Tamar Stepped House

Grand Designs TV House: Tamar Stepped House

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A labour of love by homeowners, Eloise and Matt, this small house is now a fully functioning family home with a fiery centre.

Eloise and Matthew Collins, a young married couple, were planning a somewhat uncertain future. In the middle of their IVF journey, they relocated to Tasmania where Eloise had family and friends, and land was much more affordable. No matter what fate had in store for them, Eloise and Matt wanted a house they could call “their” home.

Purchasing a “totally blank slate” in Tasmania’s rural town of Deviot, the sloping, clay soil block was daunting but from the top of the property, sprawling views of the Tamar River were spectacular. Matt is a builder by trade and Eloise has worked in an architectural firm, so the couple planned to work with an architect in the beginning to use the space effectively and achieve the design they wanted. However, beyond this, Matt and Eloise would live in a shed on the property for nearly four years, gradually building their forever home.

“We did not want a big house. We wanted it to be smart but simple, with plenty of storage. We also wanted to work with the landscape; it was important that the house worked with the block, not against it,” says Eloise. “We were in love with the Cheminees Philippe double-sided fireplace so that was to be a key feature of the house. We had also been on a trip to Japan and fell in love with the work of Tadao Ando, so we used that as an aesthetic reference.”

A Japanese self-taught architect, Tadao Ando’s work is heavily influenced by Japanese simplicity with an emphasis on negative space and spatial circulation. Using a less is more approach to let materials, particularly concrete, speak for themselves, Ando allows people to experience the spirit and beauty of buildings, the surroundings, as well as their embeddedness in the natural world.

Inspired by these concepts, Eloise and Matt, together with Cumulus Studio, designed a home that descends with the site and has one of nature’s finest elements at its heart: fire. The Cheminees Philippe double-sided fireplace is far more than just a fireplace. Taking up a lot of the budget — “half fireplace, half house,” says Grand Designs Australia TV host Peter Maddison — the fireplace heats the whole house and provides the home with hot water in a “wet back” system. The fireplace is also an architectural feature of the dwelling’s main living/dining space and is wrapped in an off-form concrete structure, evoking Ando’s work in Naoshima.

“It (the fireplace) was very difficult to build and took a lot longer than Matt had anticipated. At times during the build, we questioned our sanity over it but now that we have completed the build, we love it,” says Eloise.

Desiring a modern, minimalist interior like those of Tadao Ando, Eloise also wanted a “French farmhouse vibe” that would be reminiscent of her childhood where a lot of her “family life was spent around the kitchen table”. A huge dining table in the middle of the kitchen/dining space is both a table and an island bench, a statement piece that solicits gathering. The interior material and colour palette also reflects this combination of styles with a “mainly black and white interior … and added colour in soft furnishings”.

At the beginning of this build, it was just Eloise and Matt. Now, with their dream home complete, they are a family of six — two kids with another on the way, and a Great Dane. While the house would’ve been perfect for just them and “a lot cleaner”, it is now a fully functioning family home and a true “labour of love”.

“I think that we have accomplished a great deal on a small budget … the house is standing there today because of Matt’s perseverance and Cumulus’ interpretation of our vision,” reflects Eloise.

Editor’s favourite
The Cheminees Philippe double-sided fireplace encased in an off-form concrete structure — a feature inspired by the work of Japanese self-taught architect, Tadao Ando.

We love
The little sitting nooks in and near the windows where Eloise likes to relax with a cup of tea
and look out at the Tamar River.

DETAILS
HOUSE: Tamar Stepped House
LOCATION: Deviot, Tas
INITIAL BUDGET: $250,000
FINAL COST: $260,000
DATE COMMENCED March 2016
DATE COMPLETED March 2020

WORDS KARSHA GREEN PHOTOGRAPHY RHIANNON SLATER