This new house by Shane Thompson Architects on Brisbane’s western outskirts embraces its bush setting to create the quality of “rural homeliness” that was close to the hearts of the clients.
In Brisbane’s countrified western outskirts, the rural dream is played out in a number of ways. The drama of the delightfully undulating landscape intensifies as the journey extends deeper into the ever-narrowing valley, where the hills loom high and steep on both sides. Remnant dairy and cattle farms have been subdivided into acreage blocks, some populated with bloated homes that show little regard for the contours and local vegetation. Several old farmhouses are extant, alongside a sprinkling of crisp masonry modernist numbers on swathes of manicured lawn that seem to be forever claiming their rights over the encroaching lantana. Horse yards, machinery sheds, chicken coops and tennis courts dot the scene, each a symbol of the different idylls carved out of the landscape, with varying degrees of tameness.
For Shane Thompson Architects, the site of Davenport/Wilson House was always the prime mover for the design. The owners had lived (with forbearance) for many years in a disintegrating weatherboard home on the site. The decision to demolish and build anew was an easy one, as they were wholeheartedly attached to the beauty of the landscape.
Principal Shane Thompson, likewise, was enchanted by the beauty of the setting. He and project architect William Ellyett modelled several schemes before deciding on a long, snaking pavilion that runs along an excavated east–west ridge and opens up to the north-easterly vision of glorious treetops and a small valley.
While the elevated perch takes in views to the forested hill to the east, and a partially timbered cattle yard to the north, the western and southern aspects have a more domestic outlook. The access road sits below, with several homes dotting the slopes of the middle distance on the south. To the west, the owners’ own shed perches on a knoll, housing a prized collection of old Alfa Romeos.
A couple of huge conifers remain, and are pointers to the view into the valley at the east. The building platform buffers into the hill at the west, extending east for forty metres. As if in response to the drama of the landscape, the eastern end of the home lifts to a three-level volume, with a giant portal of glazing reflecting and observing the forested hill beyond. Despite the spectacular height of the eastern elevation, the building, for the most part, is firmly grounded in terra firma. The owners had discussed the importance of their connection to the ground, in territory where the solution might often be a house on stilts.
The plan anchors the central hub at ground level. Here the living areas of kitchen, dining and a sunken lounge and verandah act as a divider between the bedrooms for two sons to the west, and the main suite to the east. A winding circulation path leads up the hill to arrive at the front door at this earthed, central point. A connecting courtyard extends the living plane beyond and into the garden. A treasured poinciana tree (under which the owners were recently married) presides over the two-level courtyard, marking where the old house was, and where the manicured human-made environs finish and the wildness of the natural landscape takes over.
The linear plan, one room wide, kinks north-east after the community hub. Shane notes that there is an anthropomorphic appeal to this, “like a big goanna crouching on the ridge,” he says. Intriguing long views are set up along the internal corridors, but privacy between the three main zones is enhanced by the kinked angle. A sunken lounge, dubbed the “peace pipe room” by the owners, sits below the dining room, sharing its two-way fireplace. Surrounded by leather-clad banquette seats, it is a nice contrast to the vastness of the main living zone and the epic quality of the world beyond.
A palette of raw organic materials is used to blend with the surrounds. Timber is used judiciously, while elsewhere aluminium frames provide a budget solution and recede into the background. A delightfully random pattern of windows in different sizes is sprinkled over the walls, capturing views of the landscape. Such views are seen through timber doors opening to the deck, dotted square windows with deep reveals and the glory of the five-metre-high timber-framed glazing in the main bedroom. The giant picture window that is the home’s most dramatic element also affords views from the private mezzanine lounge/study space that hovers above the main bedroom.
But for all these high notes of drama, the house displays the quality of rural homeliness that was close to the hearts of the owners. Shane has followed the brief to avoid preciousness or a “showpiece,” in the owners’ words. Large, beautifully modulated volumes under impressively high ceilings continue the journey set up by the surrounding landscape.