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Sarah Waller in profile: Blackwood Doonan project

Sarah Waller in profile: Blackwood Doonan project

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When architect Sarah Waller designed and built her first dream home, it was met with wide acclaim. Her new creation, Blackwood Doonan, represents her quest to continually challenge herself with a robust piece of architecture.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Sarah Waller and her family would have lived out the rest of their days in their stunning ‘Doonan Glasshouse’, Waller’s own personal dream home” that garnered numerous awards and wide exposure. But this is Sarah Waller, a multi-award-winning designer, and to her, the joy comes from the challenge. 

“We got to a point where we just thought, ‘I should be doing this again’,” says Waller, who is the founder of her eponymous architectural design studio on the Sunshine Coast. “I wanted to stretch myself architecturally, so we said, ‘OK, let’s put the Glasshouse on the market’ with the sole purpose of going on to the next project.”

Glass house open to nature
Glasshouse. Photo: Rikki Lancaster

Blackwood Doonan, a mere five lots down the road from Glasshouse, started with a line on a piece of paper, materialising as a concrete spine running through the house that cantilevers the living pavilion, studio pavilion and bedroom pavillion, which Waller says was the starting point for the design.

“We obviously knew the location well, having lived on the road for many years. But the new site was slightly larger and we were challenged by the size, which is not uncommon out here in the Noosa Hinterland. You get these great sites, but they are all sloping.” 

With views overlooking a golf course and a body of water with a series of dams, Waller says she wanted to transition the floorplan from pavillion to pavillion subtly due to the number of metres in height, so you’re only stepping down a few steps to each pavillion without ever realising it.

Material in nature

Materially, the Blackwood site emanates a sense of durability and strength with its black timber cladding (hence the moniker, Blackwood). The wire-brushed timber adds texture to the black that would otherwise be cold and austere. The site is an artful balance of force and forgiveness, beautifully complemented by abundant, natural greenery and meticulously-curated grounds that are visible through floor-to-ceiling glazing. 

Before construction began, the block hosted an old house that wasn’t terraced with an unmaintained garden and an obstructed view of the golf course that Waller says most people would have walked right past without a second thought. But because she knew the area and was up for the challenge, she could see the potential for another resort-inspired home with a north-facing pool that would overlook the water and golf course. 

“I wanted to bring my architecture up to a different sort of level,” Waller says. “I wanted it to be different to the last house but at the same time embrace all of those elements that are really key to the practice. 

“We’ve got all those beautiful grains and textures coming through our black surfaces that give it a great level of interest and texture. Using the concrete spine for the first time has been a challenge and a learning curve that’s given the house robustness and longevity. Everywhere in the house, you get an element of that complete wall that is our hero and the starting point of the house.”

Blackwood property of Sarah Waller
Blackwood property. Photo: Alyne Media
Build it and the awards will come

Following a number of architectural, design and construction awards bestowed upon the studio, the Blackwood site has recently been entered into the HIA Custom House of the Year competition and numerous others.  

“I’m up against some great architects and designers up here in Noosa and also some great builders, so it’s definitely validating when we win,” Waller says. “But I’m up for the challenge of not only designing these amazing houses but executing and building them as well.”

Architect Sarah Waller relaxes in her custom home
Sarah Waller enjoys her custom home. Photo: Rikki Lancaster

Creating spaces for clients that blend elegance with functionality is something that Waller prides herself on. But she says the biggest projects she has influence over as an architect are her own homes.

“We sometimes have clients who say, ‘Yes, I just love Blackwood, I love Glasshouse’, but when we go to design it, it gets watered down and they’re not quite as brave,” Waller explains. “A lot of clients don’t like black. They want light and bright architecture. As trained architects, we listen carefully to all different tastes and styles and then respond to that with our designs.”

Conversely, when Waller is her own client, she and her architect husband are limited only by their imaginations, able to push the boundaries of what is possible given the landscape and space they have to work with.

Waller’s best clients are those who can entrust in the process and give her studio free reign to exercise their creative muscles. She says they’re the ones who usually say, “‘That’s exactly what I want. I just didn’t know it’.”

To view other award-winning projects, visit Sarah Waller Architects

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