paints Benjamin Moore
Lighting consultants Regional Electric
Heating Trane geothermal from Dynaten
Home theatre Dallas Sight & Sounds
Window treatments St Gobain Mecho shade and Kawneer from DGB
Sculpture in lobby Bronze by Juan Hamilton; red sculpture by John McCracken
Kitchen manufacturer Boffi
Cabinetry Brushed stainless steel from Boffi
Splashback Mirror from DGB
Benchtops Brushed stainless steel from Boffi and granite from Dee Brown
Sink Franke
Taps KWC from Dynaten
Oven, cooktop and ventilation Gaggenau
Refrigerator Sub-Zero
Dishwasher Miele
Bathroom vanity Wenge with black oil finish by Ron Benoit
Bathroom taps Tetra Classic from Dornbracht