Black box cube-like house by Chris Tate Architecture

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Simplicity reigns in this new house on a steep site
Kitchen near stairs. White countertop, black cabinetry. See architecture, house, interior design, white, black
Kitchen near stairs. White countertop, black cabinetry. See sink and gas cooktop.

Steep sites provide plenty of challenges for designers, especially in terms of creating an easy flow through a multilevel house. But tricky access issues and the need to maximise natural light can prompt innovative solutions, as this project demonstrates.

Designer Chris Tate says the sole owner wanted a design that would offer something a little different.

"He was open to the idea of a more playful type of architecture," Tate says. "At the same time, he wanted three bedrooms, a study and two living areas. To accommodate these spaces, we needed to make the most of the whole site, which is small and steep."

Tate's solution was to create a floating black box clad in Symonite aluminium composite panels. The cladding continues beneath part of the cube to reinforce the idea of a separate box suspended at one end above an 8m-long structural beam also finished in black. The other end of the building sits on concrete block foundations set deep into the side of the hill.

"The proprietary fixing and flashing that is part of the Symonite system conceals the guttering, which also enhances the simple, square aesthetic," says the designer. "It's a system that is more commonly used on commercial buildings, but was ideal for this project."

To provide easy access from the upper-level carport, Tate created a series of overlapping timber platforms that form a stepped pathway to the front door.


Fire pit seating area outside. Timber area, beneath architecture, condominium, daylighting, house, interior design, black
Fire pit seating area outside. Timber area, beneath black exterior

"Beside the door, the timber platform becomes a deck that can double as an outdoor sitting area it faces west and has plenty of sun in the afternoon. The whole front of the site is planted in native trees, shrubs and flaxes, which creates a restful outlook."

For convenience, there is also a side door opening directly from the carport. This can be used to bring groceries into the house.

The front door opens to a spacious entry, with bedrooms on the right and a mezzanine study on the left. The master suite is also on this level, on the far left of the building.

At the owner's suggestion, a large, deep, circular skylight was installed to bring natural light and sun down through the stairwell in the centre of the house to the open-plan kitchen-living area on the lower level.

"This level is essentially one long space, with a cosy den living room at the end that tucks into the hillside," says Tate. "Because there are no windows in the walls at this end, we added a glazed ceiling to the part of the room that juts out beyond the cube above. This allows a soft light to filter into the room."

The galley-style kitchen, in the middle of the space, echoes the simplicity of the architecture. Large appliances, including the oven and refrigerator, are hidden within a bank of dark-stained oak cabinets. The cooktop is positioned on the white island so the owner doesn't have to turn his back to guests while preparing meals.

Black exterior, chimney, outside house looking at patio architecture, house, interior design, real estate, black, gray
Black exterior, chimney, outside house looking at patio area beneath, partially exposed, firepit.

Simplicity is also provided by the choice of materials. The insulated concrete block walls were given a light bagged finish.

"This treatment makes them a little more interesting than a plain block wall, but you can still read the blocks behind," says Tate.

At the open end of the lower level, frameless bifold doors peel back on two sides to create an indoor-outdoor room. Due to the position of the 8m structural beam, one set of doors is 350mm higher than the other a difference largely concealed by the design.

The bifold doors are from a commercial range, and are top hung so there is no threshold, although there is a simple draining system. The design ensures the concrete flooring flows seamlessly from inside to outside, where a fire pit with built-in timber seating creates a social focus for outdoor entertaining.

Jul 30, 2012
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