Foresight and functionality create a lasting romance

A stunning slate house is designed to be ageless for an ageing couple.

It might be an old chestnut, but it's a good one. The philosophy that you can get bolder as you get older is one of life's great fillips for the more mature among us who choose the path of daring rather than decline.

While life is to be lived, let's live it well, with style and substance and a desire to invest in the future.

It's exactly what the clients of architect Sophie Dyring asked her to deliver in their brief for this stunning slate house in Wallington.

''This was a brief essentially about ageing and place,'' Dyring says. ''The chief concerns being the longevity of the building, its materiality and low maintenance.''

There's a beautiful dichotomy between the brief and the finished product that can't be understated. Here is a house that, in essence, is to be the final home of an ageing couple, a house designed for ease of function and operation, a house that will bend to whatever circumstances might present down the track.

With this in mind you'd be forgiven for fashioning a blankly efficacious home, dedicated to practicalities and routine, with a sound, but unspectacular, aesthetic.

The design delivers on all the more prosaic aspects of the brief, but its appearance is flat-out stunning.

Beautiful black shingles of slate cover the facade, giving the house a timeless, robust but eminently romantic feel. The gable language is followed through to a brilliant conclusion - the lines of roof and exterior meeting seamlessly across the shared material to create what might sound forbidding but looks like a flint-edged fairytale.

If you described this house to someone - black slate from top to bottom, a simple gable vernacular, an isolated shape amid a just-growing landscape - you might expect the response to be disdainful.

Seeing this place in all its dark, dramatic glory reveals its surprising accessibility. Approaching from the long driveway to the carport, you then set yourself around a circular path that allows the sight lines to change and the eye to roll over the shape. It's about then, you might want to go up and lick it. ''I think it's a really approachable building,'' Dyring says. ''It's uncomplicated; the simple gable form has an Australian shed or cottage shape. It fit the brief of thinking about place.''

Slate was always a consideration; given the brief, the architect thought it would sit well with the form.

''The quality of slate is incredibly good and it's easy to work with. It also works beautifully with the landscape, and that was as important a consideration as any,'' Dyring says.

Indeed, the clients' need for a fine-framing environment is as much the driver here as any of the practical needs. ''Essentially they are kind of 'use it or lose it' people; they will be gardening here, creating space for exotics as well as natives. The need to draw that landscape that they will create themselves through the house was a pivotal part of the brief,'' Dyring says.

If you can have an inverse to the hard flake of those slate shingles, it is the MDF walls of the interior. White, rising to follow the same peaks as the external house, these painted, shadow-lined surfaces are a beautiful, simple counterpoint to the outside. Again that country house theme shines through, the interiors recalling the lining boards regularly featured in old homesteads.

''Future proofing'', as Dyring calls it, was another consideration. The house has two wings, configured for the couple at present as well as visiting family and guests. If the need arises for a live-in carer some time down the track, the north-south section can be used for this purpose.

That the house considers its function and the present and future needs of the clients so well is impressive - purpose-built joinery, task lighting, wider-than-usual halls, and common areas to facilitate manoeuvrability of equipment - but again, that functionality and forethought doesn't ever preclude design smarts.

For example the ''winter garden'', a peaked glass roof with floor-to-ceiling panes at either end, illuminates the interiors and draws the important garden focus through the house. Beautiful big picture windows perform the same function in the body of the house. The guest wing is joined to the main house by another of these winter gardens - such light, breathing boxes also lend a diaphanous relief to the singular exterior.

Exquisite but understated pieces structure the interiors - the messmate units in both living and main bedroom anchor the crisp interiors with a handsome gravitas.

Although the design process was meticulous and robust, there are things here that still surprise Dyring. ''There's unexpected stuff, lovely stuff, that you can't really plan,'' she says. ''The evening light is divine; the lines of sight in certain places are really delightful.''

It's what happens when fairytale meets function, each with an eye on the future.

Lou Sweeney

March 23, 2013 - Original Source

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