Sky house: An art installation with water views

Sky house: An art installation with water views


generic ocean view

Reminiscent of a large-scale art installation, the five identical and tapering saw-tooth pavilions of Sky House reach out from the steep Tamborine Mountain site to embrace the Pacific Ocean view. 

By Than Scoon 

Photography John Mills

The view stretches easterly across the hinterland towards 100km of coastline. Facing the home towards the east created some challenges in dealing with the strong south-east Queensland sun, but designer and owner Simon Laws says the biggest complexity of the design was the extremely steep slope: “The main solution was to make a lightweight building, but one that would perform.”

A lightweight structural steel skeleton was erected. Pre-fabricated and pre-finished metal and polystyrene sandwich panels were then fitted, forming a lightweight construction, which was easier to put together and minimised the need for complex foundations on the difficult site. The sandwich panels also offered superior insulation.
To deal with the sun, northern clerestories were installed in each pavilion to allow passive winter heating and lighting to all rooms. In the cooler months, the northern sun is low enough to stream through the multi-cell polycarbonate glazing, which acts like a doona, using layers of air pockets to trap the heat. The 50mm-thick travertine stone floors provide an internal heat sink, collecting warmth during the day to release at night.

In the warmer months, the sun misses the clerestories, keeping the stone floors and the building cool. Blue louvres, operated by long wooden handles, allow good airflow and large overhangs mean they may be left open even when wet.

As all three bedrooms face east, the window design needed to make the most of the view but minimise the heat. Long narrow windows run the entire length of the wall at eye-level (when lying in bed) to accommodate the view. However, the larger windows above use minimal low-emission glazing, large overhangs and heavy wooden shutters to block out the heat. After the morning sun has passed, the shutters can be fully opened to let in the cooler afternoon and evening breezes — and an even more spectacular view.

In the living area, the Rosewood bi-folds open the whole eastern wall to the elements, with a wire balustrade for safety. Apart from the obvious benefit of controlling how much sun and breeze is let in, it also creates the illusion of the dining area being an outdoor space, which negates the need for an additional entertainment deck.
As a secondary defence to the hot eastern sun, a hanging steel trellis is planted with deciduous wisteria so that extra shade is provided to the living area in summer, but not winter.

Passive heating and cooling are only some of the components behind the home’s 6-star energy-efficiency rating. Solar panels provide electricity and hot water, the oven and stove are gas, and a highly efficient wood-burning fireplace supplies the heating. The Jetmaster Firebox is integrated into a freestanding fireplace, which also houses a low-energy LCD TV and provides a partial wall to separate the study.

A 5000-litre tank gravity-feeds water into the house from the highest point of the steep backyard. This header tank is supplied from the main 35,000-litre concrete storage tank under the house, which also supports the cantilevered deck. In addition, all sewage and wastewater is treated on-site by means of the innovative Biolytix system, which uses worms and micro-organisms to break down wastewater to tertiary quality. The treated water then feeds the front garden. The back of the site has been transformed into a terraced kitchen garden planted with beets, eggplants, strawberries, macadamias, citrus, figs, grapes and other produce. Laws’ vision is for the house to be 80-90 per cent self-sufficient.

Materials were chosen to be as low-maintenance as possible and especially to minimise the need for paint. The external walls are galvanised and zinc-coated steel, all the hardwood timber elements and joinery are sealed with natural oil, the stone has minimal sealing and the cement sheeting protected with only a clear waterproof coating. Aside from the benefit of being low-maintenance, Laws appreciates the aesthetic value: “Materials as close as possible to their natural state are more beautiful, I believe.”
The bathrooms are simple but luxurious. The walls are silicon-jointed Aquapanel in white and the travertine floors are a pale, natural hue, allowing the forest brown Indian marble in the wet area to be the focal point. Louvres are strategically placed to eliminate the need for an exhaust system.

The kitchen too is slick but salubrious. The same deeply veined Indian marble is used for the cantilevered benchtop, teamed with stainless-steel large appliances and benches and hardwood cabinetry. The exhaust hood is cleverly concealed in the overhead shelving and the dishwasher integrated into a drawer. Small appliances and general kitchen mess is hidden in the butler’s pantry. The pantry door is a steel mesh to aid airflow, as the region is humid.

Plush carpet has been laid in the bedrooms, and an Indian rug made from recycled leather is on the living room floor, otherwise the stone flooring is bare. As are the windows — due to the design and position of the house, there is no need for window treatments. There is no entry and minimal hallways, to enhance the already heightened sense of space.

The walls throughout the home are neutral, “for the art”, says Laws. The large aluminum installation in the living area is by Gold Coast artist Donna Marcus and is made from recycled steamers. Next to it hangs work by another Queensland artist, Bruce Reynolds, made from an old TAFE model house. “Contemporary art composed of recycled materials suits my design philosophy,” says Laws.

Sky House is available for holiday letting. For more information about Simon Laws, visit