For this family, designing their dream beachside home was just the beginning.
Who lives here: Provisional psychologist Kimberley; husband Ramon, a vascular surgeon; his sons, Jett, 12, and Hunter, 10; and 8 year-old poodle, Pepper.
Style of home: A newly built reverse brick veneer four-bedroom house spread out over four levels in Sydney’s coastal suburb of Clovelly.
Timeline: The old house was demolished and the new dwelling was built over a year-long period.
Cost: The cost of the build was more than $2 million.
The thing about designing a beach house is this: it’s hard not to make it clichéd. For Kimberley and Ramon, it wasn’t about knotted ropes and pictures of sailboats on the wall. They wanted something practical where the form reflected use, without being unnecessarily Brutalist and with beach-house appeal. With two kids in the house, Jett and Hunter, plus Pepper the poodle, it had to be functional as well as beautiful. “We didn’t want it to be fussy or pretentious,” says Kimberley.
Having knocked down the 1970s brick house that occupied the site, Kimberley and Ramon set about building their dream four-bedroom home over the course of a year. The couple brought in Melbourne firm Farnan Findlay Architects, who designed four floors to fit onto a relatively small footprint of 320 square metres, which makes the rooms feel cosier than your average contemporary building – a relief in a world of big white boxes.
Whenever it’s warm enough, the family start their day swimming in Sydney’s Gordons Bay, which their home overlooks “before the crowds set in,” says Kimberley. It’s such a routine that the house has been designed with a back gate that leads to the steps going onto the walkway and the bay. To hide the sand that inevitably creeps into the house, the couple rejected glossy timber floors, and instead cleverly opted for recycled barn oak. The oak floor’s rough texture keeps the spaces relaxed and echoes the aesthetic of the beach at the bottom of the hill.
In fact, texture was a driving force behind the design of this build and it’s what keeps it interesting from slab to roof. Inside, the house is decorated minimally with contrasting textural materials: timber on the balustrade; lightly veined marble in the kitchen; concrete for the staircase and the boys’ bedroom ceilings; and white-painted bagged brickwork for the walls. Beautiful brass handles on the cupboards link all the spaces together. “Rather than putting up a lot of artworks, the artwork is the interior itself,” says Ramon. “It’s like living in a work of art.”
The outside of the building is clad in spotted gum, linking it to the beach below. “We chose spotted gum because we wanted it to age,” says Kimberley of the wood that was once red, and is now a silvery grey. “Down at Gordons Bay, the fishermen’s boats sit on these old timber boat skids and we wanted the house to reflect them. It brings the bay up here.” And the connection to the water below doesn’t end there. “Then you have the native flora reserve that surrounds the bay,” says Ramon. “That’s translated in our front garden, bringing some of the wildlife up here, because there’s a lot of birdlife that lives in that reserve. We now have a family of these beautiful brilliant-blue wrens.” The H-shaped house hosts a bamboo garden in one of its two nooks – “the wrens love the bamboo, so they’ve nested” – and a Japanese garden in the other.
And the bricks-inside-and-wood-outside trick is no mistake – it’s actually highly functional for a climate as changeable as Sydney, and works in line with the couple’s green goals for the house. “The construction method is reverse brick veneer, which is taking the standard brick veneer construction and flipping it,” says architect Michelle Findlay, who designed the building with her partner Joel Farnan. “So you put the thermal mass – the bricks – on the inside, and you put the insulated lightweight construction on the outside. It gives you really good internal thermal mass, and it levels out any sort of fluctuations in the ambient temperature, making for a much more comfortable house in summer and in winter. And the aesthetic upside of that is that you can use beautiful lightweight material outside like the spotted gum cladding, and you get the lovely textured, bagged brickwork on the inside.”
The contrasting materials extend to the master bedroom situated at the building’s summit. Enveloped in Colorbond steel outside and on the roof, plywood sheets are curved around the walls within, making for a boat-like effect inside. But it’s down on the large deck, just off the living area on the second floor, where the family spends most of their time. “It’s really the centre of our living space,” says Ramon. “We eat all our meals out there in the warmer months. We often just sit with the music playing late into the evening, watching the stars.”
“We would have put in a bigger water tank,” says Ramon. “We were going to install an 8000-litre capacity tank but we changed the location and it had to be a 5000-litre one. We use it for all the irrigation and the toilets. It just means we can’t recycle water as much as we would like, but it only becomes a factor in summer,” says Ramon. “We know we run out of tank water because the pressure changes when it’s coming off mains,” adds Kimberley. “It’s also good for the environment to be using rainwater, especially for the plants.”