written by:
photos by:
February 27, 2009
Originally published in Learning From Down Under

Architect-sculptor double act Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo first came to our attention with their Cocoon weekender, a steel-clad blimp suspended in a canopy on the Australian coastline.

After a day in the office downstairs, Michael Bellemo and Cat Macleod congregate on their bleacher-like steps with their kids Marco, six, Flora, four, and 19-year-old Celeste.

Photo by 
1 / 7
The building is a funky landmark in a drab industrial laneway.
Photo by 
2 / 7
Macleod’s handmade bedroom partition breaks up the open loftlike space and provides a bit of privacy for her and Bellemo. An Artemide Castore suspension light illuminates both the bedroom and kitchen below.
Photo by 
3 / 7
Architect-sculptors Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo constructed their Melbourne, Australia, house to serve as their primary residence as well as their headquarters for their practice. Inside the office, Bellemo keeps a model of the house. The office is se
A row of windows casts light into the office, where Bellemo keeps a model of the house. The office is separated from the garage by a bright yellow sliding door.
Photo by 
4 / 7
A mid-century Australian sofa discovered at a flea market and vibrant, eclectic art soften the architectural edges of the living room.
Photo by 
5 / 7
The eye-catching kitchen cabinets behind Cat Macleod and her daughter, Celeste, were custom-built in lemon Liri Laminate by Amerind. The island bench is made from the same alpine ash used on the floor and the stairs all the way up to the master bedroom. <
The eye-catching kitchen cabinets behind Cat Macleod and her daughter, Celeste, were custom-built in lemon Liri Laminate by Amerind. The island bench is made from the same alpine ash used on the floor and the stairs all the way up to the master bedroom. Read the full article here.
Photo by 
6 / 7
In the master bedroom, Flora sits in front of a clever divider Macleod created out of engineering felt.
Photo by 
7 / 7
bellemo and cat house living room stairs bedroom 0

After a day in the office downstairs, Michael Bellemo and Cat Macleod congregate on their bleacher-like steps with their kids Marco, six, Flora, four, and 19-year-old Celeste.

Bellemo/Macleod House

Their new primary home (and HQ for their practice, Bellemo & Cat) in Melbourne is a funky, split-level cube wrapped in an extraordinary printed facade. Macleod describes the making of an eccentric, multifunctional, personal sanctuary.

We definitely didn’t want to renovate 
something. We wanted to start from scratch so it’s all totally personalized. When we found the land, we actually liked the grungy nature of it in the back of a laneway. It was small, affordable, and instantly an architectural challenge. And we loved the fact that it was north-facing, with nothing north of us that would block our view. There are lots of artists and it’s a busy working place, so we thought we could also run a business from here.

We had to work quickly because it’s a big mortgage. We were the builders as well. Michael physically built the Cocoon house at Wye River; having never built a house before, he took on a building that was completely round, on a cliff, and two-and-a-half hours from anywhere. Totally mad. And it took us a long time, three or four years.

That house is so sculptural you could virtually say it is a sculpture in the bush, whereas this house is much more pragmatic. It’s a big rectangle with a print on it. And with all the green, it’s very peaceful in here. It’s 
a bit tropical, like being in an artificial garden in some ways.

As sculptors, we actually build quite big things that don’t have to be signed off as buildings, so we get to play around with form, and that’s great because we feed that information back into our practice.

We had a lot to put in the house: 
Our office, two kids, offsite parking, and 
we had to get a balcony or some sort of outdoors area. But it never feels like you’re in a box because of all the level changes. We’ve got a garage between the office space and the home, and we’ve got two separate doors. It’s like Get Smart. You go through one door, close it, then you go through the other door, and then you’re in the office. Just having the garage in between gives you a buffer, from an acoustic point 
of view and the physical distance.

Instead of putting the living areas 
on the ground floor we put them on the upper floors so you get the light and the view and the sense of removal from the immediate environment.

We wanted the kids in our living space but not in our face, not under our feet. We were in a terrace house before, and the lounge room was covered in children’s toys. The kids are four and six, and here they’re within eyeshot. Their room is a little bit of a den, and they have their own deck out there. We were going to have them sleeping in some sort of pod, then we realized it was a bit too close. The little people’s bedroom downstairs is tiny, but they’re tiny people. And they’re happy there. When they grow, we’ll probably go up to the next level. Our older child, who is 19, lives around the corner, but she stays here sometimes. She takes over the garage and makes costumes; she’s into performance.

As architects we often design split-levels, but we haven’t done stairs that are also seats like here. They’ve become an important transition space from the grown-up zone. The kids are always here reading, doing puzzles. Yesterday, I sat here with our youngest one, Flora, and we polished our fingernails.

One of the advantages of being the owner-builder and also the way that we work is that we allowed ourselves a reasonable amount of flexibility. But there are only three materials in the whole house—–the Laminex is the same, the tiles are the same, and the exterior 
cladding comes inside through the walls. And there are three paint colors—–
white, turquoise, and apple green. It is so much clearer when you’ve just got the one exterior material.

Using Astroturf outside on the deck was a cost issue. Also, there’s too much traffic for what would be a small strip of grass. Our kids are running up there all the time, and Michael plays bocce.

We’ve arranged the house just how we like it, and it’s the warmest, lightest house I’ve ever lived in. You know, we could have bought an amazing painting, but we chose to make our own artwork of the whole building instead.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
May 26, 2016
starting over sturgeon bay facade tongue and groove new growth cypress  0
After a devastating fire, architect David Salmela designs a house to replace a beloved lakeside retreat in Wisconsin.
May 26, 2016
Modern home with brick base and cedar rain screen on top level
An architect reimagines an outdated brick garage by designing a graceful new family home atop its foundation.
May 26, 2016
sardenya lr 7
A renovation brings light and order to a Spanish flat, maintaining its standout ceilings.
May 25, 2016
pow 5 25 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 25, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent thom fougere winnipeg canada cthom fougere studio thom fougere saddle chair 2
Designer Thom Fougere plays with scale and typology to create playful furniture.
May 25, 2016
prs my16 0067 v001 1
In the worlds of architecture and design, we’re always looking for the best ways of supporting sustainable building practices. This awareness doesn’t have to stop at our driveways but rather, it can extend to the cars we choose to take us to the places we go each day. With Toyota’s 2016 Prius, the daily task of getting from point A to point B can now be experienced with a new level of efficiency, safety, and style.
May 25, 2016
mountfordarchitects western australia
On a narrow site in Western Australia, Mountford Architects makes the most of a tight spot—with an eye to the future.
May 25, 2016
San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016
With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016
beverly hills living room piano view
Architect Noah Walker, principal of Los Angeles–based studio Walker Workshop, shares completed and work-in-progress residential designs on his Instagram page (@noah_walker). Take a peek at some of the striking modern houses here, and tour the Venice House on the Dwell Home Tours on June 26.
May 20, 2016
ripple effect san fancisco small space yard outdoor monica viarengo pebble mosiac artificial turf slide
A San Francisco landscape designer finds a small-space solution that’s anything but narrow-minded.
May 20, 2016
Oslo living room with light wood floors and wood slab table
A pair of designers in Oslo, armed with tricks for introducing color and daylight, remake their compact late-19th-century apartment.
May 20, 2016
family affair backyard addition portrait
In coastal Massachusetts, a resourceful couple and their equally enterprising children use reclaimed materials to create a versatile 168-square-foot backyard building.
May 20, 2016
speed machine australian beachside prefab archiblox facade colorbond ultra steel cladding queensland blue gum wood
With little time to waste, an Australian firm erects an efficient prefab overlooking the ocean.
May 20, 2016
Christian Benimana at Design Indaba
When he was younger, there wasn't a single architecture school in his country. Now, as part of MASS Design Group, Christian Benimana shares how architecture can heal and inspire Africa.
May 19, 2016