Bellevarde Bondi - balcony

In the deep end

This five-storey building could be mistaken for an apartment block rather than a home, but in fact, it’s an exceptional combination of the two.

Photo courtesy Justin Alexander


Ian Bushnell

For project manager Daniele Feltracco, the name of the building said it all: Deepwater. This property is an award-winning home on Ben Buckler Point in Bondi, completed in 2015.

Owners Michael and Manuela Darling started with a dream – to create a ‘townhouse by the sea, like a merchant house you might find in a Mediterranean port’. But it could have turned into a nightmare when their first builder failed after six months, leaving only a hole in the ground.

Tobias Partners architects drafted in ACT-based builder and HIA member Bellevarde, a business with which it had recently worked, to step into the breach. With just three days’ notice, Bellevarde ratcheted up its distinctive assessment process so they could make an immediate start on what would be a $5–10 million build.

‘It was different because we needed to jump into the deep end of the pool,’ Daniele Feltracco of Bellevarde says. ‘We met the project manager on Friday. He dumped 10 volumes of information on to our laptops and said “here you go, we expect you guys to be on site Monday morning running the job”.’

Constructing the five-storey, class 2, exposed concrete structure on a rocky outcrop that gets covered by tidal waters daily presented some significant challenges – starting with accessing the site, which is down a long, very narrow road.

Not only were there 140 neighbours in surrounding apartments to keep on side during what would be an 18-month build, but the limited access and space meant all the concrete work had to be poured in situ with only limited use of a mobile crane. Formwork and building elements needed to be small enough to be transported to the site and then assembled into position piece by piece.

Bellevarde Bondi - balcony
The design brief was to capture those endless ocean views, as much sun as possible in the colder months and cooler breezes in the summer
Photo courtesy Justin Alexander
Bellevarde Bondi - exterior
Balconies & terraces frame the front
Photo courtesy Tom Wetzlar

It drew on all of Daniele’s not inconsiderable management and problem-solving skills to maintain a smooth construction run and engineer solutions to design conundrums as they emerged.

With general agreement that quality and design should be the priority, there were no compromises on attention to detail and precision.

All the plywood formwork was cut to precise measurements off-site in the joinery shop. Tobias Partners architect John Richards says this is typical of the attention to detail that is Bellevarde’s and Daniele’s hallmark. ‘He followed up with a wonderfully detailed jigsaw-puzzle of a plan that outlined every formwork piece – there must have been over a thousand,’ he says.

Daniele said that in this cramped environment the programming of trades and materials was particularly important, with a mobile crane going into action every three weeks.

‘Everything we brought onsite had to go in an unfinished room or space and be continually moved around with the key being not to have too much onsite,’ he says.

The requirement for class 2 off-form reinforced concrete meant there was no room for error. Extensive collaboration with both the architect and engineers was critical to ensure everything ended up with a seamless finish.

‘You have to get that 100 per cent right from day one. If you make one small mistake at the bottom, that mistake gets multiplied as you keep constructing and going up and across,’ Daniele says.

Bellevarde Bondi - balcony
The watery, salty and humid environment also posed dangers for the concrete
Photo courtesy Justin Alexander
Bellevarde Bondi - kitchen
American oak joinery matches the flooring
Photo courtesy Justin Alexander

Architect John Richards says that traditional concrete pour breaks can blemish an off-form concrete building but the team devised an intricate system of rebates and concealed form-ties to hide the pour lines and structural ties. ‘This was something of an exploratory process and no one really knew if it could be achieved on this scale. We needn’t have worried. It was exquisitely executed,’ he says.

The watery, salty and humid environment also posed dangers for the concrete so it had to be a special mix with any reinforcements galvanised off-site. This process meant Daniele had to think two to three months ahead of each concrete pour.

In a restrained palette of materials, the external concrete is complemented by some rendered masonry and brickwork, painted aluminium and stainless steel, and contrasted with timber in the form of external teak battens in various places including windows and doors.

Inside there are smaller battens on the doors. The flooring is mainly American oak, with teak used externally and grey marble tiles used on the high-traffic areas. The joinery, including some wall panelling, is all American oak to match the flooring. In the wet areas there are floor-to-ceiling marble slabs.

Large floor-to-ceiling glass windows present ocean views and allow the light to pour in. Daniele said the interior stairs were a project in themselves, redesigned in the midst of the build to allow as much light as possible through the treads from the tall window behind.

John says Daniele applied some real out-of-the-box thinking, developing a bespoke mould that allowed ferrules to be cast directly into the stair treads and walls.

‘This clever design tweak produced a sharper and more slender riser, lending a light and airy feel to the space,’ he says.

Bellevarde Bondi - interior
A dividing wall slides out and meets the staircase wall to create two distinct residences
Photo courtesy Justin Alexander
Bellevarde Bondi - exterior
The solid face deters cold winter winds
Photo courtesy Justin Alexander

Daniele says the design brief was to capture those endless ocean views, as much sun as possible in the colder months and cooler breezes in the summer. An exoskeleton of balconies and terraces frames the front of the building to provide a recess from the elements, while the rear is windowless and presents a solid face to deter cold winter winds and maintain privacy from the street.

‘Every room has a great view and a good amount of sun coming in to warm the room, especially in winter. And every room has vertical drop-down shutters that act as louvres to control the sun during the summer,’ Daniele says.

Double insulation in the ceilings and walls ensures comfort levels are maintained.

Another clever design function developed by the architects and building team allows Deepwater and its 1000 square metres of floor space to be divided into two distinct residences if need be, fulfilling the Darlings’ wish to share their home with family and friends.

As such there are two sets of kitchens and bathrooms, with the top three-level, two-bedroom apartment having its main entry on the northern side, and the lower two-level, three-bedroom apartment’s access on the southern side of the allotment.

An operable dividing wall on the second level slides out of a nearby cupboard and across the room until it hits the edge of the staircase wall, locking onto the floor. The only thing to share is the garage.

The result delighted the Darlings, who have been more than happy to have Bellevarde show Deepwater to prospective clients.

‘It’s always a good sign when clients allow you to do this,’ Daniele says. ‘That display of confidence from one client to another is gold, really.’

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