Wabi Sabi House in Melbourne’s leafy suburb of Hawthorn draws inspiration from both traditional Japanese and mid-century modern architecture, reflecting the owners’ shared passion for these design elements. Located 3.6 kilometers east of Melbourne’s central business district, this family home overlooking the Yarra River seamlessly connects to the beautiful natural surroundings with a carefully chosen material palette.
Five years of planning gave architect Stuart Holmes and his wife an intimate understanding of the plot, its relationship to the environment and the opportunities it could provide.
“There is a limited palette of materials that have been used under a reasonably strict set of design rules,” says Holmes. “The cohesion this has created can be immediately felt without having to be understood.”
Outside, the material palette includes a natural gray concrete block, which has been used extensively as a breeze block, and charred wood ‘shou sugi ban’ cladding, against the predominance of the warm Spotted Gum floor and wall panel. from Big River Group and custom cement features inside.
“The visually cool, weathered exterior contrasts with the warmth of the mottled gum inside,” says Holmes. “This is Wabi-Sabi’s deliberate reference to the bark of the nearby river’s red gum trees, which is rough and weathered on the outside and rich and warm on the inside.”
Working to inject warmth, wooden walls and joinery are a feature of the residence, complementing the gray exterior features and cement elements of the interior; moreover, the natural colorations and color depth of the wood visually connect to the fluctuating colors of the external environment.
“The warmth, beauty and unique grain of the ‘peeled’ mottled gum veneer made specifying Big River Amourfloor and ArmourPanel an early decision for internal finishes,” says Holmes. Big River veneers are available in a variety of thicknesses for use in floors, walls, furniture and cabinetry, allowing for a well-organized and crafted palette of natural materials.
The premium Armourform formply product was also specified following advice from Big River’s sales and technical teams at the start of the project. These early tips helped dictate some of the main features of interior design.
“Specifying the selected Big River products allowed a distinct design language to evolve, in which black plays formally against ‘tan’ mottled gum,” says Holmes. Additionally, the products enabled the construction of routed joinery pulls and door handles in the cabinets, which are also key design features, linking form to function and truly indicative of the Wabi-Sabi vibe.
Holmes worked with Finnes Building Group to complete the project, which spans three levels and replaces the remaining half of a 1930s duplex. It consists of four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living areas, a office, a laundry room and, as a tribute to Holmes’ love of Finland and its traditions, the residence also includes a plunge pool and sauna.
Situated on sloping land overlooking the Yarra River, the complex site created challenges throughout construction, but with a clear understanding of the project’s vision and the courage and skill to continue, Finnes Building Group realized the overall success of the project.
“This was probably one of our most complex projects to date, it proved difficult at times, but also a project where the team had the opportunity to really demonstrate their skills. We are all delighted with the result end,” says Stuart Innes, director of Finnes Building Group.
Wabi Sabi House is a home that offers a rich and immersive experience. Designed as a whole, the dwelling is deeply linked to its site, the interior elements being felt via certain conditions from the exterior and vice versa. Dominated by sustainably sourced wood, the internal materials have been strategically developed to add depth and character throughout the space in a rich yet minimal application, resulting in an inner-city suburban home that lives up to its environment and nurtures the principles of Wabi-Sabi Aesthetics everywhere.
Photo credit: Derek Swalwell