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Victorious vision

Radiating raw, robust elegance, the 2020 HIA–CSR Australian Home of the Year sprung from an inspiringly collaborative effort between the homeowner, architect, and builder – BJ Millar Constructions.

Photos courtesy Andy MacPherson Studio

Author

Laura Valic

From the textured concrete walls to the expanses of timber trimmings and lush indoor gardens, each and every element of this waterside property is ‘absolute perfection’. This bold assertion came from one of the hardest (self-described) critics on the judging panel for the custom-built home, who, after traversing its unconventional layout said he ‘can’t find a fault, it is just magical’.

How do you achieve a perfect home, one virtually without fault? Vision, talent and expertise, to be sure, but in this instance collaboration was at its core. 

An experienced home builder (client side), the owner had a clear idea in her mind of what she wanted for her next project, named the Cove House for its enviable position in Sanctuary Cove, a premier suburb on the Gold Coast’s Coomera River. Its intriguing form took shape thanks to the talent of architect Justin Humphrey, who merged aspects of brutalist architecture and sub-tropical modernism throughout the 485-square metre residence. The design constantly connects its occupants wherever they are to both water and nature, a curved concrete entrance tempting you inside past delicate timber battens and around internal tropical gardens towards the estuary. 

The client and architect’s ability to articulate their vision to Queensland builder, Brad Millar of BJ Millar Constructions, was pivotal to the project’s success. ‘It was our fifth major project for the client, and our first with Justin Humphrey Architects, but we understood each other very quickly,’ says Brad, who came on board during the preliminary design stage. ‘The ability of Justin and the client to transform their thoughts to paper for us to build was simply amazing.’

 

Enlisting the services of BJ Millar Constructions once more speaks volumes for the level of respect and trust the client holds for the business. Founded in 1995, Brad and his team, including brother Paul who was the project manager on this build, along with their long-standing contractors (some associations lasting decades) complete both residential and commercial projects of any type. But more often than not they’re demanding and one of a kind.

The Cove House certainly fits into this category. Besides the street and canal frontages, the home also had a side boundary to a public path which needed to be fire rated. The designer’s resolution was an off-form concrete wall with inset powder-coated black louvres to help with ventilating Queensland’s warm climate.

Of the formwork, Brad says there were a number of challenges and considerations to contend with. ‘The method is to strip the concrete down to achieve a grainy timber look and feel,’ he explains. ‘We kept prototyping little sections until we got it right, tweaking it back and forth until the details collided successfully.’ 

The concrete walls were one of the first structures to go up, and once finished became a source of paranoia for the crew while the rest of the home was constructed around them. ‘Every piece of timber had to be dragged by, or over, or around them!’ Brad explains. ‘They’re very detailed concrete panels, and granted they’re tough, but we still had to protect them from very early on in the process.’ 

 

Equally detailed are the home’s powerful timber components, from the V-groove lined ceilings under the floating roofline down to the French Oak floors. But for many, the hero element will be the individually-made vertical wooden battens that curve around the exterior and transfer indoors to zone the private and public rooms. The effect is one of rich, tactile warmth against the cool, rawness of the concrete walls, and stone paving and finishes. 

Brad says integrating the steel beams into the roof to achieve that effortlessly floating effect over the home was another challenge, given that there is approximately 28 tonnes of steel beams. ‘To conceal those beams in a timber-framed roof required a huge amount of integration,’ he says. ‘It’s more detailed than anything we had done before but we arguably had the best fabricator and the best engineer to make it all come together. This was another example of information sharing and collaboration.’

Experimenting with volume, the roof, coupled with high ceilings, offers an incredibly open feel to the home as it flows onto an amenity-filled outdoor entertaining area. Edging the waterline, the space features a built-in barbeque, fireplace, sunken lounge and pool to be enjoyed by the homeowner and guests while soaking in the views. On account of an enormous custom-made glass door that glides along the connection to the kitchen and living area, the terrace can be felt as a purposeful extension of the interior.

 

The Cove House has an undoubtedly luxurious feel, but practicality was not overlooked in many of its inclusions. The home was designed to maximise the orientation of its site, and includes substantial insulation and high-performing low-e glass to reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling. A large underground water tank, 54 solar panels and three Tesla Powerwall batteries also allows the house to almost exist off the grid. 

Completed in 18 months, the spectacular end result is a project quite clearly born from the synthesis between client, designer and builder. 

From Brad’s perspective the Cove House has been an outstanding success story for BJ Millar Constructions. The project took out top gong, 2020 HIA–CSR Australian Home of the Year, as well as HIA Australian Custom Built Home (partnered by Beacon Lighting Commercial) – a feat all the more impressive since it was the first time the HIA member of 25 years had entered the awards program. 

‘The home has been unbelievably well received, we are very proud of the outcome,’ Brad says. ‘We’ve got a wonderful team and group of subcontractors who are consistently up to the task, so it’s lovely to be recognised for the workmanship.’

From the judges’ perspective, when it came to what wowed them exactly it was this ‘superb workmanship and craftsmanship carried out with precision and thought’, their comments acknowledging the design’s complexity and the careful, expert construction required to pull it off. 

‘We’re very proud we’ve come through this with our relationship with the client and architect, our people and our contractors stronger than ever,’ Brad says. ‘That means we’ve hit the mark all round.’

If the details, clever design and craftsmanship all made a near ‘perfect’ project, then perhaps it’s the passion that the trio put into the home that can be felt from within, producing that transcendent ‘magical’ feel.  

 
side of house

Cove House at a glance

Builder: BJ Millar Constructions 

Architect: Justin Humphrey Architects

Structural Engineers: NGS Structural Engineers

Award: 2020 HIA–CSR Australian Home of the Year and 2020 HIA Australian Custom Built Home (partnered by Beacon Lighting Commercial)

Location: Gold Coast

Materials:

  • Roofing: Colorbond Monument
  • Roof frame: steel, Bel Fab
  • Ceilings: 90mm V-joint, Blackbutt oil finish, Australian Timber Ceiling
  • Concrete walls and formwork: Lyons Structures
  • Flooring: French Oak; split stone crazy paving 15-30mm, Endicott; 700x700mm brushed natural stone, Torino
  • Timber battens: Blackbutt 42x19mm and 42x42mm flute profile, Woodform Architectural
  • Windows: Breezway power louvres and Dulux Duratec-Zeus black matte, G. James Australia
  • Benchtops: Marengo Silestone in a suede finish, Regency Stone; custom concrete benchtops, Pop Concrete
  • Cabinetry: Polytec natural oak ravine and black Wenge ravine, Blum hardware, BJF Joinery
  • Louvres: kiss pivot system, electrical roof screen, Vanguard Blinds
  • Solar: 18kW solar PV system and three Tesla Powerwalls 2.0, Supergreen Solutions.
 

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