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$vuetify.icons.faPhone1300 650 620

Peak of perfection

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When a five-bedroom home was built on an inhospitable site – with a vertical sandstone wall and a natural cave – it took ingenuity and fearlessness to incorporate these natural elements.Images: Barton Taylor Photography
Steve Mallinger was passionate about building his family home on Sydney’s idyllic northern beaches, but he knew it would be an uphill battle – both figuratively and literally. Not only would he be in heavy debt, but the dream house would also be built on a very steep slope. In fact, the build would involve more than 100 recycled ironbark steps, all formed over natural rock, to reach his front door. ‘I really went out on a limb with the stairs,’ says Steve with a laugh.
 
This was just one of the challenges that Mallinger Constructions took on when he bought an asbestos-ridden shack in North Curl Curl. It was the panoramic ocean and city skyline views – and an already completed DA plan – that convinced him to take the plunge.
 
Images: Barton Taylor Photography
‘The way I build is quite intuitive,’ he explains. ‘I like building over a long period of time, and I get inspiration from Pinterest posts and online mood boards.’ Steve Mallinger
Upon winning the region’s Home of the Year award for the North Curl Curl house, his fortunes changed almost immediately, with new clients and opportunities on a larger scale coming his way.
‘I wanted to buy it, but I had zero money because I’d just bought land in Balgowlah to build a townhouse and commercial property. I do most of my building work based on the love of the design, as opposed to money, so I really tightened my belt and scraped by until I was able to get the funding,’ he says.
 
In the early stages, Steve contacted the Andrew Donaldson Architecture & Design team that had already drawn up the DA plans. The five-bedroom design consists of four split-level pods built around a steep cliff.
 
The difficulty was the 17-metre rise from the street, including a 3.5-metre projecting sandstone cave and a 4.5-metre vertical sandstone wall between the road and top. With a southern orientation, various rooms capture panoramic ocean views to the southeast, while other spaces score northern sunlight from the rear.
The house also features separate family and bedroom wings, a granny flat on the ground floor with a deck above the garage, and an internal lift.
Treating the concrete to a board-form finish softens the look with natural wood-grain embossing – an old technique that Steve applied using Oregon timber.
‘In the design, Andrew had selected Corten cladding – a copper chromium alloy steel that has a rusty look. I think this has its place in a city or rural setting, but I didn’t think it was suitable for a beach house. When I told him I wanted to use black zinc, board-formed concrete and Australian recycled hardwoods, he said, “Steve, that’s the perfect palette”.’
 
While Andrew refined various details, Steve researched all the products to get the best materials. Treating the concrete to a board-form finish softens the look with natural wood-grain embossing – an old technique that Steve applied using Oregon timber.
 
Upon entering the dwelling, the living and dining wing hovers nine metres out over the sandstone cave, with an outdoor courtyard nestled into the cliff. The house also features separate family and bedroom wings, a granny flat on the ground floor with a deck above the garage, and an internal lift. The master bedroom is located 20 metres above street level, on the top floor, to provide sparkling ocean views.
 
The North Curl Curl house utilises passive solar heating and cooling, as well as cross-ventilation and hydronic heating in the concrete slab.
After working on this project for three-and-a-half years, Steve completed it in late 2018, all on time. ‘The way I build is quite intuitive,’ he explains. ‘I like building over a long period of time, and I get inspiration from Pinterest posts and online mood boards.’
 
That’s how he discovered talented Belgian designer Filip Janssens, whom he commissioned to produce two pieces of geometrically inclined joinery with recessed handles.
 
Steve believes that extra touches like this offer a solid return. ‘It’s a chance to showcase me, the company and the craftspeople I commission. I spent a lot of extra money to make it perfect, which involved no shortcuts. It was a labour of love.’
‘It’s a chance to showcase me, the company and the craftspeople I commission. I spent a lot of extra money to make it perfect, which involved no shortcuts. It was a labour of love.’
The five-bedroom design consists of four split-level pods built around a steep cliff.
After completion in early 2020 – with Steve’s repertoire and ability illustrated – he soon had to deal with the impact of COVID-19. This caused a wave of future work insecurity ‘Within weeks, I had a number of cancelled projects. I felt so unsure of my next steps,’ he says.
 
During this time, Steve found time to enter HIA’s 2020 NSW Housing Awards, although he had some trepidation. ‘I’d never applied before, and I thought I’d never win,’ he says. ‘I knew I was competing against major building and construction companies. The cost of this build was just over $2 million, and I knew I was competing against builds with a much higher budget.’
 
Upon winning the region’s Home of the Year award for the North Curl Curl house, his fortunes changed almost immediately, with new clients and opportunities on a larger scale coming his way.

When the house recently won two 2021 HIA-CSR Australian Housing Awards’ gongs – the Australian Home of the Year and Australian Custom Built Home – the judges recognised Steve’s commitment to the project. They were ‘astounded by not only the highest level of workmanship and the impeccable design but also the challenges that Mallinger Constructions endured throughout the build’. 
 
After winning the awards, Steve soon discovered that it’d given his business more exposure, which will invariably attract prospective clients down the track. ‘It feels like my street cred has gone way up,’ he says.
Steve's passion for construction and design successfully transformed a sloping block into an award-winning home. As he says, ‘Everything I do comes from the heart.’
Running the business for the past 25 years, he now builds two to three homes a year with a tight crew. ‘I’m pretty demanding when it came to the level of this project,’ admits Steve. ‘I had to terminate a few tradies because they couldn’t meet my expectations. Doing this was tough, especially with long-term relationships.’
 
Steve’s building and business prowess started early, growing up with his builder dad, who developed his skills in Austria. ‘What I learnt from him is that there’s only one way of doing it, and it’s the right way. It’s not about the money so much as the finished product.’
 
This philosophy has worked a treat for Steve. His passion for construction and design successfully transformed a sloping block into an award-winning home. As he says, ‘Everything I do comes from the heart.’
www.mallinger.com.au

Builder

Mallinger Constructions

Location

Northern Beaches, Sydney

Materials:

• Exterior cladding: Pre-finished black zinc from elZinc. Supplier CASA Metals.
• Interior and exterior flooring: Australian recycled hardwoods. Old telephone poles and demolished bridges were sourced for the project, all from Australian Architectural Hardwoods.
• Joinery: Designed by Filip Janssens.
• Kitchen and bathroom tapware: City Stik tapware in Nero from Brodware.
• Kitchen splashback: In white Corian with coving detail.