Given a site as stunning and challenging as the Illawarra Escarpment – perched atop a rocky tidal shelf overlooking the Tasman Sea near Wollongong, a preserve south of Sydney, Australia – it only makes sense to let the terrain call the shots. For Coalcliff House, principal Shelley Indyk and her team drew on the idea of a literal “safe harbour,” drawing inspiration from the site’s stunning ocean views and the homeowners’ love of boats to deliver a home that blends Japanese-infused craftsmanship with a vaguely nautical sensibility.
Programmatically, the homeowners were looking for a simple, neutral space that could accommodate both guests and their large collection of art and pottery. Empty-nesters, they requested a house designed for two to live in, but able to comfortably host the families of their grown children, with cooking and eating a communal activity. Using this central idea, Indyk worked backwards to construct a plan that carves out public and private spaces while following the unusual landscape.
The floorplan is divided into three main sections, staggered into three different levels; each zone’s height is adjusted to conform to the landscape on which the house rests, and to the height restrictions that conserve their neighbours’ views. The largest, central area is turned over to the most public zone, comprising the cooking and eating areas, along with a generous lounge, guest bedroom and bathroom. A few steps up, a mezzanine hides a private zone housing the master bedroom and bath, as well as a private study overlooking the lounge. Stepping down from the lounge, the lowest section of the house connects the interior most directly to the ocean, with a second guest room, a covered terrace and pottery studio that offer ocean views.
Each of these zones opens directly onto an outdoor counterpart: the kitchen to a sheltered courtyard which leads to the herb garden, and the lounge to a large roof terrace with panoramic views and seating for 20. The lower section’s terrace connects to a vegetable garden and pond, and on to a coastal garden directly overlooking the water. An interior screened-in breezeway on the north side of the structure, meanwhile, serves as the entrance to the house, and externally links the different areas while allowing air to circulate more freely.
The breezeway, like the rest of the home’s exterior, is made using a post-and-beam structure of recycled hardwood. From the street, the home reads entirely as a timber structure – a nod to the original wooden cottages that lined the street, and in harmony with the neighbours. Step inside, however, and the concrete heart of the house becomes apparent. The concrete post-and-beam structure holding up the walls and ceilings and the the locally sourced concrete wall panels were selected not only for their thermal massing properties, but also to provide a neutral backdrop for the couple’s art.