Architect Matt Delroy-Carr Design

Landscape Architect Stuart Pullyblank

Builder RK Brine Master Builders

Gnarabup, in the Margaret River region of Western Australia, architect Matt Delroy-Carr helped his parents helped his parents turn their dream house into reality: a sleek and stylish family beach home, which perfectly balances bold, contemporary design with classic mid century-inspired details.

Our family has spent countless weekends in the south west over the years as we all have a love of the beach and surfing. The landscape and climate of Margaret River also continued to draw us back. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world, offering everything from dense karri forests to rugged, windswept coastal heath. The site for the project is on a hill, adjacent to a large expanse of national park, with views east to the coastal heath and incredible views west to the ocean. 

Perhaps the largest constraint of the site was its slope, falling almost 8m from the top street to the lower boundary. Our intention was for the house to be read not as an ‘object in the landscape’, but rather for it to fit with the landscape by stepping down the site gradually,  creating a series of spatial and experiential conditions around each element. These elements would, in turn, each have a unique relationship with areas of the adjacent garden. This approach formed the basis for the programmatic brief; a master suite, a library, a guest wing and a kitchen/living area stacked over a garage and utility space. 

The volumes are tied together by a simple roof plane, creating an upper level viewing deck. The interstitial space beneath the roof (and in between the volumes) forms an entry gallery. This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the design, creating a space to be read as not quite internal, yet offering a strong transition into each of the more private volumes. 

 These volumes each have a differing material treatment, all embodying a somewhat raw expression. Ebony-stained timber lines both the master suite and the two-storey volume, creating a coherent façade along the upper street to the east. The north face of the upper level is then cut away to reveal a blonde plywood lining. The guest wing is finished with a glass face ‘dado’ render whilst the library volume is clad with flatlock corten panels, giving a bold appearance and emphasising its street presence. To continue the theme of the internal ‘gallery’ as a transitory space, the cladding materials (stained timber and corten) are continued internally, further emphasising the ‘volumes’ as individual elements within the site. 

The site is situated on the corner of two streets providing the opportunity to explore two façade treatments; one to the north to maximise the winter sun, and the other to the east, to minimise the rising summer sun.  The northern façade is highly articulated and textured, expressing the full array of materials and vegetation used in the design. The eastern façade, the main street address, is a stark ebony-black surface, punctured only by a small window to view the national park and a deep entry opening. 

The climate of coastal Margaret River can be harsh during the winter months, with strong cold fronts pushing up from the southern ocean. To accommodate this, the design aims to create a place that is warm, cosy and light during the winter months. Building (primarily) out of timber was a good solution as it enabled the temperature of the spaces to be controlled quite easily. The size and location of openings in the northern façade allows for the winter sun to penetrate deep into the floor plates of the rooms, warming the spaces well, whilst heavily insulated walls maintain a very stable internal temperature. Conversely, during summer, the strong breezes can flush the hot air from the house very quickly. My father’s background in the energy industry motivated him to research the most efficient artificial systems for heating in the house, arriving at hydronic heat pumps as the best option for the overcast winter conditions of the area – one for the hot water and another for the underfloor heating. The latter, used in selected spaces downstairs, works wonderfully during the cold grey winter months, with warmth from the slabs rising to the upper level kitchen and living space.  

The design makes references to mid-century houses in its separation of spaces, allowing each element to have its own characteristic. The sunken library space, entirely lined with hoop pine, gives a nod to the sunken lounge rooms of the mid-century, creating a place of quiet contemplation within its cosy and private atmosphere. 

The relationship of the house to its garden and in turn the garden’s relationship to the adjacent national park was always a key element in the overall design of the site. The landscaping needed to be not only beautiful, but functional and sympathetic to both the house and the surrounding environment. Working with Stuart Pullyblank (formerly at Ecoscape), we developed a very simple design continuing the theme of individual spaces. Each of the programmatic ‘volumes’ was to have an immediate section of garden that responded to the function of the room. This varied from a private courtyard for the master suite, an edible food garden adjacent the library and a small, formal piece of grass that allows visitors to spill from the internal gallery and terrace into the garden. Beyond these immediate more structured garden spaces is a range of more naturalistic native plantings creating a buffer to the two street frontages. The latter are almost all indigenous to the immediate area so are not only thriving in the harsh coastal climate but are also creating a beautiful and sympathetic reference to the adjacent coastal heath in the national park. As the garden matures, it will begin to conceal the house from direct view, only allowing glimpses of its form as you approach. This reiterates the desire for the house to be complimentary to its context and sit harmoniously within the landscape.