Moody master

Despite its large size, this deeper toned ensuite with all the trimmings is cleverly zoned for the homeowner’s intimacy and comfort.

Photo courtesy: Archertec Interiors


Annie Reid

It’s been eight years in the making, but this ensuite by Archertec Interiors has been well worth the wait. The deeply sensual, tactile bathroom is a sanctuary of style and substance, and it’s also just won an HIA honour – the 2019 HIA Australian Bathroom Design award.


In winning the coveted prize, Archertec Interiors director, Sonja McAuliffe paid tribute to her client, who briefed her to create the bathroom for his new house in the ACT, as the owner-builder. Although they’d worked together successfully before, they wanted something extraordinary to integrate with the opulent master bedroom suite.


‘He gave me free range and said, “I want this to be really amazing”,’ she laughs.


He also specified masses of storage, a big bath beside a window overlooking a large swimming pool downstairs, and a hero stone vanity. 


Luckily, the ensuite was not short on space measuring 5.1m in length by 4.2m wide. But the generous proportions set up an unusual design challenge: how to do more with more, and create zones that exuded intimacy and comfort, rather than appear cold and cavernous?
An enormous Apaiser Nero ‘Oman’ freestanding bath is positioned as the focal point
basin vanity
A slab of Arabescato marble forms the vanity
Warmth is introduced through the Spotted Gum floors
‘The front of the house has quirky angles, so my concept was based on the shapes of the architecture, with a five-star hotel feel’
Sonja’s response was to start with context and design language. At two storeys high, with split levels, six bedrooms and an architect design that fanned, wrapped and swept around its site, the new house provided plenty of inspiration. And an unusual reference point – a suspended glass bridge that led to the master bedroom.

‘We always wanted to carry through the language of the entire house,’ she says. ‘The front of the house has quirky angles, so my concept was based on the shapes of the architecture, with a five-star hotel feel.’ 

The master suite achieves exactly that. It sets the scene with a hidden walk-in robe and its own foyer entrance, featuring a glass dividing screen and stone joinery. This flows seamlessly into the ensuite proper, where an enormous Apaiser Nero ‘Oman’ freestanding bath is positioned under a window as the focal point in the room. Tick.

The bath was selected because it was the only freestanding style in a colour other than white, and its position is perfectly oriented to watch the television suspended from the shower wall, with ceiling speakers. 
A neatly screened off toilet space and storage adds privacy, while adjacent, a large walk-in double shower zone features a marble shower shelf with two mixers on one side, two shower roses on the other, and a central ceiling shower.

The game-changer is the immense slab of Arabescato marble that forms the ensuite’s elongated vanity, which cantilevers off the shower wall as if floating on air. With its apron-edge detail and textured, marble finish, the dramatic mass of highly engineered stone is designed to be open on two sides, creating a beautifully functional zone that can be accessed from within the ensuite as well as from around the other side in the bedroom’s robe area. Not only does it feature golden elements that complement the overall colour scheme, but it also references the suspended glass bridge leading to the main bedroom.

‘We had so much space that I thought maybe you could use the vanity from outside the bathroom, which gave me an opportunity to be more creative,’ Sonja says. Another tick.

Adding to the floating effect are the basins, which sit atop the vanity in the form of two 700mm Apaiser Nero vessels. Matching the bath, they feature mixers and scoops that twist, allowing users to wash easily regardless of which side they stand on. Above them, a mirrored cabinet is suspended and cantilevered to match the vanity below. 

‘The basins are like canoes,’ Sonja laughs. ‘But the overall inspiration was the architecture.’

The interior finish is classic and timeless, with a palette of natural stones and porcelain that offsets the masculine aesthetic introduced through the darker Apaiser bath and vessels. Large format Grey Cliffstone porcelain tiles add to the sense of openness, while warmth is introduced through the Spotted Gum floors outside the vanity. The effect is complemented by aged timber veneer cabinetry, a product called Eveneer in Aged Oak Coffee by Elton Group, to create a moody and high-quality feel. 

‘I see it as a timeless palette,’ Sonja says. 
Grey Cliffstone porcelain tiles
The vanity mixers and scoops twist, allowing users to wash easily regardless of which side they stand on
Not surprisingly, the vanity was the most challenging aspect of the design. The engineering precision required meticulous planning to ensure stable anchor points, while also ensuring the joinery suspended from the ceiling was carefully geared.

Another issue was managing the falls, which Sonja says can be tricky when large format tiling is specified. But the challenge turned into an opportunity to showcase the build’s attention to detail, as highlighted by the blade wall around the shower, which is mitred perfectly.

‘It’s great to see this level of craftmanship. Even though as a whole it involved a lot more work from our builder, Mass Construction, and joiner, Heiniger Joinery, it’s a really fantastic outcome.’ 

With more than 20 years’ experience, Sonja has seen her share of award programs. 

But this win was a complete surprise.

Turning her back away from the stage just as the winner was announced, she was amazed when she heard her name read out.

‘I seriously didn’t expect it at all,’ she laughs. ‘My face was in shock and I actually still can’t believe it.’

The win is testament to her approach, where she believes her design is only as good as the builder building it, and she is committed to work hard to provide a good service. She’s also recently come back into the residential market after various iterations of her business over the years. 

‘I’m staying small and keen to showcase our ability and credibility,’ she says.

With this big win, we’re not sure she’ll be small for long.

design details

Builder: Owner-builder
Architect: Archertec Interiors
Location: Canberra


  • Vanity bench top: 20mm thick polished Arabescato marble stone slabs with apron edge detail
  • Floor and wall tiles: 600x900mm 
Lea Cliffstone range, Grey Tenerife
  • Main joinery: Eveneer aged timber veneer in Aged Oak Coffee from Elton Group
  • Basin: 900x410mm, Apaiser Oman Stone, Nero
  • Basin and bath tapware: Gessi Rettangolo High Basin Mixer, Freestanding Bath Set
  • Shower rose and tapware: Gessi Rettangolo Vertical Shower, Chrome, Wall Mixer, chrome
  • Toilet – Parisi, Ellisse MK II Wall Faced Pan; Geberit Sigma Bolero Flush Plate, bright chrome
  • Towel rail and ring: Gessi Rettangolo Wall Mounted, chrome

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