Lou Sweeney June 23, 2012
A heart of glass can still be warm and open.
Elwood has a particularly traditional residential face. Those poets' streets are lined with gorgeous examples of two-storey Californian bungalows, elegant Edwardians and some of the best deco apartment blocks you'll likely see.
Which is why there is trepidation when a thoroughly modern dwelling appears on the streetscape. The fear is well founded when the bombast of the big and boxy plonks itself down next to a petite row of workers' cottages.
You might wonder, when looking at the sharp, straight lines of this house in Elwood, why it is you don't get that oppressive feeling.
Architect Patrick Jost has designed a house that looks the handsome new-millennium goods, but the incorporation of several leavening features here has turned down the volume on flat-to-the-boards form.
Owners Kate Lawlor and Justin Shanley had renovated before, so they had definite ideas about what they wanted to do.
''Our main aim,'' Ms Lawlor says, ''was to have a house that was family-friendly. We've never built before, only renovated, so it was an opportunity to really get the kind of house we wanted.''
Interestingly, the way this has been achieved is through an openness you wouldn't necessarily connect to ''family friendly''.
''We've made everything very visual to the street,'' Jost says. ''You are a part of the environment here, part of the street life, rather than removed from it.''
Viewed from outside, the left section presents as a series of glass ''pods''. The line of sight travels from the formal front sitting room through an internal courtyard to the back garden via the family room.
This open, flowing order of front yard, courtyard and backyard creates a pleasing visual link that unfolds through reflections and refractions off the glass.
Opening the sliding doors provides a clear view through the sections but, when closed, the layers of glazing give privacy while admitting light and creating an entertainingly fractured interior view.
The simple palette inside - polished concrete floors and white walls - means light flows and bounces from end to end.
Warmth is created by the use of timber internally, on the lustrous hallway ceiling and floor sections, and on the first-level exterior, where the deep, ruddy burnt ash provides relief from the utilitarian concrete block that forms the ground floor.
The two forms, timber above, concrete anchor, create an interesting intersection. Smoky glass wedges, cut into the upper-level facade and inverted on a midsection window where the two levels meet, produce a geometric edge. The shapes bring unifying energy between materials and sections, intensifying the design.
''They reference the pitched roof lines of the area,'' Jost says. It also looks very good.
Jost attempts to provide this aestheticism for himself as well as for clients.
''The thing I find interesting about architecture is that I can come past the building years later and look at it. To me that's a fantastic thing, to be able to see your work after it's long finished,'' he says.
''Sometimes I just like to include things because they look good.''
Apart from the guest wing that sits zoned to the right with a separate small hall off the main passage, all living areas are inside the glass.
While all around is light, the kitchen set back against the west wall seems to compress the openness, making it a statement of elegance and intimacy.
A sleek black column of textured tiles conceals appliances and sexes things right up. There is all that light, and then all this wonderful shade.
Across the way, a similar column delineates the dining and living areas. This time it holds the two-way fireplace - that's right, you can see through it to the other side.
For all the openness, there's a surprising amount of intimate, warmly liveable space. ''It's cosy,'' Ms Lawlor says.
Upstairs, that elegant floating timber rectangle, seemingly caught by the concrete ground floor, accommodates the main bedroom, the two children's bedrooms, a living area and a central bathroom.
The cantilever over the back deck is another fine-looking feature, almost as though the upper level has taken a neat, straight-edged bite out of the concrete below.
''Essentially, you want to make a good building, one that the client wants and likes. There's not much point in loving a home your client hates,'' Jost says.
There is little risk of that for this house. The owners are more than happy - and they're not the only ones.
''A women was staring at it outside one day and she said to me, 'You know, I usually hate modern houses but I really love your house,''' Ms Lawlor says.