By Luke Hughes.

Photos Fluid Design

With unique water features‭, ‬natural stone finishes and a tastefully restrained planting scheme that artfully softens the transition between architecture and outdoor space‭,‬ this design by Justin Dibble of Fluid Design elegantly showcases a home and garden which went on to win an award at the Master Builders Awards in 2017‭. ‬

Justin explains that his approach to design on all projects is firstly to organise the spatial layout of how the garden will be used and how families will interact with each space. “For us this is the most important part of the design and getting it right makes all the difference. We first focus on the views from inside the house out to the garden and then the views from within the garden to each separate area. There’s always something that catches your eye even if you are just walking down the hallway or for example when you first enter the property… there must be a sense of calm and tranquillity that both compliments and softens the architecture.” 

The design of this home is unique in that a central garden courtyard was created to spill out from the kitchen and living areas, essentially adding another room to the living space. The water feature at the end of the courtyard introduces natural elements like stone and running water into the space and provides a sense of calm as well as a focal point for anyone standing at or around the kitchen bench. “It’s a simple open space for relaxing and enjoying time with friends and family,” said Justin.

The use of stone for flooring and walling is an extension of the elegance of the home’s interior. Granite and Bluestone were selected for their darker grey tones which invoke a sense of warmth and luxury and contrast the bright white colour palette of the architecture. The outdoor kitchen has a concrete bench top with integrated sink and aluminium framed windows set behind to allow more light into the alfresco area. This area has plenty of space for outdoor dining and a lounge area that looks out to the garden and pool. The backyard has ample room for kids to run and kick a ball and then jump in the pool to cool off.

A screen planting of lilly pillys along the rear and side boundary were selected to provide privacy for the backyard and entertaining area and slender weaver’s bamboo (Bambusa textilus var. Gracilis) was selected for the screen planting behind the pool for a more relaxed and softer feel whilst providing additional height above the lilly pillys.

Justin Dibble   Multi-award winning Landscape Designer and Founder of Fluid Design.

Justin Dibble

Multi-award winning Landscape Designer and Founder of Fluid Design.


What sort of a brief did the client give you for this project?

The client was Construction by Design, they indicated that this was a home they were designing and building to showcase what they can do, they wanted to try some different ideas and target the mid to high end of the market for residential.

They’re based in Sydney’s Hills District so they do a lot of houses in that area and further down the North Shore. I’ve got a few other projects underway with them at the moment and I notice on the drawings, a lot of the things that we tried out on this project are being used.

One of the signature features the architect tried out is the internal courtyard. It’s a private area, a space that’s sheltered from the wind and the sun, but with all that glass its visible from the different rooms of the house that wrap around it. We added a lounge, water feature and a fire pit into the design.

The pool and the landscaping complement the tailored luxury of the home. It’s all about outdoor living, there’s quite a big alfresco area with a built-in kitchen, room for a dining table and outdoor lounges and this space flows onto a nice lawn and garden area overlooking the pool. The back of the house is floor to ceiling glass that looks straight onto the pool area. By day it’s a pretty nice feature but with the lights in the pool and water feature it really comes alive at night.

With a standard residential block you’ve got a front garden and a back garden, and there’s usually not much down the side. The way the architect has designed this house effectively creates a third room in the garden. There is a front garden, a side courtyard garden and a rear garden as well. The house projects further into the backyard, so the backyard might not be as big, but instead you’ve got this cool central courtyard area. You can use those different spaces at different times of the day, different times of the year, depending on the weather, and how you’re entertaining.

What were the main design considerations for the central courtyard?

The central courtyard is a lounge space which is an extension of the kitchen — the kitchen’s actually opposite with big sliding doors that open onto the central courtyard. It’s a spill over space from the kitchen which is in the centre of the house. So the courtyard is closely connected to the kitchen, which is important when you’re entertaining.

It’s a really chilled out, relaxed lounge courtyard, and we put the water feature in as a focal point because you look straight out there from the kitchen bench. The water feature frames the courtyard nicely and the sound of the running water adds to the ambience of the space.

What about the design considerations for the pool area?

The location of the pool is intimately connected to the function of the backyard as a whole. So you break the backyard into areas and decide how they’re going to be used. The house is designed so that the lounge/dining room is on the left hand side with floor to ceiling frameless glass giving this amazing view out to the backyard, the pool and the water features, so that they can be enjoyed from inside the house as well. The glass wall acts as the pool fence — there’s no secondary barrier between the pool and the house because there are no opening windows there.

The architecture itself is fairly minimalist.

Yes it’s quite minimal, very modern. As a designer I use plants and landscaping to soften the dwelling without overpowering it. In this situation I used feature plants rather than large trees: I put in two ornamental pears as feature trees just to add a sense of scale in the courtyard. They also provide shade from the midday sun.

Everyone’s pretty busy these days so we try to keep the gardens as minimal as possible. One of the ways we minimise maintenance is by using feature plants. We also installed artificial grass in the central courtyard so you don’t have to drag the lawn mower in there. It’s an effective way to green up the space and make it feel like a garden courtyard — it works quite well. Hedges are obviously great for privacy, but they do require some form of maintenance.

Can you take me through some of the plants you used on this project?

Privacy is obviously one of the first things that we need to address when we do a garden. I take neighbouring houses into consideration, overlooking windows, wind, sun, all the different sorts of weather elements as well. So, hedges or trees can provide privacy from neighbours.

They can also be a barrier for wind and sun. We used lilly pilly hedges along the back boundary of the property, and on the left side of the pool as a bit more of a feature, we used slender weaver’s clumping bamboo (Bambusa textilus var. Gracilis).

We’ve also planted some liriope (Liriope muscari) along the front of the lilly pilly hedge — just to soften the edge from the grass up to the hedge — and philodendron ‘Xanadu’.

The central feature of the front yard sitting opposite the nice blade stone wall is a dragon tree (Dracaena draco) which makes for quite a feature. We brought in a reasonably sized plant because they’re quite slow growing. We also planted some native grasses, including lomandra tanika (Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’), along the front to soften the impact of the retaining wall from the street, and we just continued the privacy screen of the lilly pilly hedge down the right side of the garden — giving a nice courtyard feel to the front garden.