Almora House, Balmoral


Tim Greer, of
Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects

Cathy and Andrew Cameron

The idea of replacing the old cottage was to build a beautiful place for us to live that could also house our cherished art collection. The new indoor/outdoor design meant it was important to keep our established trees wherever possible. Bellevarde were sensitive to these factors and we have the house of our dreams and the trees survived unscathed.

The brief to Tim Greer, our architect, was to give it a sense of space, open, with generous high ceilings. Concrete, timber and glass in balance. We didn't need 'maximum rooms on the block' so it's three bedrooms and a library, but to us it's much more.

From the outside, the first thing people notice are the vertical wooden slatted fence and gate, flawlessly realised by the Bellevarde team. The garage door, although quite heavy, glides effortlessly at the press of a button. We can't praise our foreman Adam highly enough. Ours became a personal project for him and for that we are very grateful. A lesser foreman simply couldn't have delivered this level of workmanship, and it continues throughout.

The entrance hallway is immaculately finished in concrete and wood and leads to the main living area. Adam overcame some serious challenges to make sure our oversized fireplace would sit flush with the surround. Despite these, it is perfect. One of our favourite spaces is the courtyard by the dining area which opens up to bring the garden in. The sliding 'Stanley knife' doors disappear completely and the deck wraps right around to the rear giving a feeling of openness that we love. Recessed gutters, made practically invisible by Adam's team, allow water to escape without pooling in the door runners. All doors in the house slide except two, easily allowing light and breeze through.

Our seaside locale provided inspiration for the most striking part of the design, our wavy concrete ceiling. Six inches thick and made from solid concrete, it's a remarkable feat of engineering and construction. From the prototype, which we still have as a sculpture, right through to the finished roof, thought and care from the Bellevarde construction team was on show. With all the hours of planning that went into its fabrication, we were amazed that something as simple as pre-wetting the Oregon slats to emphasise the grain could make such a huge difference to the end result. Bellevarde experimented, refined, reformed and built something very special. We think it's gorgeous.

Adam brought his usual skill to overseeing the joinery work. We'd had custom chairs and tables made so it was important the joinery be of a similar standard. Adam ensured that the balustrade and all the timber work leading into the upstairs gallery space were of exquisite quality.

From the open corridor at the top of the stairs, surrounded by our favourite paintings and sculptures, we can see into almost every part of the house. Light is drawn in to the upper study and gallery areas from high windows. One extraordinary piece of building sees several different materials drawn from irregular angles to meet together in a perfect point. From up here, the success of the design and the beauty of the build come together for us.

Despite our marvellous ceiling, the crowning glory of the structure must be the concrete work. John Fielding has a long history building with concrete but we think this is some of the best he's ever done. Large, intricate pours with no bubbles, cracks or seams. And certainly no jackhammers! We've had architects from the US and Japan comment that they would never see such fine concrete work in their home countries. It's a privilege to be surrounded by a level of craftsmanship befitting of our respect for the artists whose work we admire. Bellevarde were a joy to work with, thoughtful and responsive—artists in their own right.

Tim Greer, of
Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects

Just above the sands of Balmoral Beach sits a lovingly nurtured 20 year old garden. In this beautiful setting, the owners wanted a comfortable home and place for their extraordinary art collection. 

It began with an imaginary line stretching from an existing frangipani tree in the north corner of the block through to the desired final position of a piece by Australian sculptor James Angus. This became the central line around which the house was constructed. The kitchen, living, dining, and family rooms on the sunny side, the service rooms tucked away neatly on the other. 

The design features generous slabs and curves of concrete with timber and glass. The central idea is to let the garden and sunlight in and the artworks out. To that end, the concrete, timber, glass, and steel are selectively eroded from the overall form—and in some places even replaced with mirrors. The concept of a 'porous' building evolved and came to encompass the notion that each room would have one or two distinct outdoor spaces that would offer interesting views and light at different times of day.

Atop it all sits our crowning achievement, the undulating concrete ceiling—an early prototype of which now lies in the garden as an artistic ruin. This sculptural exterior offers a feeling that the roof has somehow been draped over the house. Achieving such an effortless effect took quite some engineering. We are eternally grateful that our team of builders were more than up to the task.

Bellevarde's Adam Howe is a master craftsperson who settles for nothing less than perfection. The value of having someone like Adam on a project is inestimable. The team went back to Byzantine construction methods—every piece of Oregon grain imprinted on that large roof section concrete is unique and the 150mm concrete is very strong. There may have been other ways to achieve a similar result, but I believe Bellevarde found the best way, typical of them.

Their work ethic drips from every immaculately realised piece throughout. The Square Peg joinery is breathtakingly well done as is the subtle finishing on the windows. The exuberant timber entry screen, sits in stark contrast with the monolithic calm of the roof—perhaps a good measure of the breadth of Bellevarde's prowess.

To achieve a finished result like this is very pleasing. Bellevarde made the much needed back and forth effortless and a joy. Their commitment to collaboration and excellence is energising to experience.


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