Nestled among the rolling hills of Ewingsdale on the outskirts of Byron Bay is Soma, an oasis of modern architecture, natural elements and the ancient practice of yoga.
Byron Bay has become the epicentre of Australia for yoga retreats, meditation gurus and all forms of alternative practices and lifestyles. For Vedic meditation teacher and yogi, Gary Gorrow, Ewingsdale made for the perfect place to open Soma. A purpose-built oasis, Soma has attracted local and international attention after featuring in the television series Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman.
The property itself is thoughtfully designed. With nine hectares of lush forest, a bamboo garden and its focal point, and a geodesic yoga dome, Gorrow worked closely with his brother George Gorrow and Balinese architect and designer Rieky Sunur on the retreat. “We wanted a modern and contemporary Balinese flavour to the house. We’ve been going to Bali for so long, and it was where I had my first retreat,” says Gorrow.
Soma has been designed specifically to reflect the yoga and meditation practices that take place within.
“The fact that this is a meditation and yoga retreat had a huge influence on the design and flow of the whole property,” says Gorrow. “Everything has to speak to each other. We went out to make there be as little separation between the environment and the elements of the house [as possible] – moving with the people who move in there.”
The focal geodesic glass yoga dome is a unique part of the property. It has been included to break the trajectory of contemporary lifestyles. “We are so linear in our everyday lives. In our homes, bedrooms, the gridded nature of our streets and cities,” says Gorrow. “Being in a circle is very unifying. There is no one above and no one below. There is no leader. All members create the circle,” he adds, stressing the necessity of visitors being equal when they come to Soma. “I feel it helps people relax and drop into a natural state much faster.”
Connecting with one another and the environment has been imperative for Gorrow and the designers. The dome is a majestic part of this connection to nature. “The dome is transparent, which has the feeling of uniting one with the forest,” he says.
And the connection to nature doesn’t stop at the geodesic dome. A key element of the design was incorporating the lush surroundings into the house. Natural light was mandatory.
“We wanted to create as much natural light as possible in the house. This choice led us to incorporate the floor-to-ceiling glass throughout the home,” says Gorrow. And this wasn’t all. Each material used was a thoughtful inclusion, chosen as a way of fostering a seamless connection to the natural world outside the property.
“We also wanted it to feel natural and warm. We included natural textural interiors, such as teak beds and side stools, the muslin and curtains,” says Gorrow.
Natural materials are accented throughout the house. Working with his brother, George, Gorrow says that the concrete floors also have a special earthen mix. As well as the unrestrained use of glass, cedar cladding has been used for the beautiful yet subtle exterior of the home. The brothers also focused on sustainability, with recycled concrete blocks used for a feature wall. George Gorrow has created bespoke beautiful timber furniture, which is positioned throughout the house.
The stunning features aren’t limited to the house and the geodesic yoga dome. The property features a bamboo garden and an impressive freshwater pool. As has been the philosophy throughout the property, however, everything has been done with a purpose. And, for Gorrow, that purpose is to incorporate his meditative and restorative outlook and ethos throughout.
As for the heavy use of bamboo, Gorrow says, “Bamboo has a mystical quality. It invokes the zen stillness of Japan for me. We have an abundance of different bamboo species from all over the world. There are many fables about the spiritual significance of bamboo.” And, beyond its spiritual element, the Asian evergreen is also great at sequestering carbon.
The freshwater pool is another significant part of this ethos. “The freshwater pool is so beautiful to swim in,” says Gorrow. “The feeling of chlorine on the skin and the smell that lingers after is something that really discourages me from swimming in pools. On the other hand, our freshwater system feels as close to swimming in nature as can be. It’s a delight to jump in.”
But the space isn’t just about nature and the lush tropical surroundings. It has also been designed for connectedness, for community. Inside, the focal point is a large wooden table to bring connection, an important part for Gorrow. “We want people to interact with each other. It’s incredible what a long table does for encouraging conversation. People need to be part of a family or community. People have become fast friends here. Sometimes within hours, it’s as if people have known one another for years.”
Photography by Romello Pereira and Monica Buscarino.