x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Home of the Week: taking inspiration from outdoors

A family draws inspiration from the surrounding seascape to build a dream of an Australian beach house.

Indigenous plants including grevillea and kangaroo paw attract area wildlife and are strong enough to endure the coastal wind and salt.
Indigenous plants including grevillea and kangaroo paw attract area wildlife and are strong enough to endure the coastal wind and salt.

Napoleon Hill once famously remarked: "Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success." In the case of White Sands, a beach house on the south-east coast of Australia, he wasn't far wrong. After 12 years (and large amounts of steely resolve) Donna-Marie Kelly, her partner and young family, have realised their dream.

"It took three years and 64 sets of revised plans before we finally received approval from the local council to build," she says. "There were also many late-night negotiations over the contemporary design and building code restrictions, as well as some resistance from long-time village residents.

"When construction finally began, we then faced the inevitable challenges associated with building on a steep beachfront block in a small, isolated village, so our little piece of paradise certainly didn't come easily."

When the family purchased the property in 1998, a two-bedroom weatherboard house and a fibro shack were all that stood on the two-hectare block of land. "Originally my partner bought it with his brother, who found the property when scouting the local area for a building project. As boys, they'd spent a lot of time in the area with their grandparents, so they both had a very nostalgic connection with Hyams Beach," Donna-Marie says.

Located within the protective surrounds of Jervis Bay, two hours south of Sydney, Hyams Beach lies within the Booderee National Park and boasts an abundance of native wildlife.

"One of the things we love most about the local area are the dolphins and whales that swim by when they migrate north in the summer. It's also not unusual to share a wave with a pod of dolphins when we're at the beach with the children," Donna-Marie says. As well as an abundance of native fauna, Hyams Beach boasts the world's whitest sand (officially a Guinness World Record) hence the property's name, White Sands.

With a keen appreciation for these uniquely Australian surrounds, the family engaged a Sydney architect, Barry Little, to realise their vision for a house that took design cues from the surrounding landscape.

"From the outset, we wanted two dwellings on the property, with a design that featured modern materials like glass, steel and vertical composite weatherboards," Donna-Marie says. "We also wanted to draw on a vibrant colour palette that reflected the blues, greens and stark whites of the local environment."

The build was undertaken in two stages by Donna-Marie's brother-in-law, beginning with the original 1950s shack, now known as the Boat House. This was extended to include three bedrooms and an open-plan kitchen/living area, and now serves as a self-contained guest house to the rear of the property.

The main beach house is spread over three levels. A six-car underground garage steps up into an 110-square-metre open-plan living/dining area. The third level leads to the rest of the residence, which includes four bedrooms (two are ensuite), a main bathroom and a billiards room. Despite its scale, the structure sits lightly in the landscape because of the 60-square-metre glass frontage.

"It was difficult to come up with an engineering solution that meant we could avoid having large steel beams to support the roof and still have an uninterrupted view," Donna-Marie says. "Finally the engineers came up with a way to suspend the sloping roof [at its lowest point the ceiling is four metres high and at its highest point six metres high]. It's a very ambitious roof design that's capable of tolerating very strong winds and when you stand in the living room and look out to sea, it creates an infinity edge that leads the eye across Hyams Beach to the lighthouse, Point Perpendicular and beyond."

The beach house also includes a number of eco-features to keep its environmental footprint to a minimum. "We don't have air conditioning," Donna-Marie says. "Ceiling fans, extraction fans and cross-ventilation from louvre windows have made it unnecessary. The slope of the roof provides shade in summer and maximises the sun in winter."

The large, commercial-grade glass frontage captures heat in winter and reflects it in summer. Tiles also act as a heat bank when exposed to the sun during the cooler months. "In fact, it can actually get quite hot inside in winter," Donna-Marie says.

To maximise the property's capacity to harvest rainfall, two 10-tonne water tanks in the garage collect rainwater and recycle it for use in the gardens and toilets.

Another key element of the project was the construction of a native garden to ensure the house blended sympathetically with the local landscape. To begin, 200 cubic metres of soil and rock, extracted from the home's foundations, were used to contour the substructure of the garden.

"Coastal erosion is always top of mind in a site like this, so considerable amounts of gravel and stabilising mesh were also added to minimise slippage onto the beach," Donna-Marie says. Indigenous plantings include grevilleas, kangaroo paws, coastal banksias, coastal rosemary and tee tree.

"They're all hardy plants with deep root systems to help bind the bank together," Donna-Marie says. "It's taken six years to establish the garden, but it's really rewarding. It's now home to echidnas, kangaroos and bird life including rosellas, lorikeets, black and white cockatoos, honeyeaters and native finches."

The property's interiors reflect the couple's love of contemporary art and sculpture, as well as Australian design. "We wanted the interiors to reflect the local environment, so we selected handprinted fabrics by the Australian designer Julie Paterson from Cloth that feature Australian flora and fauna, and the majority of the artworks throughout both buildings are also by Australian artists," Donna-Marie says.

In keeping with the couple's love of natural materials, the 12-seat Nicholas Dattner dining table is made from red gum timber that was submerged in the Murray River for more than 100 years.

Now that the project is complete, both inside and out, the family can relax.

"We love coming here," Donna-Marie says. "You can feel your stresses melt away as soon as you hear the waves. Our two young boys really enjoy the space and spend all their time down at the rock pools finding crabs, small octopus and playing in the sand - much like my partner and his brother did when they were kids.

"People often describe this place as magical, and it really is. Sitting on the balcony in the evenings with friends and family really reminds us of how lucky we are. It truly is our family sanctuary."

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