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Thursday, May 30, 2024

An Unconventional Country Home In The Southern Highlands

Directors of Other Architects, Grace Mortlock and David Neustein, describe the quintessential modern Australian country house as a ‘machine for living in’ that dramatises the idea of dwelling in the landscape, by exaggerating the harshness and remoteness of its setting. 

Their recent project, Highlands House, offers a deliberately different experience. Rather than defined rooms, this project adopts an older and more universal mode of country living, where generations of people have lived in simple, open structures. 

The modestly sized home seeks not to be a bold architectural statement, but simply, part of the fabric of ordinary life – exactly as Other Architects intended. 

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Bringing An Iconic Slice Of Coastal Mid-Century Architecture Back To Life

creative-peoplearchitectureBringing An Iconic Slice Of Coastal Mid-Century Architecture Back To Life

No, we’re not in a case study house in Los Angeles (though you’d be forgiven for thinking we were). This modest but seriously gorgeous mid-century home is in Pottsville on Queensland’s Tweed Coast, just south of Coolangatta!

Owners Neal and Shirley purchased it in the 1980s, and recently enlisted DFJ Architects to bring the old home into the current era.

‘Its scale, materiality and modest mid-century bones won us over from the very first site visit,’ says DFJ director, Dominic Finlay-Jones. ‘We seized on the opportunity to preserve and reinterpret this iconic slice of Australian coastal architecture.’

Given its midcentury timestamp and unique dune-top setting, a significant restoration process had to be undertaken to rehabilitate the existing home before starting on its additions. Re-stumping the floors, removing asbestos-riddled cladding, and replacing the steel sections that had been corroded by sea spray were all pressing and necessary alterations to ensure liveability. These careful structural updates were also essential to fitting the house within the neighbouring vernacular, and keeping the new design consistent with its original character.

Once these interventions were complete, the team were free to make a start on the renovations. The internal layout of the original beachfront pavilion was simplified to an open-plan configuration, inserting windows and breezeways to allow for greater connection to the garden and dunes. Not only did this free up the space to be an efficient home for two, it also allowed the  exposed rock chimney to take its rightful position in the spotlight. According to Shirley, the stones that make up this incredible raw surface were originally salvaged from the north side of the connecting beach.

Separate to the main residence is the guest wing. This new masonry structure is integrated into the hill at street-level, replacing the garage and workshop space that previously sat there. This three-bedroom form is connected to the original pavilion via a west-facing terrace (formerly a fernery), which now benefits from a sliding steel gate.

The sympathetic renovated home is now suitable for Neal and Shirley to live there full time, and accommodate their growing brood of grandchildren!

‘Looking at the project as a whole, we are just so happy to have done our bit to help save this modest little gem from obsolescence,’ says Dominic. We are too!

See more projects from DFJ Architects here.

Expanding the house out onto its unique dune setting was a key design priority! Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


The old, west-facing fernery was transformed into a poured concrete terrace. This also acts as the linkway between the new and old architectural forms. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


A sympathetic, white steel screen was installed on the terrace to shield the linkway from the elements. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


An original rock chimney and fireplace was made from rounded stones found on the connecting beach. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


The open plan layout allows this statement element to shine! Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


The original beach-facing pavilion is now an open, functional house for two. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


A linkway connects the original pavilion house with a new guest wing, which sits where the old garage used to be. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


The guest wing contains three bedrooms and a bathroom. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


The water literally a stone’s throw away. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


While there are dunes on one side, the bushy Tweed Coast landscape peeps in through the windows on the other side. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


The street-facing entry shows the two distinct bodies. On the right, the restored 1957 pavilion; on the left a new, three-bedroom guest wing. They are connected by a linkway. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.


Steps leading down to the beach. Photo – Christopher Frederick Jones. Stylist – Aneka Sidoti.

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