Blue mountain light
- Winter sunlight shines through double-glazed windows to heat the home’s thermal mass – reverse brick veneer and an exposed concrete floor – and helps keep the house warm in winter.
Efficient and sustainable architecturally designed homes are an affordable option for those willing to think small and smart.
When Simone Ford and Matthew Sullivan moved from the Illawarra coast south of Sydney to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, it was with home ownership firmly in mind.
“We were real estate refugees,” jokes Simone, referring to the lower property prices in the mountains. Initially planning to buy an old weatherboard mountain home and slowly renovate, in early 2010 they went to inspect one “falling down house” and ended up buying the overgrown empty block next door instead.
With no clear design idea in mind, they approached an architect friend, Charles Wright of Palaestra Design Workshop, to help. “We wanted an efficient house, as ‘eco’ as we could manage to build on our very tight budget,” says Simone. “We gave Charlie a list of what was important to us and some initial sketches. Luckily he ignored them all! We’d assumed it was going to be cheaper to build a boring rectangle, but he came back with a design where every room was open to northern light.”
With their small budget, Matthew and Simone initially planned just a two-bedroom home. However they decided to scrape together a little more money and include the extra bedroom they really needed. “We soon came to the position that we’d better stretch ourselves to include three bedrooms because the kids would need them before we knew it and it would be more expensive to add later.” The finished house is still modest at 142 square metres. Charles borrowed from the planning principles of mid-century modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright and organised the living spaces around a central hearth and with maximum orientation to the north.
He was also influenced by Austro-Hungarian architect Adolf Loos’ ‘Raumplan’ (roomplan) philosophy: “It’s all about interlocking spaces,” explains Charles. “The aim is to create a set of interconnected spaces where one can find a corner and be nearby but not necessarily visible to others.” In the Blackheath house, this resulted in half-height walls and two steps between the dining and lounge areas that partially separate the two spaces, and a built-in workbench off the dining room that will become the family’s main computer space. “We don’t want the kids to have computers in their rooms when they get older, to shut themselves away,” says Simone.
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Charles Wright, palaestra design workshop
Thermal performance consultant