Reclaimed Brick Ties Together a Sustainable Australian Home

TRIAS Studio follows a “less but better” mindset for a couple seeking to downsize to a modest and eco-friendly home.
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Impressed with the student exhibition work of architects Jennifer McMaster and Jonathan Donnelly, a couple in search of a new home took a chance on Sydney–based emerging practice TRIAS Studio—cofounded alongside Casey Bryant—and commissioned the young architects’ first project in a suburban, coastal neighborhood north of New Castle, Australia. 

Sustainably sourced, radially sawn silvertop ash clads the exterior and will develop a gray patina over time. The architects wanted to celebrate the timber’s rough grain.

Wanting to downsize to a modest home they could retire in, the couple desired a minimalist and timeless design that was further refined in a highly collaborative process with the architects that spanned a year and a half. Sustainability was also at the forefront of the build, from the repurposing of post-war materials to the installation of solar panels that cover almost all of the clients’ electricity needs.

A south elevation view of the home. The southern porch, which faces the river, is the "extroverted" courtyard, while the northern courtyard offers a more intimate and "introverted" feel.

"This house is defined by a spirit of ‘less but better,’ with every decision a careful negotiation of longevity and value," the architects say of the project, named Three Piece House after its three pavilion-like structures set on a wedge-shaped site. "The project is also an excellent example of the unique solutions that can be pursued using the complying development process."

Glazed sliding doors blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living and help bring in cooling cross breezes from the coast.

Clustered around a sunny courtyard, Three Piece House’s three volumes—a main house, comprising two volumes (one for living and the other for sleeping) connected via a sun-soaked reading corridor, and a free-standing guest studio—are oriented for optimal passive solar conditions, including access to cooling ocean breezes. Recycled brick paving ties the volumes together.

The architects note, "The materiality of Three Piece House is robust and resilient, as befits a windswept, coastal site. The textures and tones of the house are raw and rugged, and have been deliberately chosen to become more beautiful as they age."

A sun-soaked reading corridor connects the living pavilion to the sleeping pavilion (seen in front).

The building placement was further informed by flood control requirements. Instead of elevating the home on stilts, the architects raised the building on solid masonry platforms built of brick reclaimed from a demolished building and rendered in earthen-red tones to match the rusty reds of passing ships. The brick also adds thermal mass for reducing the home’s energy footprint.

To comply with flood control laws, the home is elevated on a solid brick platform, a design inspired by Jørn Utzon’s text, "Platforms and Plateaus."

"This gesture is both inherently sustainable, and an act of storytelling: the new home rests upon the bones of the building before it," say architects, noting the sustainably sourced silvertop ash cladding.

A large corner window floods the living room with natural light and river views. The room is furnished with a vintage Parker sofa, Paper table by Gamfratesi, Hiroshima lounge chairs by Naoto Fukasawa, and River Weave Rug from Armadillo & Co.

The restrained and resilient material palette of the exterior is echoed in the interior, which is dressed in timber floors, white walls, and plywood ceilings. Repurposed bricks and indoor greenery weave color throughout, while carefully curated pieces, many of which are of Scandinavian design, deliver timeless style.

Tongue-and-groove Piccolo Eterno oak floorboards line the home. The dining room includes a vintage Alvar Aalto table paired with Lightwood Chairs by Jasper Morrison.

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The repurposed bricks, which were hand-cleaned by the clients, make another appearance as the anchored island bench. The countertop is Caesarstone, and the stools are Lightwood high stools by Jasper Morrison.

With an open-plan layout, tall ceilings, and large openings that pull the outdoors in, the Three Piece House feels much larger than its 1,227-square-foot size suggests. The project won the 2018 AIA NSW Architecture Award for new houses and the AIA Newcastle award for sustainability.

A Hedwig chair by David Ericsson anchors the reading corridor.

"Three Piece House is a dynamic and distinctive piece of architecture, and has brought beauty and dignity to a suburb not known for its architectural merit," the architects add. "It is a testament to small living in suburbia."

The bathroom walls are lined with Surface Gallery Flake White Ceramic tiles and paired with brick. The tapware is Astra Walker Icon Basin Mixer in Eco Brass.

The floors are Surface Gallery terrazzo gray tiles. A tiled bench was added in consideration of the clients who plan to retire in the home.

A peek into the flex room, located on the other side of the master bath.

In the 236-square-foot studio is a kitchen dressed in a minimalist palette.

Located in the garden, the studio accommodates visiting friends, family, and guests.

Three Piece House site plan

Three Piece House site plan floor plan

Three Piece House site plan section

Related Reading: 10 Modern Structures That Use Brick in Interesting Ways

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Trias /

Builder/ General Contractor: GTS Constructions

Structural Engineer: Northrop

Landscape Design Company: Sustainable Surrounds

Cabinetry Design/ Installation: Trias / GTS Constructions


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