Barwon Heads House

Dec 16, 2011
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Photography by Peter Clarke
  • Designer
  • Architect Inarc Architects

The first of the Baby Boomer generation turns 65 this year. This much discussed demographic is wealthy, healthy and educated, and targeted as a key Australian consumer group. What they eat, what they drink, what they buy and where they travel to are all points of interest to manufacturers and service providers alike. As this generation reaches retirement age, where and how they aspire to live becomes an increasingly critical question in terms of their impact on the housing market.

While new housing research responding to this ageing population seems promising, engaging with flexible, responsive typologies, recent developer-driven speculation has proven unfounded. The predicted mass exodus from the suburbs into city apartments with close proximity to theatres, restaurants and art galleries didn’t eventuate. Many high-end apartment buildings in Melbourne’s Docklands, for example, were marketed directly to Boomers, yet in reality the precinct struggles to fulfil the needs of its real population: international students and young professional residents who demand quotidian facilities like daycare and a primary school.

For this generation, the shift to retirement is gradual and lifestyle focused. In terms of housing, the most visible demonstration of this aspiration is the up-scaled holiday home. For affluent Boomers, this means maintaining the family home – or at least a smaller home in the city – and building a holiday house that can evolve into a retirement strategy. In contrast to the stereotypical representation of Boomers as the SKI (‘spending the kids’ inheritance’) generation, many are seizing the opportunity to provide the entire family with access to their aspirational lifestyle by building a dwelling that can accommodate large family gatherings and holidays.

The house draws on the tradition of the 1960s weatherboard beach shack.


Inarc Architects have completed a sophisticated prototype of this typology at Barwon Heads, about 100 km west of Melbourne near the Bellarine Peninsula. According to architect, Reno Rizzo, ‘The clients have a firm, family connection to Geelong that extends to Barwon Heads and this wonderful part of the world.’ The brief therefore required this holiday home to eventually become a permanent residence, with ‘a design challenge of combining the excitement of a retreat dwelling with the practicalities of a year-round home’.

Protected by a hollow behind the sand dunes of the local golf course, the house is in a coastal village subdivision under transformation from fibro shacks on double blocks to contemporary, predominantly expensive holiday and permanent homes. The broad eaves of its low-slung flat roof and rough materiality suggest this
building acknowledges its disappearing neighbours in attitude if not scale. A wicker fence and clean blockwork walls define a street domain of native planting and gravel driveways, a lack of formality, perhaps, to reference its coastal context.

The timber-clad front door opens onto the expansive shared living zone, connecting the two landscapes of contained garden to the south and a veranda on the north looking back and over the street. The other spaces of the dwelling flank this volume; a games room, bedrooms and bunk room to the east wing and the master bedroom and guest room to the west.

The house reflects the spatial logic of the 60s weatherboard coastal ‘shack or batch’, where family activities occurred in a big room and bedrooms were removed via a corridor or additional wing. This house embraces that informality but lifts it into a new layer of refinement, with volumes that accept noise and change but also provide quiet spaces for privacy.

The roof plane floats over the entry on clerestory glazing.


The central space has a generous ceiling height lit by a clerestory window and the walls are lined with white timber battens that provide rich texture. The materiality embraces beach house resilience both from carefree use and coastal weathering, yet reveals rigorous detailing and deliberate placing of furniture and fittings facilitated by a generous budget. The formality of the linear external elevations has been softened by the rustic palette of materials; the crispness of the bronzed aluminium fascias and the cement rendered walls is complemented by rough sawn blackbutt and grit-blasted bluestone paving.

Unsurprisingly, the house has acknowledged critical concerns for energy consumption and the budget has afforded environmental measures beyond the passive solar basics of orientation. All windows have double glazing in thermally separated, dark-bronze anodised aluminium frames. There is also a sophisticated heating and cooling system backed up by automated external sun shading.

Spaces within the house convey a refined informality.


Despite the clarity in planning, there does remain an uncomfortable conflict with the scale of the residence on this relatively small coastal lot, despite the architects intention to keep the house as ‘low key’ and as ‘neighbourly’ as possible. The spaces between the boundary, the house and the proximity to its adjacent blocks have been dealt with in a strategic manner, with clever screening and landscaping strategies. The clerestory frames the sky, and highlight windows in the main living zone allows sunlight to deeply penetrate. However, there is no denying the proximity of neighbours through strip windows on the boundaries and overlooking to the rear, ensuring the house maintains a suburban context.

The house responds to the life that the clients already have in the city while offering a transformation of an evolving family life within a new environment. While the impetus for this project is an affluent lifestyle near the beach and a golf course, it embodies aspects of flexibility and adaptability that can be drawn into a more accessible typology: single level; able to be retro-fitted for universal access; dividable, adaptable spaces.

Natural finishes are set off by crisp white internal cladding.


Rather than an occasional ‘holiday house’, this responds to the need for a transitional ‘occasional to eventually permanent’ house, attempting to combine the amenity and structures of a permanent home with the celebratory and flexible aspects of a holiday retreat. ‘The clients feel they can be more relaxed here than in the city,’ explains Rizzo. ‘You certainly wouldn’t design a dining area that can host 30 people for Christmas in a city house – that requirement was very much part of the brief.’

Through rational planning and deft articulation of spaces and materials, this house aspires to provide a flexible and responsive vehicle for long and varied family life – albeit a privileged one.

Fleur Watson is an architecture and design curator, editor and author. Recently, she launched Pin-up Architecture & Design Project Space, a gallery and event space in Collingwood.

Conversation • 1 comments

Add to this conversation


18 Jan 12 at 1:51 PM • Ruth@kaamer

Simply elegant


Your email address will not be published.