Hunkered into the landscape near the seaside town of Inverloch south east of Melbourne, Croft House is a startling sight.
Its alien-like lime zinc exterior forms a protective shell against the elements and perfectly suits the muted shale in the surrounding rocks. It’s almost an optical illusion which contrasts starkly with the vast, warm interior.
In fact, it’s this theory of contrasts — in geology and nature — which were paramount in the development of this extraordinary home designed by New South Wales architect James Stockwell. James’ clients had asked him to create an organic, unembellished, environmentally sustainable home which “provides full outlook to, and shelter from, the coastal vistas in all directions…. and which blends in, and lives together, with the magnificent natural environment.”
At the start of the project, James camped out at the site for three days to glean as much as he could from the rugged environment. At one point he realised “something odd”. All the trees leant towards the ocean. “This part of the Victorian Coast in Australia turns to the East so winds blow away from the land. Normally it is the opposite and so the house turns its collar up to the wind much like we found ourselves doing camping under the starry sky”, James explains.
James’ response to this discovery was to create a low-slung, narrow u-shaped courtyard design which turns its back to the prevailing winds. More importantly, “it made circulation much easier around a flatter ʻUʼ shape and opened up the view lines from within the house so no matter where you are you can see in all directions like a lens. This aspect is quite striking from inside the building as it is bisected by the ocean horizon, so you have the arc of the ceiling and arc of the podium forming an eye shape.” The shape of the house also mimics the shape of the waves it looks out on; suggesting a simple symmetry within the landscape.
James’ work is strongly influenced by the form and function of the natural environment and sustainable design, using passive solar energy to create inspirational architecture. James explains that “geology and climate determine every aspect of a site and so to understand the natural systems and work alongside them can yield an architecture of the site.” All of his design process begins with camping on the land “to slow ourselves down to be able to see these natural influences”. Sustainability is paramount. It becomes the bedrock for his ethical design choices, weaving seamlessly throughout each project. From passive solar design, thermal mass, natural ventilation and microclimate design, to rainwater use and — wherever possible — wind, solar and geothermal energy.
This was certainly the case with Croft House. Underfloor coil heating was installed during the build but the owners have yet to turn it on, relying on thermal mass and the fireplace which is fuelled by locally scavenged wood. Running costs are minimized by double glazing and passive solar design.
The finished interior of the home is equally extraordinary. A stunning Victorian Ash ceiling is locally sourced and creates a cocooned warmth. Internal beach-sand compressed walls offer additional thermal mass warmth, and their lowered heights in the open plan areas encourage circulation. Sophisticated bluestone finishes in the wet areas are also locally sourced fulfilling the owners’ desire to use local materials.
Much of the furniture is built-in, such as the bedhead and side tables in the bedroom and a study nook. These merge quietly into the background, allowing the beautiful timber finishes and the extraordinary views to dominate.
In Croft House, with its collar pulled up against the elements, James has created the perfect beachside shelter — cosy, welcoming and seamlessly attuned to the extraordinary landscape around it.
We would like to thank James Stockwell for inviting us to step inside this beautiful home.
James is an award-winning architect. His practice has won numerous awards in recent years including the 2008 NSW Wilkinson Award, 2008 and 2009 National Architecture Awards, 2009 Blackett Award, 2009 NSW Architecture Award, as well as the 2013 Alan and Beth Coldicutt Award for Sustainability in Victoria for Croft House. James was project architect for two properties which won the coveted Robin Boyd Award.
Builder: David Martin, Martin Builders (www.martinbuilders.com.au)
Photographer: John Gollings and James Archibald
We would also like to thank our guest writer Kate Shaw for her work on this article.
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