s smith

Striking in sorrento

If the Mornington Peninsula is Victoria’s playground for the rich and famous, then this award-winning spec house in Sorrento is in excellent company.

Photos: S Smith Builders


Annie Reid

Sorrento 3 House, built by Steve and Vicki Smith of S Smith Builders in Victoria, is a stunning spec home project that offered their company a chance to show off some serious wow factor, with the design delivering to the Mornington Peninsula’s unique residential market, rather than to a client brief.
‘Our target market is generally semi-retired couples seeking a home to live in three to four days a week, often with family coming to stay during holiday periods,’ Vicki says.
The strategy is clearly working, with the house winning the 2019 HIA Australian Spec Home (partnered by Stratco). 
‘The awards represent great value. We get a lot of feedback from people saying they can see we really care about what we do and what we can achieve,’ she says.
The spec home is set on part of a large property the Smiths subdivided four ways, each with a generous sized lot.
Striking upon entry is the timber screening on the exterior facade, creating a pergola made from recycled Blackbutt. Originating from a sewing factory in Sydney that was used to make military uniforms, the Blackbutt pergola is positioned on the north-west side of the house to provide deep cover for the deck beneath. 
Natural rammed earth wall
The recycled Blackbutt pergola provides deep cover for the deck beneath
‘The pergola provides welcoming shade in the summer months but also allows sunlight to penetrate into the house during the cooler winter months,’ Vicki says.

To complement the pergolas, timber battens in the kitchen line the underside of the island bench and the adjacent wall to the butler’s pantry wrapping around a central pod, creating texture befitting the home’s coastal environment. The natural finishes inject warmth into a large space that could otherwise have felt cold and stark. 

The kitchen bench features a shark’s tooth blade edge of reconstituted stone, which required meticulous workmanship from experienced stonemasons.

‘It’s a pleasure to build something with an extensive level of detail,’ Steve says.

Steve and Vicki enjoy using natural organic materials in their projects. Rammed earth is a beautiful natural, thermally-efficient finish which can be constructed in a range of natural colours to suit the site. The colour depends on the quarry the sand comes from.

Inside, a rammed earth wall features a Jetmaster fireplace, and outside exterior blade walls buffer the driveway from the private outdoor living space. Also forming a rear pool fence, the rammed earth importantly creates a strong visual cue that draws the eye away from the site’s sloping block, which originally fell steeply away from the road.

‘It ties the materiality from the outside in, creating the perfect balance,’ Steve says.
The kitchen exudes a light-filled ambience as if cooking outdoors
s smith
‘Visitors are excited by the natural material palette, abundance of natural light and the flexible home layout’
The site topography challenged their brief for a single-level house, but by splitting the house into dual sections separated by two steps, the house sits happily within its coastal context.

If materiality delivers the detail, then the house’s clever zoning gives it space to shine. 

Working with prominent practice, Wolveridge Architects – the Smiths also live in a Wolveridge-designed house – together they could deliver a market-leading design over and above the standard. 

The house’s two living spaces, which run parallel to each other are cleverly designed. Unlike some designs where the second living area is often an afterthought, here both are given equal prominence. The first is positioned across the front of the house, while the second captures a sunny, northerly aspect, sitting at the rear beyond the house’s two steps. Full-height slide away doors throughout the house allow for rooms to be closed off or opened up to suit different purposes, while hidden hinges and feature door jambs add to the high-end specification. 

‘Visitors are excited by the natural material palette, abundance of natural light and the flexible home layout when they enter the house,’ Vicki says.

The bedrooms are also zoned to suit multiple family and guest configurations. The master suite is separate from the other bedrooms with a bedroom, study area, walk-in robe and ensuite, plus direct views into the garden. Then there’s a fully-equipped guest zone with an ensuite for visiting family and friends.
Natural finishes inject warmth
‘It’s a pleasure to build something with an extensive level of detail’
Other standouts are the large custom skylights, which pop up into the roof over the kitchen and butler’s pantry. As a result, the kitchen exudes a light-filled ambience as if cooking outdoors, but also mitigates direct sunlight and heat, particularly during the warmer months, with automated retractable screens. 

The zoning helps with heating and cooling efficiency too, because users can heat or cool only the areas in use at any time. The house is also designed to provide excellent cross-flow ventilation. 

‘The skylight retractable blinds provide instant relief from solar heat in the summer months whilst allowing beautiful natural light into the kitchen and pantry areas in the winter months at the touch of a button,’ Steve explains. 

Considering Steve and Vicki have only ever entered two HIA awards – winning both – the house is a testament to their commitment to quality. The market agreed too: it was snapped up in 30 days to buyers who had been house hunting for three years.

The project is also a perfect contribution to the area they grew up in, work in and love. And it marks a passion that’s sustained them for 35 years on the Mornington Peninsula, evolving the business to include six office staff, 13 carpenters onsite, a full-time labourer and team of preferred trades, based from their headquarters on Sorrento’s main street. 

‘We’ve grown a lot over the years, but we are passionate about retaining personal contact with our clients and maintaining a team which delivers buildings of the highest quality that we can proud of,’ Vicki says.

Sorrento 3 House at a glance

Architect: Wolveridge Architects
Location: Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Award: 2019 HIA Australian Spec Home
Partner: Stratco
  • Roof: Colorbond in Monument
  • Walls: 20x110 shiplap Blackbutt cladding, Everist Timber; retaining walls from treated pine sleepers with steel uprights; CSR Barestone cladding
  • Decking: Spotted gum hardwood, Everist Timber
  • Paving: Luca crazy paving, Eco Outdoor 
  • Rammed earth walls in natural finish, Olnee Constructions
  • Recycled Blackbutt pergola: Timber Search
  • Flooring: tongue and groove engineered timber flooring, Wood Cut; 600x600mm Cliffstone Antique Finish tiles in White Dover, Signorino
  • Kitchen: Miele & Qasair appliances
  • Joinery: benchtops in grain matt finish, Stone Italiana; timber laminate, Navlam; laminate in white natural finish, Laminex
  • Lighting: pendants Roman T-LED and 3xApollo PD, Masson; skylights, Creative Windows
  • Fireplace: Woodfire box 850mm, Jetmaster

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