‘Cinematic sublimity’: Wallis Lake House

Nestled against a ridgeline and taking in views to the distant peaks of the national park beyond, this new home in Whoota, on the New South Wales coast, is born of dedication and collaboration.

This house embodies a long, fruitful collaboration between architect Matthew Woodward and owner-builder Adam Haughey. The two met years ago through friends, and have since come to work together on numerous projects. The triangle of architect-client-builder is often held together in delicate balance. When it works, and trust prevails, it is a solid thing, and the best possible foundation for a project. It is buoying when amity and understanding is cultivated between builders and architects, and this pair clearly support and challenge one another.

Adam describes the house as a résumé project – and there is a lot to drink in. Matthew, meanwhile, speaks of “cinematic sublimity,” and an intention to deliver prospect and refuge, craftsmanship and robustness, serenity and playfulness. Located in Whoota on the New South Wales coast, the house is ostensibly two masses – one in timber and one in concrete – joined by a bridging element and courtyard. On arrival, we enter into the concrete mass via a passage, past a large window facing the coast. This block has a planted roof, with succulents tumbling out over the walls. It houses the kitchen and living space. A long spine connects us with the second block – the living quarters – containing two guest bedrooms and a bathroom at ground level, and the main bedroom and a workspace above. This wing is clad with recycled blackbutt shiplap boards and battens on the north elevation, and polycarbonate sheeting to the south. Part of the timber screening outside the main bedroom opens mechanically. A drift through the house reveals screens in reclaimed dowel, shelves and door faces in mild steel, timber joinery, cleverly adapted hardware, form-ply cabinetwork, raw fibre cement sheeting and tightly curved tiling – a wealth of meticulous tradesmanship.

Above the kitchen, sharp voids and corners carved from concrete reveal views to the sky.

Above the kitchen, sharp voids and corners carved from concrete reveal views to the sky.

Image: Brett Boardman

The care shown in the house’s junctions and construction details is notable, with many elements resolved collaboratively. The concrete work on the project is exceptional: voids and corners in the roof slab are sharp, and the soffit is satin-smooth. Curtain rails and casings for the vast glazed door suites were boldly cast directly into the slab – a move that is high risk and, thankfully, high reward. Seam- lessness is clearly an expectation across the project, and where multiple materials meet they are aligned flush and to a grid. A herb box is embedded into a continuously folded stainless steel section in the kitchen benchtop, with a south-facing window as its splashback. Doors appear frameless, and cabinetwork meets the ceiling with millimetre precision.

And yet, it is some of the unfussy moments in the project that provide the most delight. A linear skylight positioned parallel to the kitchen bench, opens up to the sky through the roof planting. During construction, before the junction between concrete and skylight was sealed, a few rogue dichondra fronds made their way through the gap. After pulling them out a couple of times, Adam decided to modify the detail, and now these unexpected houseguests tumble happily into the interior. An upper level walkway in standard cyclone mesh connects the house to the slope behind it, where a bocce pit and lawn reside. A huge water tank and a tall flue sticking through the roof garden provide novel punctuation to the linear layout. In addition to the house, there is an impressive shed, housing a dormitory-type setup, a kitchenette, a huge workshop, and, wait for it, a skateboarding half-pipe. The house is an escape and crash pad for owner as well as guests, and the shed provides ample space to create (and recreate).

Operable screens adjoining the upstairs bedroom provide shade and capture views to the lake.

Operable screens adjoining the upstairs bedroom provide shade and capture views to the lake.

Image: Brett Boardman

The house is largely open to the landscape to its north and commands a sweeping view. It absorbs the setting through large and frequent openings with concealed frames, and these open onto a lawn garden with kangaroo paws and grasses foregrounding Wallis Lake beyond. There is an air of a picturesque painting about the view from the living room and lawn. The upper level and roof garden take in the bluish peaks of the Booti Booti National Park ranges to the north-west. The block slopes quite steeply, and a retainer has been cut into the hillside along its south elevation. The house seems to sit on an axis that bisects the lake, the arc of two headlands, and the horizon of the ocean beyond in total symmetry.

Despite all the visual features, tactile memories endure from my visit – walking in bare feet from smooth slab in the living space, to roughened washed aggregate concrete in the wet areas, to standing on the plushest of Zoysia grass on the roof garden, and toothy buffalo on the front lawn.

This house expresses a strong working relationship between its designer and maker; and it may induce early retirement plans in any who visit.

Wallis Lake House is built on the land of the Wallamba people of the Worimi nation.

Products and materials

Lysaght Klip-lok 700 Hi-strength in Zincalume steel
External walls
Recycled blackbutt from Australian Architectural Hardwoods in Cutek CD50 wood protection oil; off-form concrete
Internal walls
Auswood formply; off-form concrete; Briggs Veneers blackbutt (quarter-cut) veneer in Osmo oil finish
Breezway louvres, Aneeta sashless windows and Award Architectural Aluminium Fairview sliding windows in clear anodized aluminium; Viridian Comfortplus Clear glazing
Award Architectural Aluminium Fairview sliding doors in clear anodized aluminium; Viridian Comfortplus Clear glazing
Burnished concrete in high performance seal coat system; wire-brushed, recycled blackbutt from Australian Architectural Hardwoods in Osmo oil finish
Flos Tubular Bells ceiling LED and semi-trimless LED downlight; Reggiani ceiling light; Louis Poulsen AJ wall light
Brodware kitchen mixer in ‘Aged Iron’; Miele cooktop, oven and Mastercool fridge; custom concrete benchtop; formply joinery by Saltwater Joinery with edges finished in Osmo oil; Blum Tandembox Intivo joinery hardware; 12th Avenue Iron pulls in blackened steel
Brodware Yokato fixtures in ‘Aged Iron’ and ‘Vecchio Organic’; Caroma Teo 800 wall-hung basin; Inax Yohen Border tiles from Artedomus; Cemintel Barestone wall panels; washed aggregate concrete floor; Villeroy and Boch Subway wall-hung toilets
Heating and cooling
Smartheat infloor heating and radiator wall panels
External elements
Boral concrete blockwork; custom washed aggregate concrete pavers made onsite
Custom joinery by the architect and Saltwater Joinery


Matthew Woodward Architecture
Project Team
Matthew Woodward, Callum Eve, Patrick Maitland, Nicholas Papas
Builder PCM Projects with Jack James Construction
Bushfire protection Australian Bushfire Assessment Consultants
Engineer Partridge
Land surveyor Lidbury, Summers and Whiteman
Landscape designer Pangkarra Garden Design
Private Certifier Modern Certification
Town planner Accuplan
Site Details
Site area 104100 m2
Building area 180 m2
Project Details
Status Built
Completion date 2019
Design, documentation 9 months
Construction 15 months
Category Residential
Type New houses



Published online: 21 May 2020
Words: Beth George
Images: Brett Boardman


Houses, February 2020

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