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Strongbox for living: Ross House

A bold, sculptural form rising among quaint weatherboard bungalows, this Northcote house playfully addresses its heritage context while providing a warm and joyful home for a family of five.

In a peaceful precinct of Melbourne’s Northcote, bounded by Merri Creek and Oldis Gardens, the blackened form of Ross House rises boldly between quaint, single-storey bungalows. Designed by Ola Studio, the double-storey family house thoughtfully addresses the inner-city suburb’s characteristic heritage overlay, mimicking the roof pitch of its neighbours to establish an interesting rhythm of hips and gables that sit in harmony with the streetscape.

Architect Phil Snowdon explains that Ola Studio and its client shared a “collective interest in an architecture that could clearly define the various realms of the house in an elegant and sculptural gesture,” developing a captivating, artistic approach to the house harnessed by a strong material logic.

Its seemingly impenetrable facade is the result of a bespoke, textural treatment of vertical aluminium extrusions with a crisp yet velvety black powdercoat finish. More than seven kilometres of aluminium sections were meticulously cut and installed piece by piece over an economical, ribbed steel cladding to produce a captivating layered effect that accentuates the angular form of the house.

The floating silhouette of the rear elevation emphasizes the fortified privacy of upstairs and the openness of downstairs.

The floating silhouette of the rear elevation emphasizes the fortified privacy of upstairs and the openness of downstairs.

Image: Derek Swalwell

At ground level, a flanking wall finished with natural cement render balances the two-storey form of Ross House with its single-storey neighbours. The wall emphasizes the entry point and glides seamlessly into the interior, where a long void draws momentum toward the belly of the house. Here, the lofty open volume and polished concrete floors recreate the spatial qualities of the client’s former converted warehouse home, delivering an adaptable living space to accommodate the changing demands of the family of five over time.

The monumental presence of a cranked black staircase, constructed from three pieces of steel, occupies the heart of the house. The narrow gaps between treads and risers invite soft light penetration through the otherwise weighty object, while acoustic dampening and softness underfoot are ensured by a rubber finish.

The client’s love of cooking was met with a generously scaled kitchen and service niche to conceal everyday kitchen items from view. Recessive black cabinetry is offset by a sleek stainless steel portal that frames a window splashback and wraps to form a refined and serviceable benchtop. A concrete island bench engages the stair in sculptural dialogue, taking cues from its scale, angularity and mass. The kitchen affords direct access to a small deck and herb garden that attracts morning sun and south-westerly breezes. “Breathing space” is achieved by pulling the house from the southern boundary, which also serves to maintain solar access for the neighbours.

A monumental cranked black staircase constructed from three pieces of steel occupies the heart of the house.

A monumental cranked black staircase constructed from three pieces of steel occupies the heart of the house.

Image: Derek Swalwell

At the rear of the house, a light-filled lounge space is immersed in an intimate garden setting cut into the land. Operable, glazed partitions allow the living area to open laterally to the landscape, inviting cooling cross-ventilation. Fixed glazing to the house’s western edge neatly frames a bathing pool and terraced garden fringed with galvanized plate steel retaining walls and soft trails of black coral pea creepers. In contrast to Ross House’s grounded front facade, the rear elevation provides a floating domestic silhouette that emphasizes the fortified privacy of upstairs and the openness of downstairs.

The house’s planning takes full advantage of the long northern aspect; an area with springy native buffalo grass abuts a deck with an integrated barbecue, extending the footprint of the interior dining space to accommodate large social gatherings. The tapered footprint of the home becomes palpable from this vantage, directing views to the screened upper level.

Warm Tasmanian oak flooring and crisp-white walls offer a heightened sense of domesticity upstairs. The stair isolates the main bedroom from the secondary bedrooms and rumpus room to give a sense of zoned privacy for the family. Bespoke cavity sliding doors at either end of the floor plate provide acoustic segregation. They are finished in a punchy shade of chartreuse that adds vibrancy and interest, while the glazed northern facade directs views across the established treetops and tin roofs of Northcote to reaffirm the house’s leafy, suburban context.

At the rear of the house, a light-filled lounge space is immersed in an intimate garden setting cut into the land. Artwork: David Larwill.

At the rear of the house, a light-filled lounge space is immersed in an intimate garden setting cut into the land. Artwork: David Larwill.

Image: Derek Swalwell

The expressed pitched ceiling of the main bedroom is a reminder of Ross House’s bold exterior form. A sense of spatial compression is created along the house’s northern edge, yet relief is offered via two private terraces where the tactical use of black aluminium extrusions as a screening element has an unexpected lightness. The lustre of the powdercoated finish holds and refracts natural light as it moves throughout the day, casting dappled light into the interior to give a quiet sense of retreat. The central void creates sightlines between the outdoor areas on each level, highlighting the importance of garden that the family had longed for.

From Ross House’s strong, gestural frontage with serene garden terraces concealed behind a veil of battens, Ola Studio has balanced the various intricacies of the site and design brief to deliver a house that provides great amenity and delight for the family. Phil explains: “The way Ross House converses with existing heritage buildings while standing boldly as a newcomer reflects our approach to design.” Indeed, in its sculptural containment, Ross House contributes to Northcote’s stylistic diversity, while delivering a strongbox for living full of unexpected warmth and joy.

Products and materials

Revolution Roofing Maxline 340 in Colorbond ‘Night Sky’; Spray It Solutions foam insulation
External walls
Aluminium Angles in Dulux Electro ‘Black Ace’; Lysaght Panelrib in Colorbond ‘Night Sky’; acrylic and cement render
Internal walls
Plasterboard in Dulux ‘Natural White’; plate steel in Sikkens ‘Ebony’
Custom steel frame in Dulux Metalshield matt black; AWS aluminium frames in Dulux Electro ‘Black Ace’; low-e double-glazed windows; Viridian Satinlite windows
Hardwood frames; Pittella front door handle; Lockwood pivot door hardware
Polished concrete; Tasmanian oak; recycled rubber
Masson for Light pendants; living room pendants from Ajar; dining room pendant from Space Furniture; Laser Lighting downlights; other pendants from Hub Furniture
Heating and cooling
Cheminees Philippe wood heater; Nissl Eichert hydronic floor heating; Mitsubishi reverse-cycle airconditioning
External Elements
Concrete; galvanized plate steel; Natural Pools pool


Ola Studio
Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Project Team
Phil Snowdon, Manos Mavridis, Stephanie Richardson, Nicholas Barker, Edward Cramer, Catherine Tattersall
Builder Wade Lovich and Sacha Design
Engineer Tim Gibney and Associates
Interiors Ola Studio, Sacha Allen and Priscille Xavier
Landscaping Kangaroo Paw Landscapes, Sacha Allen and Priscille Xavier
Plant selection Francha Horlock Garden Design and Maintenance
Site details
Site type Suburban
Site area 620 m2
Building area 414 m2
Category Residential buildings
Project Details
Status Built
Completion date 2017
Design, documentation 24 months
Construction 30 months



Published online: 5 Oct 2018
Words: Hayley Curnow
Images: Derek Swalwell


Houses, August 2018

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