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Fuel for thought

Fuel for thought

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When a couple retired after running a service station for 30 years, they hired a fearless builder to create their dynamic 123 House.

Kerryn Ramsey

Content Writer
When designing a new build, it’s common for clients to draw inspiration from memories of place – be it a seaside shack, a rustic mountain cabin or a European villa. For a Perth couple, however, their inspiration came from a classic Ampol petrol station. 

The clients – a retired couple – owned and ran this business for more than 30 years before decommissioning and subdividing the site. Keeping one of the three blocks, they knew their creative vision would be a challenge for any residential building team. 

‘This new build represents wheel arches of cars and the balustrading represents the spokes in the wheels,’ explains HIA member Steve Calautti, whose been running Calautti Homes for nearly a decade. ‘The clients wanted the house to reflect their heritage with subtle overtones of the Greek Islands. We knew this was going to be a real challenge, but it was exciting as well.’
Discover the story of the 123 House in Perth, built by Calautti Homes.
During the planning stages, the clients had originally commissioned an architect to produce concept drawings but they ‘pulled the pin at the last minute’ as they were too contemporary with no sense of playfulness. Instead, they turned to the Perth firm, Neil Cownie Architect. 

According to Steve: ‘This was the first time I’d worked with Neil, but we soon found a natural connection. When the wife [client] first saw the concept drawings, she knew it was pretty out there and was a little concerned. 

She didn’t know if she liked it or not – and I wasn’t sure either! But the more I went through the process, the more I fell in love with it.’ Neil Cownie’s daring vision included scalloped edges and domed archways. In the living area, laser-cut openings to the cantilevered aluminium shelving represent the old Ampol logo.
Memory of the former petrol station is embodied in the building fabric through the concrete impressions.
‘We knew this was going to be a real challenge, but it was exciting as well,’ says HIA member Steve Calautti, who runs Calautti Homes in Perth.
He even customised the timber dining table to feature legs that represent stacked car tyres. For a touch of whimsy, the house’s bespoke letterbox sits upon a vehicle suspension spring. ‘We incorporated the laser-cut aluminium 123 street number into the frame of the corner window, so it actually projects the shadow.’ 

Apart from the servo references, the clients’ Greek heritage also came into play, particularly in the interior. Vibrant terrazzo floor tiles complement the coloured glass of the windows. As an understated contrast, limewashed painted walls, linen curtain fabric and sandy-coloured brickwork were added. 

One of the highlights is the intricate cabinetwork with sculptural blocks. Timber wall panelling in the dining room floats between the floor tiles and the face brickwork. Steve had no difficulties when building these elements as he first learned his craft as a cabinetmaker and carpenter 30 years ago.
‘All of these details were complex, but I enjoyed that.’
One of the highlights is the intricate cabinetwork with sculptural blocks.
‘All of these details were complex, but I enjoyed that,’ says Steve, who had to solve many difficulties on the fly. ‘Neil would explain what he wanted, then I had to make it work. For instance, when an acoustic board for the bulkhead in the dining room arrived, it was so striking we lined the living room walls with it as well.’ 

While the block of land is a mere 350 square metres, the clients requested a compact swimming pool at the back of the property. To make this feasible, Steve and Neil originally visualised a plunge pool but soon realised they could squeeze in a spa as well. ‘We formed up some seating and steps, using mosaic tiling from the interior,’ says Steve. ‘It looks fantastic, and the clients love it.’ 

To accommodate the clients’ lifestyle, the two-storey house was designed so they could mainly live on the first floor. It comprises a master bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living area, as well as an outdoor deck that provides cross-ventilation and district views. On the ground floor, a sitting area, two bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the laundry, work a treat when their lively grandkids visit. Passive solar design was also introduced for energy efficiency.
Pops of colour and brick-format tiles liven up the bathroom interior.
The two-storey house was designed so the clients could mainly live on the first floor.
Since this is a forever home for the clients, a lift was installed for future comfort. ‘It has been installed but for now, they use this space as storage,’ says Steve. ‘It will help the couple stay in their home as long as possible.’ 

The site is located at a busy intersection with no parking, creating many complexities and costs for Steve and his team. ‘The cost of traffic management and setting up traffic plans took a lot of time,’ says Steve. ‘We had to block off the street a few times as we needed to use cranes.’ 

The build took place mainly in 2021 – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While WA managed to contain the wave, the impact of the global supply chain on materials created shortages. 

‘We’d ordered custom roof tiles from Portugal during the world pandemic. The Portuguese manufacturers were meant to fly here to tutor us on how to measure and lay the tiles but that wasn’t possible. It was all done over FaceTime, which was really challenging.’ 

Steve was relieved that the project was completed in 20 months – all on time. His dedication, craftsmanship and management skills came from running his business for the past decade. ‘I’ve slowly specialised in doing bespoke one-off builds rather than cookie-cutter homes. I’ve been completing high-end, contemporary homes that range from $1 to $3 million for the past 10 years, but there was nothing like this build,’ says Steve, laughing. ‘When I drive past the house, I see it with fresh eyes. And I always think, “Wow, it still blows my mind”.’
Timber wall panelling in the dining room floats between the floor tiles and the face brickwork.
Architect Neil Cownie customised the timber dining table to feature legs that represent stacked car tyres.

The 123 House at a glance


Calautti Homes


Neil Cownie Architect


2022 WA Custom Built Home Of The Year $1.7 million To $2.2 million


Perth, WA


First published on 13 March 2024

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