When Australian architect Roger Nelson and his wife, Jane, decided to build a home in the bush to escape their busy life in the city of Melbourne, they initially planned to build a permanent home. They began work on the design, but by the time they secured a planning permit eight years later, their needs and wants had shifted.
"We made the decision to keep going, rather than lose the permit," says Roger. "But, we now wanted to build a retreat instead of a permanent residence. We wanted to keep it simple, use natural products, and for it to be fluid, private, and beautiful."
They also realized that Roger didn’t have the time or the right scale of work at NH Architecture—which specializes in complex public and mixed-use projects—to realize the reimagined project. So, they decided to work with Ben Shields, founder of architecture studio DREAMER, to reimagine the project as a holiday retreat. "We were looking for a young architect who would bring a new interpretation to our thoughts and would work together with us and take the work we had done into reality," says Roger.
The site is just west of the coastal town of Lorne, a two-hour drive from Melbourne. "When we first visited, what we saw excited us," says Roger. "There was space, privacy, views, and a town—plus 25 acres of bush full of wildlife. Koalas greeted us and kangaroos hopped past—we were sold."
The new brief was developed around a desire for retreat and escape, as well as a functional need for clearly developed zones and the ability for the home to work equally well for two or seven people. "Jane and Roger were very keen to have a great connection to the outdoors and wanted to be able to walk out onto grassed glades from most parts of the house," says Shields.
When developing the form, the design team looked to hyper-local Australian vernacular architecture, including cottages, sheds, and rural buildings on the stretch of highway between Geelong and Anglesea. "We love the idea of the familiar, and using the familiar to engage people in the new," says Shields. "For us, the veranda and gable roof were these familiar elements that we felt would not only meet the functional and spatial requirements, but also allow for a level of nostalgic engagement with a building that is contemporary."
The home is essentially two sheds—a private sleeping wing to the east and a more public living wing to the west—connected by a glazed entry gallery with a brass door. The sleeping wing has three bedrooms and can be closed off with a series of seamless pivot doors and sliders. "If it is just Jane and Roger at home, it will still feel like a compact house," says Shields.
The "living shed" is a larger, more open space with a central joinery unit that divides the space into kitchen/dining and living areas. "It was a conscious decision to separate the living and meal spaces," says Shields. "It is something that both the clients and we ourselves believe can work really well, as it adds a level of diversity and means that more people can occupy the different areas and still retain a level of privacy."
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The entire home has been built using a simple and refined material palette of timber, concrete, and brass. "Reducing the number of materials helped to avoid visual clutter and deliver on the key requirement from the clients that the building feel like a retreat," says Shields.
One of the main challenges in the design was bushfire management—this is what made obtaining a planning permit a tricky and lengthy process. As a result, there were a number of restrictions on the design of the building, from the choice of timber used externally to the type of glass and the type of vegetation in close proximity to the home. "Above and beyond the standards, we implemented a gutterless roof design to reduce fire danger through ember attack, and the siting of the house was key in ensuring adequate defendable space," reveals Shields.
"Having an architect as a client is not without its challenges, but the design conversations and explorations you can have with clients that are already very experienced with building are on a different level," says Shields. "With this project, I genuinely love the external resolution—the way the roofs work and verandas work and how the charred timber comes together with the brass and galvanized roof sheet."
Although the project was a decade in the making, the couple believes it was worth the wait. "After ten years, it was hard to believe that it was finally done," says Roger. "The end result being so much more than we could have dreamt, and we have so much gratitude for the handcrafted nature of the space and the craftsmen who brought it together. It is a work of art, and we get to live in it."
Builder: GD Construction
Structural Engineer: 4D Workshop
Civil Engineer: Tomkinson Group
Landscape Design: Eckersley Garden Architecture
Lighting Design: Inlite
Interior Design: DREAMER
Cabinetry Design: Mawson Joinery
Photographer: Rory Gardiner
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