REBIRTH OF A RUSTIC MASTERPIECE

A cathartic journey through fire and rebirth results in this dramatic and experimental home — one that embraces its history with a unique architectural language of truthfulness and beauty

 

The devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria destroyed more than 2000 homes and left a permanent mark on Australia — one that will never be forgotten.

Chris Clarke, a construction manager, was one of many who lost his home — Callignee 1, his “art-style treehouse”, a minimalist-style timber-and-steel structure — at Callignee in Gippsland. He designed the home with his late father and spent two years building it. Just one week after completion, his dream home burnt to the ground.

“After the Black Saturday fires, Callignee 1 stood there in her glory — a skeleton of twisted, oversized portal frames; broken brick blade walls; and debris-covered slabs in a haunting black-and-white setting,” Chris remembers. “Every bit I loved was gone.”

After months of refusing to visit the site, Chris and Sean Hamilton, the designer who Chris collaborated with on the project, came to the realisation that the home was not dead. Recuperating from his grief, Chris decided to build a new but vastly different home.

Callignee 1 was a “she” — a massive three- bedroom structural sculpture. She was designed to be big, comfortable and to stand out within the lush, green surroundings. Callignee 2 was also going to stand out, but as a burnt, bent and broken beauty. Chris wanted a place that he could contentedly call home, but he wanted the new dwelling to stand powerful and strong, emphasising its destructive history — a powerful, aggressive “he”.

He envisioned the new home to have just one master bedroom accessed directly through the front door, a cascade of open living areas, a centralised kitchen, a heightened lap pool and an impressive turtle pond. The second level would have a quirky loft bedroom and study, but most of this roof-level area would be dedicated to local and indigenous plants, linking the interior and exterior areas. “Callignee 2 was designed to be a rustic home that followed the fire element she had been through; she was designed to be free and fully sustainable —

a place for healthy living,” Chris explains. “Oh, and this one would not burn down!”

Passionate about recycling and reusing, Chris sought out materials he could salvage from the bushfire. “Good things come from second chances,” he says, smiling. “Recycled materials tell stories and have character.” Following that frame of mind, Chris utilised a range of recycled and natural materials, trying to salvage as much of Callignee 1 as possible to keep costs to a minimum.

The timber that makes up the floor in the expansive living area is from a Sydney pier, an old abandoned tank found in the bush now functions as a sprinkler system on the garden roof level, and 100 tonnes of mammoth rocks from the native surroundings were craned in to encircle the structure, chasing that feeling of mass. These rocks are more than just decorative items; for Chris, they are embracing — yet protecting him from — the landscape he loves.

This notion of embracing the beautiful yet hazardous surroundings can be seen through an array of design characteristics. The redness of the old jarrah, the fire-resistant weathering steel and the big, bold slabs of concrete all work harmoniously together to create a picture of mismatched beauty. Chris draws a wall between the landscape that he loves, while accepting its power and strength through adversity.

Building the house with sustainability in mind was one of Chris' key concerns, from the materials sourced and used to the implementation of an underground waste treatment system that ensures only organic material is used within the home, Callignee 2 is a quintessential organic construction right down to the power source (Chris lives five minutes away from Victoria’s largest power station but refuses to go on the grid).

The overall design approach is one of rusted metal. Inspired by the natural elements of the immediate and further surroundings, Chris was able to preserve the old and implement the new to create a free and organic home, one that exudes his character and embraces its setting.

The house accentuates the exquisiteness of contrast; sharp and clean lines contrast with rough and rusted textures, each room exuding a character of its own. The free-flowing kitchen is a favourite gathering space, combining elements of the old and new. The steel-and- concrete island bench was salvaged from Callignee 1 and shows the markings of the extreme heat through cracks and stains.

In the living room, Chris used an old pier crane base to build his dining table and chairs. This stunning focal point of the living area can’t be moved due to its sheer mass and the lounge seating is made from recycled old timber wharf planks, further accentuating the emphasis on the use of used natural materials.

A lap pool doubles as a water feature and is separated from the living space by a wall of toughened glass. This stunning facet provides underwater views from the living areas and encourages cool breezes to enter through louvred windows. Strategically positioned walls and floors of glass allow views to spiritually nourishing features, such as the yoga lawn and turtle pond. The mezzanine level houses a guest bed and a study nook — it’s a quirky space that takes advantage of the spectacular views out to the harsh and beautiful landscape. Chris’ own bedroom carries through the home’s industrial theme with its rugged rustic bedhead and coarse ceiling. Even the bathroom space does not hold back; constructed from recycled timber, it’s yet another bucolic masterpiece, featuring high- quality Australian-made fittings. An unusual glass shower provides no privacy, but rather is a chance to be at one with the landscape.

Chris involved the environment in the design of his second home. The building is insulated both internally and externally, and argon-filled, double- glazed windows surround the house. Natural light fills the space through the expansive and numerous windows throughout the dwelling, and bi-fold doors allow the entire living space to mesh with the exterior surroundings.

“I designed the house to rise with the sun, and for the sun to go around the heart of the home, retiring with the sunset,” Chris explains, as the sun sets over his lyrical yet robust experimental structure, a home where he was able to bring together the classic elements of earth, air, fire and water in a fearless expression of his holistic approach to life and health.