This simple and sustainable home overlooking Tasmania’s famous Cataract Gorge pays homage to the terrain with its material palette and strong indoor-outdoor connection.
Plain Architecture director and founding partner, Clare Steen, designed her family home in Launceston, Tasmania, to celebrate the site’s stunning landscape.
Sitting on a steep 29,601 square-foot north-facing plot directly abutting a famous river gorge called Cataract Gorge, the 2,131 square-foot house consists of two narrow pavilion-like wings with a staircase that climbs the sloping terrain to connect the two wings.
On the southern aspect, large concrete walls hold back the hill and allow for the creation of flat north- facing patios. Made of in situ poured concrete, these retaining walls, along with the stepped roof that follows the land’s contours, unite the architecture with the unique and stunning landscape. The other walls – lightweight and clad in spotted gum – harmonise with the surrounding bushland.
The functional spaces of the house are distributed over four levels and include a main entrance that looks straight out into an internal courtyard. This entrance connects to a bedroom wing, and to a living wing where the communal spaces are located.
The bedroom wing contains three bedrooms – one for Clare and her husband Andrew, and one for each of their two kids – along with two bathrooms, a walk-in wardrobe with a laundry room, and two outdoor patios.
Between the two kids’ bedrooms is a shared bathroom fitted with doors that enables a connection with both bedrooms. The en suite master bathroom, which is accessed through the wardrobe and laundry room, includes a stone bath and double shower.
The living wing was designed as an open-plan space with a large pantry tucked behind a kitchen that opens onto an eastern-facing patio, and a sunken living lounge set about three-feet down from the kitchen, which opens onto a western-facing patio. The change in floor levels breaks the monotony of what would otherwise be a long open space.
“Every habitable room has a connection to the outside, and large rock boulders form walls and level changes to create separation between these outdoor spaces,” Steen says.
“The kink in the bedroom wing was informed by the fire separation distance to the rear boundary to achieve a BAL 29 rating. The roof is flat and steps down the hill so as not block the view of the pavilion above.”
Deep eaves and apertures that maximise the cross breezes provide passive cooling. Because the floor plan is split across four levels, the building can naturally draw fresh air through the interiors vertically as well as horizontally.
“The house is mostly heated passively by the sun. In winter, the north and east facing windows capture solar heat, and this is stored in the thermal mass of the concrete walls and floor. In the depths of winter, on an overcast day, a Cheminees Philippe Radiante 747 fireplace is used to warm the entire house,” says Steen, who selected robust and sustainable materials such as in situ poured insulated concrete sandwich panels for the retaining wall, and lightweight timber frames for the construction.
“Internally the in situ concrete walls are left exposed, with the drywall painted with Dulux Wash&Wear. There is no toxic melamine or MDF in this house. Carcasses and cupboard fronts are made from formply, and joinery features are blackbutt and birch plywood, both finished with natural Osmo oil.”
In the kitchen is Astra Walker tapware, and a Smeg oven and hotplate. All the joinery, including the doors, drawer handles and balustrade, were custom made and designed by Plain Architecture.
The flexible use of space was important to Steen and her family, so she designed the functional spaces to enable appropriation and adaptability. The simple layout of the interiors enables the communal spaces to be used for different purposes.
For example, joinery separates the larger rooms, and some of the bigger spaces that lead to the patios are fitted with curtains, that when drawn, can create a hallway and a bedroom. The angled hallway has become a home office for Andrew, and the oversized staircase has become a play area and a stage for their kids.
“When designing this house it was really important it had a connection to the garden. I love gardening, and wanted the outside to be easily accessed despite the fact the property is on such a steep block of land. That’s what led to the big concrete-retaining walls rather than a lightweight house that would sit above the natural ground,” Steen says.
“We really wanted to create a robust house that would age gracefully and sit well in the landscape.