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Just hours after buying a picturesque block of land nestled on the north-west spur of Mount Ninderry on the Sunshine Coast, architects Dan and Margo Sparks began formulating lofty visions for the site. “We went out to dinner to celebrate and began designing the house on the back of a napkin,” recalls Dan. “Both being architects, we braced ourselves for heated discussions, but because we are both passionate about sustainable architecture, we had very similar ideas about the overall form. It was drawn up within a couple of weeks.”
Young and ambitious, the couple leapt at the chance to design their own home. They worked within the restrictive parameters of a tight budget and a steep, challenging site, pooling their expertise to design a modern, energy-efficient and stylish house. In a reflection of its eco-friendly principles, the house was first built off-site in nine prefabricated steel-frame modules, then seamlessly slotted together on site like pieces of Lego, which reduced waste. Due to its bush setting and the risk of fire, non-combustible external materials, including Colorbond steel and cement render, were used.
Today, the long, linear house follows the contours of the block, with the kitchen and living area spilling out onto a split-level deck, which captures views of the thick remnant rainforest in the valley below. Stacking glass doors run along the northern side of the house and open from the bedrooms onto a balcony, providing each room with a stunning natural view and summer breezes, while high-set louvres on the southern side encourage cross-ventilation. With a preference for the inherent beauty of natural materials, Dan and Margo’s home features a mix of timbers, black limestone and slate finishes, punctuated by lashings of bright accent colours on doors and alcoves. Allowing the surrounding greenery to be the focal point, the decor and furnishings have been kept low-key, although the couple’s passion for design is evident. Bookshelves and alcoves are filled with architectural books, while drafting tools and small plywood model buildings adorn surfaces like miniature works of art.
Running along the lower edge of the sloping ceiling, a smooth hoop pine panel mimics the curve of a crashing wave and effectively conceals electrical services and lights, while framing the treetop views (see page 85). “One of the keys to living very comfortably in a smaller house is to find myriad functions for every feature,” explains Dan. “The laundry, for example, is concealed in the bathroom behind a sliding door; the shower acts as a breezeway and thoroughfare to the balcony; and the clothes line on the balcony also works as a balustrade.” On the lower floor, concrete rainwater tanks and large bodies of water within provide a cool thermal mass, as the tanks are incorporated into the walls of the cellar, bathroom and Dan’s design studio, where he works from home in a self-contained space with separate external access. “The house is very flexible and is tailored to the way we live,” Dan says. “Though it is not filled with expensive materials, its richness comes from the quality of the light and the spaces. Designing the house was an opportunity to explore ways of building an affordable, low-energy, low-water home – and now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Photo by Craig Wall Aug 17, 2012
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