Headland House & Escarpment House, Gerringong

2018

Andy Carson, of
Atelier Andy Carson

Jeffrey Simpson and Beau Neilson
Client

The best way to describe Bellevarde's approach to building is collaborative. Compared to builders we've worked with before, well there really is no comparison. They show a rare willingness to solve detail for the building and the architecture.

We'd decided on the design for our holiday house but finding the right builder was proving harder. We checked a lot of them, even some pre-built, and not found anyone passionate enough. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea to chat to John Fielding and from then on, things fell into place. Bellevarde's quote came in high, in fact it was almost double up front. But if you've built before, as we had, you know the original quote often balloons to double or more. We appreciated the level of professionalism involved in giving an honest price from the start. To quote John—'It costs what it costs'. We shook hands and that was it.

Site manager Steve O'Ryan has a formidable set of skills. I was initially amazed at his drafting ability but it became clear he is just as talented across many disciplines. He's knowledgeable in seemingly all trades and gives clear direction to tradespeople in any environment. Steve made sure all the work was done to his own exacting standards. He and the team stayed and lived in and around the build location. We were very grateful for that and, as a result, the build was completed in record time. When we mentioned an electrician we'd been using for a while, Steve even offered to vet him for us. Luckily our nervous sparky passed muster.

At some point during the build we decided to add a second structure, Escarpment House, and, because Bellevarde were already there, we asked it be included. Not only did they take the news in their stride, the addition of the shed barely affected the completion date. I'm still not sure how they managed it.

Bellevarde's engineer Ken Murtagh deserves special mention. His hard work and attention to detail helped us simplify everything. Bellevarde's 'stock' approach to design is pared-back. The beauty is apparent in what you don't see—like no visible vents in the bathroom and no skirting anywhere.

The build was fast but conditions were not always favourable. The Bellevarde team had an access road but no power. We were lucky with the weather, it was unseasonably dry, but it's often windy. It can get very cold. To finish these places in 12 months, sometimes we still pinch ourselves. Bellevarde worked closely with our architect Andy Carson and together we formed a memorable partnership. The quality of the building has brought our original vision to life and it's even better than we imagined. Building with Bellevarde was a great experience. We'd do it again without hesitation.

Andy Carson, of
Atelier Andy Carson
Architect

Beau and Jeffrey were looking to create a holiday home for their young family. They had chosen a simple palette of stone, timber and black aluminium and, because they'd done other architectural projects in the past, were very design savvy and understood well how they lived and what they expected their home to do. Even so, we faced a number of challenges. Approvals had taken a while, so the time frame for completion was very tight, just 12 months. Also, we'd need to build two structures in that time, the main ‘Headland House’ and a smaller ‘Escarpment House’ nicknamed 'the barn' for family and guests. Oh, and no water or electricity.

Being on a headland makes for some magical views and the idea was to maximise those, but for all its beauty, this South facing open hill can be quite blustery.

Once Bellevarde came on board, we employed their engineer Ken Murtagh who was able to greatly improve the efficiency of the structural design and remove a lot of unnecessary material from the initial drawings. Ken saved us a lot of time and expense.

The design of Headland House is a direct response to the unusual location. Although it may not be immediately obvious, every angle and bend in the building has a purpose. The main house is set up so you can move around the space and always find a sheltered spot no matter what the season or conditions. Low winter sun is allowed in. The three pavilions form a U-shape, open to the North to trap sunlight and the fire-pit is protected from all angles. The living area culminates in a telescopic view over the headland and along Werri beach. The bedrooms pavilion terminates with the master bedroom suite addressing the vast pastures of the property toward the Illawarra escarpment. A glass link connects the two pavilions formed by sliding doors that can be discreetly retracted inside the walls to regulate climate into the courtyard.

Escarpment House has a simple rectilinear floor plan with its pitched roof mirroring the steel dairy sheds of the area. The western façade features impressive views toward the setting sun on the escarpment and large operable copper panels allow full control of light and view. We were keen to employ an operable façade in a simple and elegant way however, it hadn’t been done before (as far as I'm aware) and posed significant technical challenges. Working with Bellevarde, we were able to overcome these problems with an ingenious solution involving hydraulics. It works beautifully. I've since come to understand that this kind of thing is simply part of the experience of working with Bellevarde. 

Building in this style, with a limited range of materials, demands particularly high level of attention to detail. The finishing must be first class. The Bellevarde team not only understood this but actively sought out ways to make improvements. I'd typically meet with the site manager Steve O'Ryan once a week. Together with the owners, we got an astonishing amount done in those meetings and over the course of the rapid build. Design and construction challenges were dealt with in a ‘can do’ spirit, always striving for the best possible result—not just the easy way. Steve is a quiet font of knowledge. Full of good ideas, very skilled at keeping any extraneous elements well out of sight. Minimalism is his mantra and he has it mastered. His team lived and breathed this project and their dedication shows through in every detail. Their level of craftsmanship would be extraordinary given any time frame but to build two houses to this level in a year is quite impressive.

It's hard to overstate just how pleased we are with how the build went and with the final result. I'd like to thank Steve and the team and recommend that if you get a chance to work with Bellevarde, take it.

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