Stewart House

Quick Facts

Location: Palm Beach NSW

Structural Engineer: Partridge Partners

Bricklayer: Richard Brown Bricklaying

Builder: Pacific Plus Constructions

Architect: Chenchow Little Architects

Photographer: John Gollings, Katherine Lu

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Just over 40 kilometres north of the Sydney CBD, Palm Beach is much favoured weekend playground for the city’s rich and famous who generally favour building on sites over looking its broad beaches.

However the owners of this holiday house wanted a bushland setting.Their sloping site is on a ridge in a Flame Zone overlooking a spotted gum forest so the use of a non-combustible walling material was a given as part of a bushfire resistant design.“The owner also wanted a white house but he didn’t want it to be painted render,” explains architect Tony Chenchow.“It’s a lot of maintenance in terms of upkeep and having to paint the house every five or six years.”

The solution was an off-white brick, Bowral Bricks Charolais Cream laid in a flush-finished mortar made with white cement.The resultant walling has a lightly-textured, monochromatic finish.

Chenchow Little, a partnership between husband and wife Tony Chenchow and Stephanie Little, has won numerous awards and accolades since they came together in 1994. Surprisingly this is their first brick design.“Brick was an ideal solution, especially in terms of aesthetics,” says Chenchow.“It’s a lovely material because of the fact that it is modular.”

The Stewart house is substantially in three volumes.The first volume from the street and the carport houses four bedrooms (each with an en suite) over two levels.The two front bedrooms overlook private courtyards, more of which later.

Stepping down the site, a glass link flanked again by enclosed courtyards leads into the living area, the second volume.This houses a substantial open-plan kitchen, dining and living area overlooking a large, west-facing terrace.

And the third volume? That’s the swimming pool sitting on an off-white brick plinth, separated from the house by a green buffer.

The effect is faintly surreal, with the lightlytextured, off-white volumes appearing to emerge from the surrounding bushland.The potential impact is mitigated by the low, rectilinear form of the volumes which hug the slope.The long runs of white brickwork are relieved with two bands of slim, 50 mm bricks in the same colour.

The sensitive placement of the house in its bushland setting made a profound impact on the jurors in the 2012 Horbury Hunt Awards for excellence in architectural brickwork who awarded it a High Commendation. Comments included that the house “sits elegantly in a bush outlook” and it has a “very successful but casual palette for this setting in landscape.”

The house is built on slabs and constructed in full masonry, that is with brickwork inside and out. Some crosswalls are rendered and painted white as a backdrop to artworks, but there are substantial areas of internal face brickwork including the living area and kitchen.Again, the light texturing is an outcome of the even brick colouration and the flush-finished, off-white mortar which sits happily with the travertine flooring.

The courtyards and sides of the pool terrace are sheltered from neighbouring properties by brick screens, also known as hit-and-miss brickwork.This simple technique gives privacy without a feeling of enclosure, and facilitates light and ventilation.Although intricate patterning is possible, the simple opening (the “miss”) used here is in keeping with the overall design concept.

The brickwork supports 600 mm steel beams and purlins.Their repetition, enhanced by shadow play, enhances the internal texture and adds to the sense of lightness. Highlight windows along the northern (side) boundary allow diffused light to penetrate without compromising privacy.

“This is a building that is very much about texture and repetition,” says Tony Chenchow. “We achieved that by using brick.”The Horbury Hunt jurors agreed with this, one commenting that “brick contributes to the sense of innocent, modest, direct modernism,” while another rhapsodised that there is “a heavenly bliss feel about the house.”

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The crisp edges and deep, earthy colours of Bowral® dry-pressed bricks blend style and function to present a clean, modern aesthetic. These premium quality bricks are available across Australia in standard 76 mm thickness and in a slim 50 mm format.

Colours: Charolais Cream

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