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In fine form

The construction of this dramatic concrete home took its builder right out of his comfort zone – and the results are incredible.

Photography: Nikole Ramsay

Author

Gabrielle Chariton

Hunkered down on a quiet street in Barwon Heads, a picturesque village located on the southern coastline of Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, the Concrete House takes its design cues from the stark beauty of the surrounding landscape. Off-form concrete dominates the interior and exterior, its austerity softened with weathered timber; its monolithic weight counterbalanced by sculptural lines and an artfully spliced roofline. 

The house was designed for a retired couple who enjoy having extended family come to stay, explains David Webb, owner of David Webb Building Solutions, who oversaw construction of the Concrete House. ‘They are incredibly houseproud people – quite minimalist, there’s not a lot of clutter – which I think is why the architect [Chris Price of Price Architecture] responded with this almost Brutalist design theme,’ he says. 

 
pre-aged timber
Photography: Nikole Ramsay
off-form concrete dominates the exterior – its austerity softened with weathered timber
Photography: Nikole Ramsay

David, who is a HIA member and HIA GreenSmart Professional, founded David Webb Building Solutions in 2013, and specialises in building custom architect-designed homes on the Bellarine Peninsula. With a focus on delivering an impeccable standard of finish, the company takes on only two to three projects per year, and utilises a core team of trusted trades. 

‘Most have been working with us for a long period of time. That’s important, it’s a good way for us to maintain consistency,’ David says. When the owners approached him on a recommendation to build the Concrete House project, it was thanks to the solid reputation he has developed within this tight-knit local community. 

While an older house had once occupied the site, it had already been demolished by the time David got involved, so the 17-month build commenced with a fairly tricky excavation. ‘An issue we come across a lot on building sites in Barwon Heads is that sites are often very sandy, so doing footings and deep excavations is often challenging. That was the case on this site, but there was enough space on the block that we were able to batter the sand safely back to do the footings, excavations and blockwork.’

 
Pip Interiors curated a restrained palette of materials
Photography: Nikole Ramsay
flooring in engineered oak adds warmth
Photography: Nikole Ramsay

The structural components of the three-bedroom home are primarily concrete, with elements of steel. While the heavy walls of the ground floor anchor the home to the earth, the second storey –  which cantilevers out over the north-facing alfresco sitting area – is a lightweight structure, supported by ‘a couple of decent-sized steel beams’ and swathed in vertical timber planks of silvery, pre-aged Jarrah and Karri. 

The pared-back lines and absolute clarity of the Concrete House’s architecture meant that every aspect of the construction and finish had to be millimetre-perfect. While a specialist concreter had been lined up to oversee this aspect of the build, he reneged at the last moment, pushing David and his team well out of their comfort zone. ‘It meant that we, as carpenters, had to take on the construction of the concrete walls.’

After an intensive research program and seeking ‘a lot of advice’, they started building the formwork. ‘to build the walls and beams for the study, It took four guys about four weeks, full time, on the formwork and steel, and then we poured it in a day and then a few days later, we’d strip it in a day,’ David says. ‘It’s quite a strange way to build, in that you build the house and then you almost pull it down again, just in the formwork. There’s so much involved in it.’ 

 
louvres create a thermal chimney
Photography: Nikole Ramsay
in direct contrast to the monolithic facade, the interiors are bright and airy
Photography: Nikole Ramsay

And while he admits that it was incredibly challenging, David is ‘super rapt with how well all the walls came up, the consistency of colour, the consistency of finish. They’re a pleasure to look at.’

In direct contrast to the monolithic facade, the interiors are bright and airy, the uncluttered spaces lit by a series of strategically placed clerestory windows and expansive floor-to-ceiling glazing. The geometric form of the exterior follows through to the interiors, where the raked ceilings trace the angles of the concrete walls. 

Pip Interiors curated a restrained palette of materials, offsetting the tactile rawness of the concrete against pristine planes of white plasterboard and a sandy-hued engineered oak flooring from Royal Oak. ‘A lot of the cabinetry is also oak veneer, it adds a bit of softness to the palette when there’s so much concrete and glass.’ 

Despite its austere styling, this is a home designed and built for supreme comfort. Solar passive principles have been utilised to cocoon the interiors from the climatic extremes of the windswept Victorian coastline. The length of the building faces north to catch the winter sun, with deep eave overhangs protecting the glazing during the warmer months. ‘The concrete itself acts as a thermal stabiliser,’ David says. ‘There’s also in-slab and ceiling insulation, and the windows are double-glazed and thermally broken. It’s always a very constant temperature inside the house.’ 

 
raked ceilings trace the angles of the concrete walls
Photography: Nikole Ramsay
the Concrete House takes its design cues from the stark beauty of the surrounding landscape
Photography: Nikole Ramsay

Central to the home’s thermal functioning is a full-height void, lined in oak boards and lit by LED strips, that rises dramatically over the kitchen island. ‘It has motorised louvres facing to the south which act remarkably well in creating a sort of thermal chimney,’ David says. ‘You can open them up, and open the doors to the kitchen and living room, and the wind just hooks through and the house is instantly cool. It’s a pretty clever design feature.’

And how did the owners react to the finished project? ‘They were living next door during the build so we maintained pretty steady communication through the process. Now that they’re living in it, they’re very happy with how it performs and the level of finish we were able to achieve.’ 

While the Concrete House took David into previously uncharted technical territory, he says he enjoyed the experience and is incredibly proud of the finished result. ‘A challenge is great; a challenge is even better when you actually succeed,’ he says. 

‘It’s a really great thing to be able to take a set of plans and an empty block and build something amazing. Just the sense of going through the process and watching it all transpire…building is a very rewarding job.’ 

 
‘a lot of the cabinetry is also oak veneer, it adds a bit of softness to the palette’
Photography: Nikole Ramsay
the absolute clarity of the concrete house’s architecture meant that every aspect had to be millimetre-perfect
Photography: Nikole Ramsay

Concrete House at a glance

Builder: David Webb Building Solutions

Architect: Chris Price, Price Architects

Interior designer: Pip Interiors

Landscaping: King’s Landscaping

Materials:

  • Roofing: Colorbond Kilplock Ultra Steel
  • Windows: motorised louvres, Innovative Window Solutions
  • Walls: off-form concrete, Hanson Concrete; pre-aged Jarrah and Karri timber, Australian Architectural Hardwoods
  • Flooring: engineered Oak, Royal Oak
  • Cabinetry: Oak veneer, Pavilion Joinery
  • Kitchen benchtop: Smartstone Gris Roca
  • Appliances: Miele
  • Fixtures: Brodware tapware, Hydrotherm towel rails.

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