Wakanui Trail House, Northcote

A home for a family of avid campers that embodies their affinity for the outdoors, while offering a deep connection with our natural environment and fostering connections between family members within the house.  

The site backs onto Northcote’s All Nations Park (a former brick quarry, subsequently landfill and now parkland) with a meandering trail through native bush and mature eucalypts.

We’re interested in the ability of biophilic design to nurture a love of place by connecting us with nature. Using visual connection with the environment and natural materials. Providing interaction with elements, sun and airflow to create natural comfort. Use of dynamic and diffuse light to connect occupants with the movement of the sun.

Spatial strategies of prospect and refuge, mystery and risk, create a dramatic relationship with nature. The ground-floor study nook and first-floor bedroom provide secluded refuge from which the alluring prospect of treetops are viewed through the double height void. Mystery in the form of the enticing distant views of the parkland beyond the living room, across the back yard and through the transparent back fence invite the spirit of exploration.

A sense of slight risk is created by the cantilevered balcony and open void’s slender balustrades stimulating a feeling of exhilaration while drawing out to the visual connection with the nature beyond.  

The openable void connects spaces and occupants while allowing selective seclusion. The study, partially enclosed by a bookshelf, meets our evolving needs to work from home, separated from, while open to the living rooms and view beyond.  

Of course being so open to the public realm also prompts the need to control the sense of exposure. Internal sheers and external venetians allow the occupants to operate the rear façade and attenuate transparency and control solar gain. Layers of depth in planting and built form help obscure and blur the rear boundary.

Raw and honest locally sourced materials are used throughout. Vic Ash lining boards, Tas Oak flooring and Silvertop Ash slats, bathed in the natural light, express the warmth inherent in this place. Timber slats block summer sun while preventing overlooking of neighbouring properties. Their angle uses the synergy between the bevel inherent in their resource-efficient radial sawing and the angle of the low winter sun to provide passive solar heating.

Hand-made craft of great builders is expressed throughout. Timber rafters from the existing roof were salvaged and re-used for the feature sliding doors and dining room pendant light. In-situ concrete was crafted for the benchtop and floating hearth. Apart from those, and the stumps, no other concrete was used, in preference for timber sub floor structure, heavily insulated, as a lower embodied energy, renewable approach to thermally sound building.

The sustainable design aspirations are complemented by a decision to go off gas, using all electric appliances, hot water, hydronic heating and cooling combined with solar power.

“BCA have created a house that connects the inside and outside.  We are a very outdoors family and enjoy the connection from the living space to our backyard, and into the park, along with the use of natural timber in the design.  The rooms are designed to allow us to connect as a family (for example, we can open upstairs and be part of the activity downstairs) but also enables us to retreat to our own space.  We feel very privileged to be living in a house that provides such a warm and flexible space for our family. ” – Clients, Avril & Rich

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue

Photography: Jack Lovel

Styling: Bea + Co Styling

Builder: Keenan Built


Rise House, Carlton North

Behind a double storey Victorian heritage terrace, this extension takes flight over its cavernous context.

Twin parabolic rooves soar over the tall neighbouring parapets twisting as they rise; up to the north to draw in warming sunlight and down to the south, to not overshadow neighbours.

Our clients, an empty nest couple, wanted to retain and restore the heritage façade and provide a light-filled extension at the rear.

The main challenge was the site’s dense context, double storey heritage terrace houses with large rear extensions on each side of the 6m wide block, making it difficult to bring sun in.

The northern side neighbour’s parapet, like a battlement to the sun, steps progressively down towards the east at rear of the property providing an opportunity for a raking roof to direct morning sunlight into our house. On the south side the existing neighbouring property doesn’t comply with minimum regulatory requirements for unshaded private open space so couldn’t be overshadowed any more. So our new roof rakes down dramatically at this end.

This roof form continues over the first floor bedroom with one continuous angle on the southern side raking and twisting up to frame horizontal northern and western windows.

The highlight window provides connection between occupants on each level and views through to sky beyond. External shading to these windows and the skylight prevent overheating.

A restrained palette of materials emphasise the form bringing in the light. White surfaces reflect light. The striation of the lining boards accentuate the twist in the ceiling. Timber floor and cabinetry provide warmth in the natural light. Brickwork of the original structure is retained and exposed in the courtyard and lightwell to show the history of the site.

Moving through the house and across the levels is a journey into light that culminates at the roof deck with unexpected views of sky, treetops and North Carlton’s rooftops beyond the confines of the relatively small site.

The passive solar design is complemented by active solar technology and a fossil fuel free spec, with efficient all-electric heating and appliances.

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue

Photography: Jack Lovel

Styling: Justine Murphy

Builder: Clancy Constructions


Rathmines Houses, Fairfield

North House and South House are two siblings with shared values but distinct personalities.

Both are designed around passive solar principles, using a central courtyard and high ceilings to provide warming winter sun and natural ventilation. But they each address the public realm in their own unique way. One is open and transparent, extroverted, while the other is more reserved and private, while still exuding a quiet confidence of its own.

We designed these two new houses for the BuildHer 8 and BuildHer Collective who led the development and interiors. The team in their unique joint venture sought to push the traditional boundaries of property development with a focus on good design integrating sustainability in a speculative dual-occupancy sub-division development.

They came to us with a large piece of land in Fairfield with the intention of building two distinct houses, as opposed to two typical attached townhouses. The original block had a generous width which allowed the houses to be detached from each other at the front on the ground floor level and for the entire upper levels. This allowed us to design two very distinct aesthetics with space between.

The main challenge was the orientation, north to side, meaning that one house would receive unobstructed sunlight but the other would be more challenged to obtain its share of light. But despite their differences they work together. North house’s first floor is set in from the boundary adjacent to south’s house’s courtyard to allow sun and daylight into its sibling’s living rooms.

With deliberately different forms and palettes of materials they read as two distinct houses while being complementary. Their distinct personalities are followed through to the interiors where Alison Lewis Interiors and R&Co Design Studio designed the cabinetry, materials, forms and furniture that complement the exteriors and emphasise the intimacy and interest in the changes in volumes and levels within the houses.

With an emphasis on more sustainable development both houses have seven star energy ratings, all-electric appliances, 9.1kW solar systems with Powerwall batteries and electric vehicle chargers and of course use recycled bricks.


Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue

Builder: Beirin Projects

Developer: BuildHer 8

Interiors and Styling: North House – Alison Lewis Interiors, South House – R&Co Design Studio

Photography: Dylan James


Through the Looking Glass, Carlton North

It’s the perfect property for downsizers. A quaint heritage terrace opposite Curtain Square in Carlton North’s Rathdowne Village, minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.

The only problem was it’s orientation, north to the front, with the heritage requirement to keep the façade and not see any additions. Given that the property is only 5m wide and 120m2 with neighbouring walls on both side boundaries (two storey to the east boundary) getting sunlight into living rooms at the rear and creating a connection with the elements is very difficult!

But moving back to Melbourne after years living and working in Singapore and The Hague our clients were open minded to our ideas on how to maximise sense of space and light within these constraints.

The house would need to be two storey to accommodate their brief.  And being such a small property there was no excess space to create voids to draw sunlight into the ground floor.

So we adopted a trafficable glass floor to channel natural light and warming winter sun through the new upper level into the living rooms below. The 30mm thick glass floor is adjacent to full-width floor-to-ceiling windows & doors. These open onto a roof deck that is carved out of the existing heritage roofline bringing north sun in over the heritage parapet down to the lower level.

From within, the occupant’s eyes are drawn out to the views of Curtains Square’s treetops, neighbouring rooftops and the sky beyond the property boundaries, increasing the sense of space in an otherwise modest footprint.

The upper floor is set back from the façade to meet heritage sightlines onerously applied due to the wide street and park opposite. The roof form at the front is low and square, visually tucked behind the old parapet. But it rakes up southwards in two symmetrical parabolas twisting around a central axis to become a pitched roof at the rear where it frames an electrically operable window oriented to catch prevailing cool breezes for cross ventilation and natural cooling.

Over the roof deck an electrically operable external folding arm awning extends out to control summer sun and prevents overheating.

The first floor is a bedroom while also being a second living room. For an empty-nest couple this flexibility and openness allows them to be perched amongst the treetops bathed in sunlight with expansive views over one of Carlton North’s most beautiful parks.

The glass floor visually connects this space with the living rooms below while maintaining acoustic separation. The roof deck decking flows in and wraps down to the kitchen ceiling emphasising the connection between levels.

Sunlight washes across the original solid brick party wall’s thermal mass. Its bagged white to increase the sense of light while maintaining the history, the depth of the wall enhanced by the monochrome. The first floor is supported by new steel columns offset from these hundred-year-old walls due to structural necessity. We turned this spatial imposition into an opportunity for timber shelving down the length of the living room, at heights to suit each zone.

Reflective surfaces increase sense of space and light and illuminate the natural warm tones of the timber floors and walls. A green wall provides a natural outlook far larger than the 3m2 of the bathroom’s lightwell.

Thermally efficient composite windows with aluminium exterior and timber interior in conjunction with double glazing and European hardware complement the overall ethos of high thermal performance with low maintenance practicality and warm tactility.

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue Photography: Jack Lovel Styling: Justine Murphy + Melissa Bailey Builder: CRD Developments

Wongi, Fitzroy North

Wongi is a conversation between two eras – the way things were done then and how we can choose to live now.

Council heritage rules mandated the front façade and front two rooms of this heritage terrace be retained. But it was literally falling down so after its inevitable condemnation, had to be re-built to replicate of the original. This painstaking and expensive process required specialist heritage architects and engineers. It was immaculately executed by skilful builders and craftspeople with stucco parapets, cornices and urns re-created to match the colonial original. Meanwhile we upgraded the structure and thermal performance to include higher levels of thermal mass, insulation, double glazing and solar power to complement it’s all-electric operation.

Liberated from the heritage constraints, the rear extension expresses a contemporary sensibility towards the Australian climate and culture, working with the elements to create natural comfort and connect people.

Where the original presents to its street with the grandeur of an elevated vantage, high parapet and small private windows, the addition engages with its rear street openly, at grade with a retractable sliding fence, full-width bi-fold glass doors and folding arm awning that draws the living spaces out to the street.

Where the 1900’s form uses a deep verandah to block out the harsh Australian sun, as was the colonial wont, the contemporary addition rakes up to embrace winter sun and, enabled by technological advancement, employs operable external venetians and awnings to control it in summer.

On a 150m² terrace with a party wall running the entire north boundary, natural light and passive solar is sparse. Sculpting a three-bedroom house into a form not visible from the street, as dictated by heritage, and not overshadowing neighbours is challenging. The chamfered form achieves both of these while also drawing in sun and assisting cross ventilation facilitated by windows on the south and north sides.

Colorbond walls respond to the urban context in two tones that visually diminish the form. Internally, a bright neutral pallet against warm spotted gum emphasises natural light and sense of space while mirrored walls create an illusion of depth.

Owner’s Statement

The owners re-built according to the detailed heritage drawings and re-used the little that they could; the stone steps, the front door handle and lintel and the two unique pyramid features on the decorative parapet.

The original house was built in the early 1900’s. They wanted the building to reflect the totality of the society in which it was created and recreated – providing a 21st century perspective. The demolition of the original building allowed honouring the history and adding to it. The aim was to combine past and present a coherent reflection of the social narrative in which the house exists. The various owners of the house over time represent the hybrid nature of Australian culture; the Anglo-Australian who built it, the Greek family who may have contributed the pyramids and the current owners representing the First Nations people of this country and migrants from Reunion (France) and Ireland.

The owners named the house WONGI which is the name of the West Australian tribe (Wangkatha) to which Kate’s maternal Grandmother belonged. At the time the house was originally built, an exciting prospect of a home for the occupiers, Kate’s Grandmother was 8 years old, on country, being hunted down, removed (stolen) and placed on a mission. The name of the tribe is proudly stuccoed on the reconstructed parapet taking its place beside the other terrace names in the street; Florence, Violet, Elsinore and interestingly – Hiawatha. WONGI is a gesture to moving beyond Australia’s culture of selective remembering.

Wongi also means an ‘informal talk or chat.’ This house is a conversation integrating history; how things were done then and how we can do them now. The owners were committed, on both a bricks and mortar and symbolic level, to use the past to look forward. WONGI has prompted chats between the owners, their neighbours and passers-by, interested in the design and build and no doubt sobered learning the story behind the name. Perhaps these talks are WONGI’s most important contribution to its street.

Project Team: Ben Callery + Matt Eagle

Photography: Tatjana Plitt

Styling: Justine Murphy + Melissa Bailey

Builder: Clancy Constructions


Callery House, Northcote

Exploring sustainably sourced materials

“They designed a rear living space that opens onto an airy, double-height void that’s carefully orientated, glazed and cross-ventilated to flood the space with natural light, warmth, breezes and views of the surrounding trees.” – Kath Dolan, Green Magazine

In an age where clients tell us their kids retreat to bedrooms and communicate with parents via social media, we strive for a house that feels more real. Real materials, real heating, real cooling and real family interaction.

We sourced a diverse range of recycled, salvaged and radially sawn timbers and wove them into a naturally comfortable, site responsive home. This timber is used practically to create sun shading, breeze control and privacy but also imaginatively to create feelings of transparency, floating and seclusion.

Conscious that the sourcing of discarded materials was a nest-like approach, we accentuated this in the detailing, abstracting the elements to explore the contrasting feelings of living in a nest; Open & breezy but warm & cosy. Semi-Transparent but secluded. Rough & tactile externally but comfortable internally. Over-riding is a sense of floating, perched in the treetops.

The void is oriented for passive solar gain and draws prevailing southern breezes but also connects the living rooms with the semi-secluded first floor rooms including the floating loft-study fostering real family interaction.

  • Nesting with Style, Green Magazine, Issue 40
  • In Search of the real thing, The Age Domain, 6th March 2015
Photography: Anthony Richardson

Paperback House, Northcote

Paperback house enables a family of four including two publishers who frequently work from home to live, work relax and play connected with each other and the environment. The architectural protagonist is the bookshelf that celebrates their literary vocation at the centre of the house. Double sided and semi-transparent it connects their Library/Study with the Living rooms adjacent and Rumpus room above connecting the occupants while allowing selective seclusion.

The overlapping spaces allows a very compact footprint essential for this relatively small block and a more sustainable use of resources in manufacture and occupation. The layout encourages interaction with the elements for natural comfort and wellbeing. The ground level is open and transparent, flowing outside encouraging play while making the spaces feel larger than the modest footprint.

The floating upper level by contrast is solid and opaque, carved from charred black hardwood. It responds to a different context requiring privacy and shade. Its form cantilevers to provide summer shade to rooms below while letting in low winter sun. Inside translucent surfaces attenuate glare while maintaining the benefits of passive solar gain. Reflective surfaces accentuate his soft light and combined with natural materials create a clam relaxing ambience perfect for reading whether professionally or relaxing.

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue + Jennifer Payette  

Photography: Derek Swalwell  

Styling: Justine Murphy + Melissa Bailey  

Builder: Truewood Constructions  


Elemental House, High Camp

Off-Grid Under a Big Hard Sun

“We went to Ben with a hand-drawn sketch of a design for a modest weekend retreat to be built high on a hill in country Victoria. After listening to our dreams for the house and visiting the site, Ben came back with a suggestion for a completely different design – one which suited the site and the rugged conditions far better. The result is a beautifully crafted robust 10-square house which takes full advantage of its heroic views but still stands strong and secure against the full force of prevailing winds. Ben understood and supported our desire to go off-grid and to make the house as bushfire-resistant as it is possible to be, incorporating elements such a fire-resistant spotted gum timber inside and out. Ben managed the tender process for us, ensuring we obtained the services of a quality builder, and then oversaw the construction which was completed within the expected time frame, making it an easy, seamless and enjoyable process. Naturally we’re biased but we think it is the most beautiful house in Australia.” – Sue & Jim

Elemental house is a low impact off-grid retreat on an exposed ridge line at a place called High Camp, an hour north of Melbourne. In a compact 10m x 10m footprint, this house has one bedroom, one bathroom and one living room. But while it shuns some of the excesses of modern life, it doesn’t sacrifice comfort. The house produces and stores its own power,  collects its own rain water and treats its own waste water on site. The design interacts with the elements to create natural comfort; inviting warming winter sun, blocking out hot summer sun and catching prevailing cool breezes. Perched on a hill overlooking stunning panoramic views, it is exposed to the harshest of Australia’s elements; category N3 winds (low level cyclonic,) bushfire attack level of BAL-29, and the unforgiving hot summer sun. It was the raw natural beauty of the place that drew our clients there. They told us that ‘woora woora’ means ‘sky’ in the local dialect and the sky out here is expansive and beautiful. But on such an exposed site, the sky takes on a paradoxical relationship for us; providing all that we need to be self-sufficient but also imposing the harsh elements that make this place inhospitable.

Rather than shy away, this bold little house confronts the elements and embraces them, immersing the occupant in the broad landscape beyond. The geometric form is a pure expression of the essence of shelter that we crave in this land – like seeking shade under the branches of a broad tree canopy. The depth of the eaves provides summer shade and shelter from rain. The chunkiness of the eaves is a structural response to the wind loads and visually gives the house a sense of solidity. The strong horizontality of this canopy visually accentuates the undulations of the surrounding landscape. We used a natural palette of materials complementing the location. The external timber, spotted gum, is sustainably harvested and is so durable that it is bushfire resistant. Unlike the corrugated iron vernacular, this will age gracefully, allowing the building to settle into the landscape. Inside, protected by the elements, the spotted gum-lined ceiling and cabinetry will stay forever young. The internal palette is minimal, practical and unadorned, reflecting our client’s brief. Concrete is structure, thermal mass, benchtops and hearth. Oriented strand board (OSB), a structural bracing, is appropriated as internal wall lining and cabinetry and painted black. These dark, moody finishes emphasise the sense of shelter. The reflective lustre of the burnished concrete, the sheen of the timber and the mirrored splash backs also increase the soft ambient light and amplify the views beyond, celebrating the awesome nature of this site viewed from a position of comfortable refuge.

Publications: Vantage Point, Green Magazine Issue 67, May 2019 Elemental House, The Age Domain, 26th April 2019

Awards: Houses Awards 2019, Shortlisted Sustainability Awards 2019, Finalist Interior Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) 2019, Shortlisted Timber Design Awards 2019, Finalist

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue

Photography:  Jack Lovel + Dave Kulesza

Builder: Keenan Built


Glide House, Flemington

the spirit of adventure

“We hired Ben to help us create a sun-filled creative space that made the most of our Northern Aspect (particularly in winter). Ben expertly guided us through the briefing, design and tender process – making sure every detail was accounted for to a very high standard. He also was extremely patient and tirelessly answered our questions no matter how basic or small they were! From start to finish the design and build process was a lot of fun and everyone involved from Ben to Truewood Construction (builders) made the process so incredibly easy and stress free – we would not hesitate to recommend them. The end result is a wonderful and creative space that is very hard to leave. In Winter the sun streams in and 12 degrees outside registers as 20+ degrees inside – a testament to good design at work. ” – Christina and Mark

Our clients recently returned to Melbourne from years of travelling and working overseas ‘chasing the sun.’ They exuded that wonderful sense of adventure, optimism, enthusiasm and creativity experienced when travelling. We wanted the extension to their Melbourne home to embody those dynamic feelings. 

Meanwhile it would respond to our client’s brief for a house that uses environmentally sensitive materials and a creative form to harness the sun and be naturally comfortable and beautiful.

Their double fronted block in Flemington, despite its modest size, is blessed with a beautiful northerly rear aspect and views of established native trees all around. The sculptural roof glides over the extension responding to these site opportunities while embodying their adventurous spirit. The roof twists symmetrically around a central ridge, soaring up and out over the backyard to embrace the winter sun. At the southern end the roof gently wraps downwards to each side with sweeping eaves that shelter the house from hot summer afternoon and morning sun. Clerestory windows allow visual connection with street trees beyond and catch high southerly breezes to create cross ventilation. The triangular highlight frames views of the old Edwardian pressed metal roof and chimneys. Like a traveller reflecting upon their hometown from abroad, we look back at the original part of the house, see its foibles and imperfections, and love it all the more for these eccentricities.

The materials are an eclectic collection (as is a traveller’s way) selected to express and accentuate the form: The lines of the white timber ceiling express the shape of the hyperbolic paraboloid roof.  The raw charred black timber cladding contrasts the white ceiling to heighten the sense of lightness.  Recycled timber cabinetry, recycled brick pavers and timber windows with locally sourced hardwoods express our clients desire to re-use where possible and to source local materials to minimise their environmental impact. High levels of insulation, double glazing and thermal mass help maintain stable temperatures creating a naturally comfortable home that as our clients say is “hard to leave.”

Photography: Tatjana Plitt

Builder: Truewood Construction


Pigeon Pair, Sanctuary Issue 41, Summer 2017/18



Treetop House, Northcote

“We hired Ben to design our new home in Northcote and we could not be happier with that decision. From the outset he listened and understood the brief of light; trees and breeze with connectedness and retreat. Sustainability and our budget were always masterfully matched. Ben is an excellent communicator and we were so thankful he project managed the build which meant much less stress for us and an exceptional end product. We would highly recommend Ben to deliver a brilliant design; a transparent process; an eye for detail and all delivered with calm efficient professionalism.” – Liz & Andrew

Treetop House explores architecture that responds to its environment pragmatically but also emotionally, allowing a young family to connect with their leafy surrounds.

Our clients, a family of five, wanted a house that would foster connections within the family whilst providing spaces they could retreat to. They wanted their house to engage with the elements to provide natural comfort, and to embrace the stunning treetop views in the parkland to the rear of their site.

This really sparked our interest, because we think the next level of sustainable design (in addition to practical passive solar techniques, active engagement and sustainable technology) is creating deeper human connection and understanding of the natural environment and our place within it.

The house is designed to amplify the view of the surrounding tree canopies in order to encourage such connections. The height of the kitchen’s raised ceiling frames the treetop views while letting natural light pour in. The clerestory window providing intriguing glimpses to activity on the rooftop deck. This all creates this captivating sense of wonder in this kitchen – the space where the family comes together and radiates from. Lower ceilings in the adjacent spaces provide a sense of safety and coziness. Meanwhile these adjacent spaces are also the zones where family members disperse to pursue their own interests separately while remaining connected with each other.

Upstairs, a turf roof – like an infinity pool in front of an ocean horizon – brings the greenery of the park right into the house. Although not actually trafficable, the sight of the turf creates a feeling of possibility and wonder that stirs the senses.

The cantilevered roof deck draws the occupant out into the treetops within the relative safety and comfort of a high glass balustrade, provides a sense of refuge that heightens the emotional response to that all-important view.

Importantly, the underlying principles of sustainable design are still present. The courtyard layout brings warming winter sun into the living rooms over a tall two storey neighbouring roof. The raised ceiling over the kitchen catches more northern sun and southerly breezes. The occupant is encouraged to actively engage with the elements, operating the openable windows and electric external blinds as needed in response to the moving sun and shifting breezes to create natural comfort within the house. The house is also specced out with solar power, underground water tanks and thermally efficient materials.

Photography: Nic Granleese + Jack Lovel

Builder: Truewood Construction