Crackenback Stables


Rob Brown, of
Casey Brown Architecture

John Fielding

It’s not my first shed, but it’s probably my best.

The Snowies are pretty special. The Bellevarde team have built here a few times, but never for me. When the lot in Wollondibby became available, I couldn’t resist. Sherry and I have a few horses and wanted some simple stables with room for a guest house - and maybe a place to go after a ride. With the help of one of my oldest colleagues and good friend Rob Brown, and my long time collaborators Vince Myson and Steve O’Ryan, it’s become a good bit more than that.

Rob and I had been working on another project when I mentioned the land. He said he’d like to design something special for it.

The plans changed many times. Luckily, Rob was always keen for the challenge. In some ways the place was designed on the run but I think being agile let it evolve naturally and keep getting better. It went something like this - I’d cause the problems, Steve would find a solution and Vince would draw up the changes. When I say ‘problems’, I wanted the stables to show some of the detailed elements I’ve picked up over 35 years building houses.

I believe buildings are all in the details - and this building shows it in spades.

The exterior was always going to be corrugated steel because it’s an Aussie shed. The eaveless design helps us beat the worst of the wind, snow and bushfires and it looks pretty good as well. The interior is full of my favourite materials, the perfect partners - concrete and steel.

Steve O’Ryan, Dane Martin and their team of builders must get credit and our heartfelt thanks for an excellent job. Now I know again why so many of our clients speak so highly of Steve. Everything was conducted calmly and professionally and finished to the highest possible levels. Even when I decided to completely redesign the interior and add an extra bathroom after the structure was already built, Steve’s only concern was finding the best way to execute it.  

We had the rolled corrugated exterior steel cut on-site. Putting it together perfectly took some time and a good amount of skill. Our engineer, Ken Murtagh, deserves a mention here. He and Steve found ways to do things even I thought might be impossible. I’m still impressed with the smart way they concealed the downpipe in the subtle curves at each end of the building.

Steve created some special hinges to hang the heavy steel sheets in the covered entrance area that, with the patina, have almost completely integrated into the form. It’s beautiful and ingenious. As a builder, that’s the kind of thing I love.

We couldn’t be happier with the finish of the treated steel. The reds remind me of peeling snowgum bark. There is outstanding work everywhere. If I had to choose a couple of my favourite things - I like the very neat sashes and frames around the southern windows and the combination of concrete, natural waxed steel, and fibre-cement used in the stairs.

Michael Bates took charge of the minimalist landscaping. His elegant fire pit has given us another warm place to sit back and take it all in.

We’re at our most relaxed here. The horses seem to like it too.

Crackenback turned out better than I think any of us expected and it’s a credit to everyone involved. It’s also managed to win a few awards, not bad for a tin shed.

Feels good to be in the client’s shoes.

Being a client of Bellevarde has been such a good experience, we are going to build a real house close by.

Rob Brown, of
Casey Brown Architecture

John’s built many of our houses for some of Australia’s most important clients, so I was a bit surprised when one day he asked me - Do you do horse houses?

John had bought a chunk of land in the snowy mountains for his horses and wanted me to design some stables with accommodation for people too. He specified that it should be beautifully made but on a minimal budget. Oh, and it must win awards. No pressure then...

He took me to see the site near Thredbo and it was just a forest, trees everywhere, rugged, but very beautiful. This looks a good spot, he said, and kicked his heel into the ground. I knew he would solve the tree problem as he has never let trees get in the way of a good design.

Working with Australia’s greatest architects over many years, I believe John has absorbed great architecture by osmosis. We talked about sheds and what an Australian shed might be and decided we had an opportunity to reimagine this iconic form in a modern way. Simply and with no pretence.

Following some initial sketches from John that were literally on a napkin, I started with a circular design that drew on the form of hacienda. This evolved into one long building with a hole at one end and, a few lunches later, finally became two separate pavilions still with a hole in the middle.

Having a covered large arrival area where you could drive or ride up to the buildings and unload was an important element that came through from the very early drafts.

John liked the idea of using simple materials and with a little refinement we turned this into the wrapping of the building in a corrugated skin. The final materials would be concrete, rusted steel and corrugated iron, true staples of any great Australian shed.

To deal with life in The Snowies, the stables would need to cope with freezing winds and snow as well as summer bushfires. The final form is organic, gutterless and animal like. It hunkers into the ground to escape the attention of the elements.

Small windows to the South retain heat inside and contrast the expansive mountain views via large windows and a verandah to the North.

John chose steel that encourages a lovely rust patina for the entrance and a wonderful wood-fired hydronic floor heating system, for the people and the horses, that he can run forever with all timber on the property.

Knowing John’s team of Steve O'Ryan and Vince Myson would be in charge of construction of the building phase meant we didn’t have to worry about anything on the build side. John and his people are the best builders I know. It’s a dream job really, to design a building for someone who loves architecture and know they’ll build it perfectly. The finished product is something everybody is proud of.

Sometimes I think John would have made a very good architect.

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