A home with heart: Lake Wendouree House

Establishing a direct connection with the “civic heart” of Ballarat and its community, this new house by John Wardle Architects is composed as a series of pavilions, courtyards and gardens that are slung off an anchoring spine.

People the world over form strong attachments to their particular bodies of water – be it harbours, rivers or lakes – and residents of Victoria’s Ballarat are no exception. While not the city’s geographic centre, Lake Wendouree is definitely its civic heart, with residents regularly gravitating to its shores. The lake is, however, actually an artificial construct. Originally Yuille’s Swamp, it was dammed to provide the burgeoning town with a recreational hub and its banks have since become the city’s most prized stretch of real estate, with tightly held parcels of land rarely changing hands. As long-time Ballarat locals, the clients understood this and offered John Wardle Architects the commission for their home on the proviso that it “would do justice to the lake.”

Discussing the genesis of the project, John Wardle puts forward the idea of an “invented logic,” a product of recording and investigating the very first impressions that the site makes. For Lake Wendouree House these were threefold. The first was a notion that the site had a panoramic vista beyond its dimensions, a result of the long views across the lake and also the setbacks of the houses to either side. The second impression was an observation of Ballarat’s love affair with its gardens, its conservatories and, in particular, its hedges. The third impression was one left by the lake’s many small boathouses, which hover gracefully over the water itself, seemingly weightless against their bigger, heavier kinfolk built on the shore.

A crafted bench “floats through the kitchen” and is given pride of place at the centre of the house.

A crafted bench “floats through the kitchen” and is given pride of place at the centre of the house.

Image: Peter Bennetts

The first impression, the “panorama,” was explored by the architects as a series of photographs of the possible views, stitched together and then edited into a shaped experience that was then, in John’s words, “packed up and reformatted over the front of the house,” applied like another skin of cladding. The resulting window is a complex contortion of incredibly deep timber sills that twist and turn across the front elevation. Reading as a positive element, distinct from the typical window as a void or negative in the facade, the window creates a generous and open engagement with the street.

In response to the second impression of the “invented logic,” the dead-flat landscape of the site was manipulated to explore an artificial topography not unlike the lake itself. Exaggerations of the ground plane shape a series of distinct spaces that relate to their use and have been planted to flower or change colour in a dynamic progression across the site that will mark the changing seasons. The front garden is formed into a skate-park-like series of gently rolling berms that slope up to the house, eventually reaching waist height, where they lend the dining room a sunken, almost subterranean aspect. The house itself will eventually become another of the admired Ballarat hedges as the Boston ivy that has been planted starts to grow over the external brickwork.

The clients can enjoy the garden at all times of year, either soaking up some sun in the courtyard, or protected in the adjacent conservatory.

The clients can enjoy the garden at all times of year, either soaking up some sun in the courtyard, or protected in the adjacent conservatory.

Image: Peter Bennetts

Rising from this landscape, the house is composed as a series of pavilions that are slung off an anchoring spine. The living room and its incredible window form the welcoming pavilion, nosing past its flat-fronted neighbours and embracing the view. The dining room is next, a space that is deliberately moody, emphasized by the lofty void overhead being wrapped completely in a dark-hued timber (and by one teeny-tiny window in a corner that just barely relieves the tension).

Cantilevering into this room is possibly the world’s longest kitchen bench, which floats through the kitchen against the solid bank of warm timber joinery on its opposing side. The kitchen was the room that the clients identified to John as being the one they’d have if they had to have a house with only one room. Justifiably it has been lovingly crafted and given pride of place at the centre of the house.

The development of the conservatory was not part of the original brief but emerged through discussions about Ballarat's gardens.

The development of the conservatory was not part of the original brief but emerged through discussions about Ballarat’s gardens.

Image: Peter Bennetts

The conservatory is the third pavilion and leads on from the kitchen. Interestingly it was not part of the original brief but rather a development that emerged through discussions about Ballarat’s beautiful gardens and also a nod to Peter Elliott’s fantastic conservatory just a little further along the lake shore. More importantly, it allows the clients to inhabit the garden year-round, which is no small feat given Ballarat’s notorious winters.

Floating over the conservatory are the “boathouses,” the bedroom pods for the clients’ three boys, each with its own external identity, a playfully literal expression of the house’s inhabitants and the third component of the “invented logic” of the design. Over the front of the house the study and main bedroom jut towards the lake to capture elevated views.

I finished up my visit by sitting in the panoramic front window’s deep recess, and the clients noted that this was how they finished most days. Initially hesitant about the gesture of bringing the lake “into” the house, they trusted their architect and now revel in the direct connection to the lake and its community that the house has brought them.

Products and materials

VM Zinc Pigmento Plus zinc in ‘Autumn Red,’ installed by HM Metalcraft; Stramit Speed Deck 700 in Colorbond ‘Dune’; Lysaght Spandek in Colorbond ‘Woodland Grey’.
External walls
VM Zinc Pigmento Plus zinc in ‘Autumn Red,’ installed by HM Metalcraft; Krause Bricks Grampian Blue (dark blend) bricks; Lysaght Spandek in Colorbond ‘Woodland Grey’; Select-grade spotted gum shiplap boards from Mill Direct.
Internal walls
Select-grade spotted gum shiplap boards from Mill Direct with Whittle Waxes Treatex Traditional hard wax finish; Dulux paint in half-strength ‘White Duck’.
Windows and doors
Viridian EnergyTech double glazing; Pickering Joinery hardwood frames; Shadefactor blinds in Vertilux fabric.
Spotted gum tongue-and-groove boards from Mill Direct in Whittle Waxes hard oil satin finish; Artedomus ‘Pietra Bronzea’ brushed stone floor tiles; Cavalier Bremworth Picotage carpet in ‘Luna Pearl’.
Foscarini Allegretto Vivace suspension lamp from Space Furniture; Flos Tab T table lamp from Euroluce; Artemide Melampo Parete wall lamp.
Artedomus marble ‘Bianco Gioia’ Carrara marble bench; Briggs Veneer spotted gum veneer panels; stainless steel; Vola tapware from Dedece; Zip Industries HydroTap; Miele appliances.
Artedomus marble ‘Bianco Gioia’ carrara marble; Academy Tiles white wall tiles; Argent Australia Bette rectangular bath; Caroma Cube Extension vanity and Cube toilet; Accent International tapware.
Heating and cooling
Hydronic heating and Daikin ducted airconditioning, installed by Angus Eeles; Warema Blinds external venetian blinds, installed by Shadefactor.
External elements
Pyrenees Quarries sandstone paving; Bamstone bluestone pool edging; Cotto pool tiles in ‘Midnight’ from Coulson Tiles; spotted gum decking from Mill Direct.
Helvetia Leather Passport leather seat cushion (living room) in ‘Mahogany,’ upholstery by Jonathan Keely; Tasmanian blackwood dining table and American oak coffee table designed by John Wardle Architects and built by McKay Joinery; Tait Linear table; Accademia Egao chair and B&B Italia Husk chair, from Space Furniture; Moroso Gentry lounge and Smock seat, from Hub Furniture.


John Wardle Architects
Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Project Team
John Wardle, Andrew Wong, Diego Bekinschtein, Jeff Arnold, Scott Petherick, Lauren Holland, Chloe Lanser, Ben Bindon, Genevieve Griffiths, Rob Kolac, Naomi Brennan, James Loder, Paul Bickell
Builder Spence Construction
Building surveyor Wilsmore Nelson
Joinery Spence Construction
Land surveyor TGM Group
Landscape architect TCL
Lighting Light Project, John Wardle Architects
Structural and civil engineer TGM Group
Site Details
Location Ballarat,  Vic,  Australia
Site area 1476 m2
Building area 720 m2
Project Details
Status Built
Design, documentation 12 months
Construction 20 months
Category Residential
Type New houses



Published online: 23 Apr 2015
Words: Brett Seakins
Images: Peter Bennetts


Houses, February 2015

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