Hip to be square

A Sydney builder with an eye for straight lines took matters into his own hands when planning the family home. The result is a funky oasis with nary a curve in sight, proving once again that it’s hip to be square.

With their penchant for funky, stylish design, Brett and Jo Williams were always destined to do things differently when building their family home. A great example of what can be accomplished when thinking outside the design square, their home has become something of a landmark in Sydney’s laid-back Sutherland Shire. It’s not all for show though; the modern cubist exterior belies a warm, family-orientated home that’s superbly functional and environmentally friendly. It’s a success story writ large, due in no small part to the fact that the guy who owns the house also built it.

“We wanted open-plan living with the kitchen as the central point of the house – we didn’t want the family segregated,” says Brett whose company, New Life Building, handled the construction. Lots of glass and light were on the wish list, with water also a feature element of the home. “We didn’t necessarily want a big house,” he explains, “but it had to be a practical one.” The home had to be green and environmentally efficient and, with children aged six and nine to cater for, it also needed to be easy to maintain and able to grow with the family. The block wasn’t overly large and the couple definitely wanted to create something outside the square – a commitment that became something of an irony in the end. He and Jo took their ideas to architect Sam Rigoli of Perumal Pedavoli Architects at Pyrmont in Sydney, who did indeed come back with something different – a model of a box – and the three struck up an evident rapport. “We decided to go with Sam’s idea and, actually, we’ve done a few projects together since then.” The team was a successful combination of talents, with Brett as builder, Sam responsible for the architectural design, and Jo lending her skills to the interior design and decor. The block originally had an old house on it, but this was knocked down and removed completely. “It was a small block, only 530 square metres,” says Brett, “so we used every square inch of it.” The timeframe was also tight: they demolished the old house over Easter and moved in that October, though it took another four years to finish it completely. With its massive steel frames, the new design is very dramatic, its two cube-like boxes appearing to float over the landscape. Cedar cladding and second-hand bricks are striking external features, along with concrete, glass and water. “We used second-hand dried press bricks throughout the house,” Brett recounts, “and it also has fully-ducted air-conditioning and an integrated data system inside. In the garden there’s a full watering system and timed lighting.” And the purpose-built home theatre also rates an honourable mention.

A house with straight lines might be thought uninteresting, but the Williams home neatly proves otherwise. A timber walkway leads to the front door, which has a certain celebrity of its own having originally graced the sushi restaurant of Sydney’s noted ANA Hotel. The words ‘sushi bar’ can still be seen in gold lettering on the front. The large open-plan living, dining and kitchen space, with its soaring ceilings, polished concrete floors and generous proportions, is effectively a one-room-fits-all solution for a growing family’s changing needs. Doors open wide to extend the living space out to the entertaining area and pool, and both Brett and Jo like the way they can keep a watchful eye on the kids. The cabinetry and furniture were all created especially for the home and almost everything – including the dining table – is literally built in. Brett jokes that when they finally leave the house, the only thing they’ll be able to take with them is the lounge as everything else is bolted to the floor!

Just off the stairwell is a two-way bathroom and separate guestroom that also doubles as a rumpus room – “or party room for the kids,” laughs Brett. An interesting feature on the ground level is a heavy timber post. A structural element in the house, the massive post weighs around 400kg and was retrieved from the old Dungog bridge in northern NSW. “Danny, who lives across the road, had it,” Brett explains, “and I really wanted to use it in the design; I just had to figure out how!” Upstairs are three generous-size bedrooms and the master suite opens onto a balcony that overlooks the luxurious plunge pool and waterfall.

The second cube is accessed via a dramatic outdoor staircase on the ground level. It has a garage underneath with extensive shelving and storage, and an air-conditioned wine cellar is another clever addition that’s fully appreciated. Upstairs is an office and well-equipped home theatre and it’s here Brett concedes his one regret – that they didn’t link the home theatre to the main part of the house. “With young kids it would have been better if it was connected,” he explains. “When they’re older it won’t matter so much.” Brett takes great pleasure in describing his dream home but you get the feeling he also has itchy feet. Given how well this builder and his architect connected on the design and its execution, it comes as no surprise to discover there are more home projects in the works. “I’m finished this one now, so I want to build something funky again,” says Brett. “I just love building and trying to make things work.” We’d say it’s a matter of watch this space!


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