A Blue Mountains retreat by Noxon Giffen unfolds to the landscape under a wave-like roof in the colour of gum leaves, inside and out.
Houses are often described in terms of the journey one makes through them: the choreographed experience of arrival, exploration and occupation; the spatial “slow reveal” that intrigues, seduces and surprises; the nooks, niches and dead-ends that waylay guests; the blockbuster view deferred until the visitor is in just the right location. A shrewd architect can plan out a home that rewards days and weeks, and takes years to truly know. But what if you don’t want that? What if you’re building a holiday house and you want to be able to walk in, drop your bags and simply be “away”? What if your holiday house is three hours from your home in Sydney and by the time you get there, you’ve had enough of “journey,” thank you very much? What if all you want is “destination”?
These questions underpin much of what is wonderful about this holiday house at Hampton, on the western fringe of the Blue Mountains, by architects Noxon Giffen. The house nestles into the hillside on a one-hundred-acre working farm, and looks out over the property and down to distant valleys. Its enveloping, wave-like form is simple yet emphatic and, if it wasn’t wrapped in a Colorbond shell colour-matched to the leaves of local eucalypts, could almost be described as monumental. However, it’s clear that the emphasis here is on the landscape, not on the object in the landscape – indeed, with its upward-tilting roofline, the house almost seems to be saluting the view.
Inside, this hierarchy is borne out in a series of column-free spaces with walls of floor-to-ceiling glass and dark-painted ceilings that draw attention away from the interior and frame outward views. The house faces north and, thanks to a long, lean floor plan, every single habitable space enjoys those outward views. It’s a simple plan, and not without precedent, but, here, it’s the blueprint for the perfect holiday – whether it’s for a day or a month, whether you’re having a morning shower or fixing an afternoon shandy, every moment in the house is a moment spent in celebration of being out of the city, divorced from the extraneous mental industry of busy, modern, urban life.
The interior palette of timber, raw concrete and foliage colours is undeniably rich and textured, but also provides an explicit connection to the natural environment and fuels a sense of the interior spaces spilling out of the house and flowing down the hill. A covered courtyard, protected by the curving roof form but open to the north, blurs this line even further. It’s an outdoor room in the truest sense – a fresh-air space inserted into the floor plan. (Its other function is to provide a physical buffer between the owners’ sleeping quarters and the rest of the house.)
The reference to fresh air is, it has to be said, a slight under-statement; the house has to stand up to some extreme weather conditions, including winter snowfalls. To this end, its construction, essentially a repeated laminated-timber beam and steel crossbeam configuration with “clipped on” skin of timber, double-glazing and Colorbond, is “thermally broken” and, thus, provides a highly effective and efficient form of insulation.
So, the house satisfies the familiar twin imperatives of prospect and refuge. Like the desire to connect with nature, these urges are probably vestiges of our primitive past. Architect Justin Noxon tapped into these innate feelings when, in the early stages of design, he asked, “How would you camp on this site?” The end result is far from primitive, but it certainly harks back to simpler times, to a simpler way of life, like any good country holiday should.