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Bawley Point House (1994) revisited

Fergus Scott revisits a house on the NSW mid-north coast by Peter Stutchbury.

Straight out of uni, as my first job (with Peter Stutchbury), I made a clunky little balsa model of this house nested in green paper trees. It was on posts, with an upswept diagonal roof taking in the southern light. The plan looked simple; the sections showed a layered but connected interior volume. A range of living spaces responded to the site. The nature of materials and their assembly were embedded in the concept. It’s all part of Peter Stuchbury’s approach – and, for a graduate, such an exciting evolution to see.

Seventeen years later, winding into Ulladulla with my five-year-old daughter Charlie in the back, I called Pete and asked what we could bring. His answer: “A kilo of school prawns would be great. We have some extra visitors for lunch.”

It was early January, and he had suggested we drop in for a couple of days while his family was using the house for their annual Christmas holiday. Pete has maintained a relationship with the client; this would be his family’s thirteenth year in a row.

The soaring roof seen in profile on the east elevation.

Image: Michael Nicholson

After the highway turnoff, arrival is delayed by a generic stretch of coastal forest, then a bridge over a lagoon. We continue past some fibro sheds and down a lawned drive under the tree canopy. Filtered light. The ocean still concealed.

The house is up on ironbark stumps over a utilitarian concrete slab and compressed fibre-cement bathroom. Surfboards, towels and rashies are strewn about. We are greeted by sunburnt grommets including Pete’s son, Noah – a group of mates “frothing” about their surf. They are at the house to fuel up so they can get back out.

Up greying timber stairs, you enter the house on the northern side. A low, translucent eave above illuminates the entry, before a warm ply ceiling lifts up to welcome you in. Thongs at the front door, smooth boards under bare feet. It smells of timber, and fireplace, with a touch of saltwater thrown in. The house has a square plan with windows that open generously to make light corners. A galley kitchen turns around the north-eastern edge – it is a great place to make coffee in the morning sun. A big table occupies the north-western corner, where the eye is led out to the spotted gum forest. To the west, a long, elegant wedge deck, like a jetty, takes you out among the trees.

The ply ceiling folds over a triangulated truss. The truss runs diagonally across the building, ordering the volumes. Sawn local hardwood and galvanized flat-plate cleats make a sculptural interior structure. In the south-eastern corner where the roof lifts, there is a plywood mezzanine loft. Two bedrooms and a bathroom are located underneath, sharing a secluded top-lit verandah. Guests can also bunk down in the loft, or on the day benches in the south-west corner.

Stairs from the main living area lead to the sleeping loft above.

Image: Michael Nicholson

Pete has some friends from Sydney, Italy and Canberra gathering for lunch. Seafood, bread, salad and mangoes are being assembled. Sand on the floor, all welcome.

On the shaggy rug in the middle of the living room sit kids of all ages – a serious Monopoly game is underway. Pete’s youngest daughter, Clea, has just bought her fifth hotel, and one of the kids from down the street is about to land on it. She asks Charlie to join them. They are all still in their swimmers and are planning to go back and jump into the bay off “The Gantry” wharf again. Clea tells Charlie about the big devil ray that lives there.

After lunch we head out for a surf. We finally emerge from the tall tree cover and see the coastline – pristine clear water, white sand and rusty headlands. The house acts as a haven, open all day to offer retreat from outside activities. It is a shared resource. The routine is spontaneous. Holidays here invigorate the family.

At the end of the day everyone moves back up into the house. Simple lights and timber make for a warm interior. A possum clumps across the deck; there are frogs on the stairs. The kids love it. No TV; plans are made for the next day. A neighbour promises to host a visit to “Old Blotchy,” the largest tree on the south coast. One of the boys has caught some bream and whiting; this forms part of the dinner. The tides are discussed. More fishing plans are made.

The ply ceiling folds over a triangulated truss.

Image: Michael Nicholson

Up in the loft, Noah and the boys are reviewing the day’s action at Bawley Point on a small video camera. Some of the little ones are already asleep, and the big table is still hosting lively after-dinner discussion.

Pete is a true designer. In this house, the materials and assembly are as intrinsic as the clear geometry. People can adjust and inhabit the building in accordance with the greater environment, and make connections. There is a leanness and practicality to this that gives it the respect that a well-loved boat might receive. Patina and character acquired through layers of use become enrichment rather than deterioration.

The house is communal, shared, but it still provides sensory retreat for the individual. This nurturing environment is essential to Pete’s work.

Charlie and I are lucky to snag a day bench. I tuck her in before enjoying a few nightcaps. I brush my teeth out on the deck, looking up at the moon through the trees. Our bench is shielded by a bookshelf that contains the literary offerings of past visitors. On the top shelf, I notice my old balsa model, complete with dusty green trees made all those years before I had Charlie and before, courtesy of a generous and sharing client, the house became a part of Pete’s family.

This review of the Bawley Point House is part of the HOUSES Revisited series.

Credits

Architect
Peter Stutchbury Architecture
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Consultants
Builder Jack Millwood
Engineer Eva Tihanyi
Site details
Location Bawley Point,  NSW,  Australia
Site type Coastal
Category Residential buildings
Type Houses, Residential
Project Details
Status Built
Completion date 1994

Source

Project

Published online: 15 Apr 2013
Words: Fergus Scott
Images: Michael Nicholson

Issue

Houses, April 2011

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