The architect behind this origami-inspired downsizer threw the rulebook out the window and followed her heart
Ariane Prevost might have been an architect for 30 years, creating more than 100 homes for clients, but she certainly doesn’t rely on AutoCAD. When designing this home, she simply created what was in her head, often right there on-site.
Indeed, when Peter Maddison asked, “Have you done a drawing of it?” she replied, “Of course not! Don’t forget they built St Paul’s Cathedral on watercolour drawings on three sheets of paper.” Ariane continued: “I want to make something very beautiful, something that I’ve made myself, something where the journey is as much fun as the destination. I’d like to do architecture slightly differently.”
This house is built on a modest 400m² block in the conservative and wealthy suburb of Claremont in Perth. It’s a simple, pavilion-style home, which makes the most of its small block. However, it has the ability to be easily transformed. Around half the walls are glass, and can be opened up to create a huge single room incorporating the central courtyard. Inside, there are moveable walls too. Ariane didn’t want to restrict rooms to one use. Even elements of the kitchen can be relocated. Much of the look is mid-century style, inspired by homes Ariane grew up in. “The brief to self was easy: build an easy-care and easy-living, happy, beautiful and cheap house using sun, wind and light to maximise the potential of the site,” says Ariane, who lives with her husband, Neil.
And while the main, one-storey house is the simplest of structures, on top sits Ariane’s folly, an origami-inspired studiocome-bedroom. It’s accessed by an external stainless-steel staircase and is one of the highlights of this project. Ariane had designed this ahead of time — albeit via a small cardboard model.
It’s unconventional in every way. It’s built of insulated panelling usually used for refrigeration units. These were even cut in an untried method on-site, with a homemade saw created from fishing line.
While geometric windows were cut haphazardly into the sides, the finish is simple yet totally professional. The exterior was initially painted yellow on one of Ariane’s whims — she dubbed it “the yellow canary” — but she later clad the structure with timber, leaving pleasing hints of the colour showing through.“In truth, the house plan looks the same as it was as approved but has found its own visual identity as I went along”
However, there were some downfalls to Ariane’s spontaneous approach. The required crane was too big for the street and it was touch and go whether there would be enough room for it to lower soil and the spiral staircase over the house. Luckily for her, at a pinch, everything was delivered fine.
Elsewhere, though, it’s Ariane’s unique approach that makes this house special. Details such as the lighting tracks in the concrete, which were an experiment, as well as the upside-down bricks on the exterior, which Ariane plans to grow plants in, could easily look haphazard but somehow work.
“In truth, the house plan looks the same as it was as approved but has found its own visual identity as I went along,” she says. “The importance of the process was to use the same materials generally incorporated in the project-home phenomenon and readily available to the masses in cost and supply. The different use of the prosaic materials in raw, recycled and sometimes unconventional ways is the seasoning and the baking method — what I call ‘slow’ architecture — where good ideas can manifest throughout the process while maintaining budget control for a happy and speedy delivery.”
Ariane even bought 100-year-old timber from the old Bunbury pier, which forms part of the garden landscaping. Several other elements come direct from nature. “For example, the timber ceiling in the dining room was cut from a fallen tree on our farming property. It was milled on-site and now provides a magical, patterned, raw finish to the ceiling and giant pivot door,” Ariane says. “It just brings joy to look at it and its carpentry craftsmanship.”
As Peter summed up this thrilling project on TV, “Technically, this house should not work. It’s a grab bag of texture, materials and styles. On paper, at least, this house should scream too much. But therein lays the secret to its success.”
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Photography by John Maddon