Nestled beneath a canopy of majestic yellow box gums stands a stunning home that is at one with its natural environment.
The Bellarine Hillside House by Freehand Projects is a testament to Michael and Tamara Bell’s dedication to creating thoughtful, relaxed architecture which sustainably integrates with its surrounds.
The project presented two challenges for the Ocean Grove duo – protecting the endangered gum trees that stood on the property and working with the steep sloping block.
It was a challenge they embraced and overcame in the most fitting fashion.
The house makes an immediate first impression with the exposed timber frames jutting into the landscape, creating a bold structure which respectfully mimics the natural fall of the land on the 1.4-hectare block overlooking the Lake Connewarre wetlands.
Laminated timber frames, ironbark cladding and steel framed glass all work to connect with the subtle colours of the coastal environment, while strong westerly breezes are directed up and over the facade to create a calm, protected zone on its leeward-side where the northern sun can be enjoyed.
The distinctive two-storey home was inspired by the 1937 masterpiece, “Taliesin West” in Arizona, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright designed structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, and his organic architecture philosophy is one that resonates strongly with Michael and Tamara.
“We always set out to create and mould spaces and materials in ways that open up new possibilities and improve the quality of life for our clients and the public,” Tamara says.
“Our designs often reference 1970s design characteristics, while creating a relaxed, coastal feel.
“Our backyard is the Bellarine Peninsula and it certainly influences our work.”
Michael says the exterior materials on the home were inspired by the bark on the towering eucalypts with its ever-changing ochre, green and soft grey colour palette.
Designed for Tamara’s parents who are in their 70s, Michael says the design needed to strike the right balance between practicality and architectural interest.
“Paul and Joan wanted some land around them and they needed something that was going to be suitable for their stage of life,” Michael explains.
“We had to work out a way to keep the main areas on one level with not too many stairs.”
This was achieved by positioning the entrance on the high side of the slope and creating a space that mainly operates on the top level where the main living areas, kitchen, study, bathroom and master bedroom
A step downstairs reveals the lesser used areas of the home including a cellar, additional bedrooms and a storeroom.
The heart of the home features a breakfast bar, sloped high ceilings and an incredible cast-iron double-sided wood heater connecting the living and dining areas.
An open living area with luxurious ceiling-high windows
draws natural light into the space and opens up to the patio on the north side which is ideal for outdoor entertaining in the shaded afternoon sun.
The plywood lining is a warm contrast to the off-white concrete, while the angled windows present unobstructed treetop views westward over the Bellarine Peninsula.
A long window seat – a request from Joan – projects out at tree canopy level.
“In the main living area you feel like you are among the treetops, which is lovely,” Michael says.
Outside, large concrete stadium-like steps form an edge to the lower western lawn and encourage family gatherings while soaking up the spectacular Lake Connewarre sunset views.
The overall result is a property Joan and Paul can each enjoy in their own way – Joan soaking up the gallery-like space she had hoped for indoors and Paul, a toolmaker by trade, enjoying his workshop which also takes in picturesque views.
“We do like to have that connection to the landscape and it influences a lot of the work we do,” Michael says.
“We all known nature does it best so we take inspiration from that to a degree.”