Philip and Mary Thompson of Canberra, Australia are tired of all the attention. Cars slow down to a snail's pace as they cruise past their holiday home on the south coast of New South Wales. Some drivers honk their horns, while others sing out the window, "I love your house!"
The Thompsons didn't expect such an enthusiastic response. They simply fell in love with a fairly standard, suburban beach house with enviable ocean views and gave it a quirky yet effective overhaul. The result is a standout project that you can't help but look at twice.
And that's just the outside. Dramatic, fire-engine red drainpipes look like a sophisticated sculpture against a steely, grey facade.
"We weren't looking to make an architectural statement," Philip says, "but we wanted a house that had some interest."
When the house was designed in the 1970s, essential services including water, sewerage and air conditioning systems were hung off the exterior. "When deciding how to handle the drain and sewerage pipes at our holiday house we thought of the Pompidou Centre" in Paris, Philip says. "Perhaps the dramatic colour provides a warning for what's inside."
Equally as impressive as the exterior palette is a hefty steel awning, which had to be craned into its current position. It protects the top level of the two-storey, north-facing home from unwanted sun glare. The awning was Mary's idea, but an engineer brought the idea to fruition.
Doubtless, it is under this awning that Philip and Mary (now retired from public service and the finance sector, respectively) spend much of their time relaxing, reading or entertaining friends. It's also where they spend time with their adult children (James, 32 and Sophie, 29) and their extended family.
"One of the reasons we purchased a holiday home on the south coast is that our children live in Melbourne and Sydney," Mary says. "It's the perfect meeting point."
When the Thompsons bought it, the house had endured countless renovations that more or less ignored the views. Philip and Mary considered knocking it down. Fortunately, a local builder, Greg McMillan, and the designer Pennie Tyrrell were able to interpret their renovation ideas, add some magic of their own and turn a revamp into a reality.
"The original house featured three bedrooms on the upper level," Tyrrell says. "One of these was located where the new kitchen is today, while the old kitchen was located at the rear of the property without any views. It simply didn't make any sense."
Now the kitchen is part of a bright, open-plan living and dining space and a focal point of the home. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide sunlight to the indoor space as well as keep the steel-coloured exterior from seeming too dark or heavy.
Philip and Mary wanted a comfortable interior - "nothing fussy" - and this has been acheived through the use of white, punctuated with colour. It is minimal and glamorous without being clinical. The red and white accents in the living and dining space echo the exterior colours and create a lighthearted, playful environment.
"It's good to keep things simple," Philip says. "Less really is more."
Wood floors made from Western Australia blackbutt, a eucalypt, were chosen for the colour, which resembles the sand on nearby beaches, as well as their durability and moderate fire resistance.
The Thompsons also increased the upstairs floor area by 1.8 metres to include such luxuries as an ensuite bathroom in the main bedroom, a toilet adjacent to the kitchen and a larger second bedroom and bathroom.
"The extra bathrooms upstairs mean that we can be completely self-sufficient and so can the guests in their self-contained zone downstairs," Mary says.
Renovations also opened up the view in the master bedroom. Now Philip and Mary wake up every morning to see waves rolling onto the beach.
But what really makes this house sing is Philip and Mary's vibrant, eclectic collection of art, sculptures and knick-knacks collected on their travels, both domestic and abroad. With an exacting colour scheme, an almost self-conscious display of ornaments and an extensive artwork collection, the house bears the hallmarks of a gallery, but it's comfortable to be in. It's playful yet extremely sophisticated.
As Mary explains: "Art is a big part of our lives. Philip's parents were both avid art collectors and his older brother was a painter and sculptor for many years. It's in his blood. When we travel or even when we're in Canberra, we love to look at art galleries and interesting buildings. But when we come to the coast, we like to relax and take time out."
The Thompsons make it to their coastal retreat at least a twice month, which, they concur, is sufficient. They have the best of both worlds. In the nation's capital they have cafes and culture, and at their coastal hideaway they have all the scenery and seascapes a soul could crave. True there's the odd pesky passerby, too, but maybe that's the price of having the best-looking house in the street.