A grand design

By Jessica Ball

Poking through the clouds and perched overlooking the Strathbogie Ranges is an architectural masterpiece.

It was on a motorbike trip a decade ago the rugged Kelvin View landscape first captivated Eddie Spain.

“I came across these views and I said to myself ‘I’d love a house up here’,” Eddie said.

Fast-forward a few years and he and wife Dot were on the hunt for a piece of country paradise, somewhere to work towards retirement and build an eco-conscious home.

The search took them to the Strathbogies but it was not until a real estate agent brought them to the very same spot that Eddie remembered the moment.

“Exactly where we drove in, was where I said in 2009 I’d love a house up here, I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding, I’ll buy it now’,” he said.

With architect Robert Hardwood of My Architect at the helm, Eddie, a retired teacher, undertook the mammoth owner-builder project.

The result is a contemporary construction built in materials mimicking its natural environment — Corten, a weathering steel that has rusted to a vibrant burnt orange, locally sourced Strathbogie granite and reclaimed timber.

Today, the home is a local celebrity after appearing on Grand Designs Australia.

But when the build began five years ago, contending with the hilly topography and immovable granite boulders was a challenge.

With plans of a smaller ground floor and a sprawling second storey jutting over the rock formations, Eddie began by cutting into the hill.

He soon discovered it was impossible to blast down far enough and the ground floor was forced to grow.

At the core of the design were two, at times, contending forces — taking advantage of the breathtaking views and creating an eco-friendly home.

The moment you walk up the stairs and through the grand front entrance you are treated to a 360-degree view.

Designed around a central courtyard with an infinity pool, the floorplan has two distinct wings that can be closed off for zoned living.

Dot and Eddie live in the west wing while the east is dedicated to guests.

It integrates underfloor geothermal hydraulic heating — which extracts the heat from the earth — and wall and floor SIPS (structurally isolated panel systems), the option to go off-grid, as well as reaping the benefits of double-glazed windows and the thermal qualities of concrete floors.

It is in the west wing that these two forces came to battle.

“Ed was very much into trying to do a very energy-efficient house and ideally, when you do an energy-efficient house, you shouldn’t really have many windows on the west but the west is the best view,” Dot said.

“There was no way I was going to compromise on not having windows on the west side.”

With an industrial combination of concrete and metal the couple worked with Jessica Bettenay from Resident Avenue to soften the space with layers of texture, timber, greenery and organic colours and add character with unique tiles, wallpapers and custom finishes.

“The concrete in particular can be really harsh and I still wanted the home,” Dot said.

“I didn’t want a clinical white look so it was very important to have lots of texture.

“The greenery really helps to break it up.”

Two perforated steel stairwells painted to echo the Corten exterior lead to the unanticipated large ground floor.

Future plans include a bunk room for grandchildren, a theatre room, cellar, mudroom and lift.

Outside the garden mirrors the undulating natural landscape incorporating native plants and rocks sourced from the property.

But there are still plenty of finishing touches to go.

Including creating multiple outdoor areas to enjoy no matter what elements they are exposed to on top of the hill.

Television star

Before the episode eventually aired in season eight, the Grand Designs Australia team visited the home 23 times throughout the five-year project.

Dot Spain said they were there for every important milestone from blasting the rock and pouring the concrete to the final reveal.

“You didn’t get the host here very often, he came four, five times — but the camera crew and the producers and that came out quite often, maybe twice a year, maybe more, depending on what was happening — and they became like family.”

Living large

The west wing’s oversized open-plan space is where Dot and Eddie can often be found soaking up the views through those controversial windows.

To match the scale a large commissioned piece by godson Heath Newman graces the dining area, while a two-way fireplace partitions the space and creates a cosy ambience.

“Heath is an up-and-coming artist and came and spent some time here walking round the place and that’s reflective of what he saw,” Dot said.

The firewood is brought upstairs by a hydraulic system.

Master of the house

A retreat and office lead through to the master suite, with luxurious sheers dividing the bedroom and the ensuite, softening the space and providing privacy.

A tiled feature extends the length of both spaces for maximum impact while Marrakesh, an artisan render, means there is no need for tiles in the wet areas.

With the outlook always at the forefront of their plans the television retracts into the ceiling while custom-made vanity mirrors provide face-level storage without obstructing the view.

“I just love having a shower because the bird life and the little rabbits and kangaroos sometimes, they all come out,” Dot said.

“It’s lovely because even at this height the birds are soaring.”

Room for everyone

Designing the home with their growing family in mind, the east wing is dedicated to guests, their two adult daughters and first grandchild.

It incorporates three bedrooms, all with ensuites, and a guest lounge room.

Dot said it was important to have their daughters involved in the process.

“It’s designed so the girls can have their own space down here,” she said.

“I really want to entice them home so they need to feel like they belong.”