Perched in the treetops on the hill behind Eltham Village, Silvertop House is a contemporary expression of the natural living synonymous with this beautiful locality and its inhabitants.
The owners are a family of four, one of whom has recently undertaken a vocational change from a busy legal professional to garden designer. Having grown up in the area they are attuned to the local environment and its design vernacular - Eltham’s tradition of natural materials and environmentally responsive buildings and gardens.
The family needed zoned spaces that are flexible to enable work, play and creativity from home. They wanted spaces in which they can come together, but also seek selective solitude. They wanted their house to sit comfortably in the environment and be naturally comfortable to occupy - using passive solar design to minimise reliance on heating and cooling. We at BCA have an affinity for Eltham’s design ethos and wanted to reinterpret the spirit of the generations of natural architecture in the area, within a contemporary form meeting modern needs.
The site had great opportunities but also many constraints to design around. On top of a hill, it has views of many established trees, on this block and beyond. But these trees shade much of the site, potentially compromising passive solar gain.
The block is oriented north to front, meaning living rooms opening up to warming sun would face the street, presenting potential privacy issues. The property’s steep slope, 2m from east to west, unveils expansive distant views and sunsets over Eltham’s valley to the west. But any windows facing this way could potentially overheat in summer. The block’s dramatic slope could also make construction difficult, labour-intensive and expensive. Use of materials like concrete or brick would be prohibitively costly. Not benefiting from the thermal mass of these materials would make the energy rating harder to obtain. Our design uses an elevated L-shaped floorplan to take advantage of the sloping site while overcoming its difficulties.
The front of the house is raised so the living spaces and deck are in the treetops enjoying unobstructed sunlight while maintaining a sense of privacy from the street below. The cantilevered deck draws occupants out into their leafy surrounds where vertical and horizontal timber slats provide more privacy and control summer sun.
The main Living room is oriented to the north parallel to the street. Its ceiling rakes up to an east-facing highlight window that draws in morning sun over the adjacent rooms and directs the eye up towards the sky over the neighbouring trees.
At the front east corner, a second living room provides a flexible space that can be used as an occasional guest bedroom and a second living room – a creative space for drawing, craft, sewing, playing the piano, or simply relaxing on the window seat (furnished with cushions made by the owner) in the treetop views. This room, and an additional compact home office, both sit across the entry hall from the main living zone. When open, they have a line of sight to the kitchen/living through a semi-transparent bookshelf that enables family members to remain connected while in separate spaces.
The bedroom wing is perpendicular to the living wing, running the length of the block’s eastern side, opening it up to the expansive western views. The children’s bedrooms share light and views with the corridor servicing this wing through internal windows. External shading to the western façade is provided by a fine steel mesh arbour above the shallow engawa porch that will be seasonally engulfed by deciduous plants.
From the street the rectilinear form appears to delicately float in the treetops. The façade changes from opaque to transparent as the Silvertop Ash board & batten cladding transition into semi-transparent timber slats. This rough-sawn hardwood, from sustainably managed Victorian plantations, is greying gracefully, blending the house into its surrounds. The internal material palette is smoother and softer using natural colours to reinforce the relationship with the setting. The Silvertop Ash board and battens to the walk-around bedhead have a smooth, tactile dressed finish. The timber floors and cabinetry bathed dappled natural light provides warmth. The green mosaic tiles and the bathroom’s concrete basins and bronze fittings provide joyful moments of colour.
To keep the cost down, no concrete or brick is used in the main house, just where required in the carport. The majority of the house is all lightweight, but heavily insulated and double-glazed to be thermally efficient without mass. The existing front fence and driveway were retained, a nice remnant of the old house and garden.
The property is ready for the next stage in its evolution as the owners undertake landscaping over the coming years. We’re looking forward to seeing their garden complement the house and allow it to further settle into its surroundings.
From the client:
Our home provides a way for us to connect to nature even during those times we need comfort, refuge and retreat from the outside world. That ongoing connection has a positive impact on us daily. The home also provides efficient spaces for work, study and individual pursuits but also generous and beautiful spaces where the family can come together. We derive great joy from the internal and external finishes of the home, from the hand-glazed tiles to the rough-sawn cladding, which reflect the urban bush surrounds that we love so much about Eltham.
Ben and Jennifer were terrific to work with. They really listened to and understood our brief and designed a fantastic house for us that we now love to call home.