Highwire antics and off-grid family living that will make you flip
The New kids don’t need to run away and join the circus, because their parents built a giant tent all their own. The brief for this home from its owners Nick and Nicole New revolved around open spaces saturated in natural light, enhanced by high ceilings and good airflow. And a generous amount of glass, with doors and windows that open completely, was also a must.
The home rests within 15 acres of sub-tropical rainforest and bushland, on a gently sloping plot enjoying a north–north-west aspect. “Our idea and focus on life so far and for the foreseeable future is largely around the kitchen, entertaining and the outdoors,” explains Nick. “We love spending weekend mornings out on the deck, and envisaged entertaining on a deck with friends and family.”
A built-in open fireplace also ranked high on the News’ wish list, but the majority of “must have” inclusions revolved around the central kitchen and living spaces, with a retractable roof spanning the entire area plus the main and guest bedrooms.
Dan Sparks from Sparks Architects took on the challenge, despite fiscal restrictions and quirky design specifications. “We knew our budget was tight, so we were open to different ideas, like using building materials that may be cheaper,” says Nicole. “This included repurposing milled timber from the block.”
Surrounded by lush, densely vegetated green zones, entry to the four-bedroom home is via a winding, bushy driveway. The common kitchen and dining area opens onto a deck, offering easy access to the outdoor laundry and carport.
The amount of special design considerations within this build rivals the number of endearing bush critters roaming the site. For example, the roof required the bespoke design of a retraction mechanism and engineering of specialised roller tracts and unsupported roof span.
Another special design consideration came when addressing the tent. The tensile membrane needed to be cyclone-proof, so 3m-deep concrete pylons hold the fabric firmly in place. Engineered by Fabritecture in Queensland, the fabric for the tent was imported from France, constructed in Manila and erected in the Aussie bush.
With two young children, safety measures were implemented both inside and outside the New home, the most important of which was fire resistance; a high degree of which was required for local planning permission due to the bush location.
Additionally, the tensile membrane roof needed to be cyclone-proof and
energy-efficient. “We did not want to rely on air-conditioning for cooling or heating, and location dictates the reliance on rainwater and septic,” says Nick. “Ultimately, we plan to be entirely off grid with solar and battery power, but this wasn’t achievable initially due to financial constraints.”
The build remained true to architect Dan’s plans, with minor alterations made along the way. These included a less elaborate carport and the incorporation of curved lines inside the home. “Watching them erect the tensile membrane roof was particularly memorable,” Nicole recalls. “The breeze was picking up and gusts were increasing above comfortable levels. Everyone was nervous as even a small defect would have meant a big step backwards given the uniqueness of design and duration of manufacture invested.”
Thankfully, it all went off without a hitch, and while this might be a first for Australian design, we’re certain it isn’t the last we’ll see of retractable roofs and cyclone-proof tents in domestic dwellings.