Ohana House, Seven Mile Beach


Virginia Kerridge, of
Virginia Kerridge Architect

Jennifer and Russell Staley

It is all Jennifer’s fault.

She found this ad in the Financial Review for a large piece of land just outside Byron Bay. The ad claimed the land comprised 21 acres with 450 metres of beach frontage on the white sands of Seven Mile Beach with Broken Head Nature Reserve and Byron Bay to the north. She also reminded me that all my life I had talked about owning just such a piece of land. For two weeks the ad kept appearing on my desk. We flew up to see it. Game over.

Virginia Kerridge nailed it with her concept proposal which responded and more to our brief. The house is a series of pavilions connected to the main house by a series of covered walkways.

We'd built two houses already with Bellevarde and each had been a resounding success so there was never any question as to who we'd be using on this one. We wanted Mike Faulks as Bellevarde’s Project Manager after the great experience working with him on our place in Collaroy.

This build was certainly different, but Bellevarde always seems to rise to a challenge. Unlike Collaroy we were well off the beaten track, with a narrow, winding dirt road through 5 kilometres of rainforest. There was no three-phase power, sewer, town water or gas.

Mike and the team (which included a majority of local craftspeople) lived and breathed the place for a solid 24 months for phase 1 and each was an absolute stickler for perfection. An additional pavilion and a barn were built over the next 12 months. Despite the distances and lack of amenities, nothing was too much trouble and the energy was uniformly positive throughout. Mike's commitment to a project is something else—a number of times I remember Mike ringing to say in his humble way, "Are you sure you want to such and such?" You knew to listen to this and what he proposed as an alternative was always exactly what was needed.

As Jennifer had been the inspiration for this project, it was only fitting that she take charge of, let's just call it, everything. She, project architect Leigh Hellyer from Virginia Kerridge and Mike formed a strong partnership with formidable problem-solving capability. On a project this size, you always expect the odd setback but this build was characterised by a steady drive, a strong team spirit, and no major problems. It was befitting for a house with such a playful design that the build itself was fun.

This was our third build with Bellevarde and the encounters just get better every time. We have nothing but praise for their work and the way they go about it. They’ve built us a place that feels like a resort and we absolutely love it. I hesitate to say we'd ever do another one but if we do, Bellevarde will be getting a call.

Virginia Kerridge, of
Virginia Kerridge Architect

Jennifer and Russell had acquired a most stunning and unique block, just back from the beach, surrounded by rainforest in the National Park. They were looking to build a holiday retreat big enough for their extended family and friends, that would respect this beautiful but sometimes unforgiving landscape.

We took some inspiration from Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House, Palm Springs California, circa 1947. The International Style explores notions of balance and volume and this felt like the right place to further investigate these ideas as well as the continuity of inside and outside space.

The building consists of a series of low pavilions emanating from a shared walkway, pointing toward the beach. There are separate spaces for children and guests, each with its own unique outdoor area.

The build itself, managed by Bellevarde’s Mike Faulks, was remarkable. All materials had to be trucked in, along winding dirt roads, no small feat in itself. We chose compressed fibre cement for its durability and muted tones in keeping with the landscape. Spotted gum makes up the vertical battens and all of the decking and flooring.

Working with Bellevarde is exhilarating as they are driven to build everything they work on to the highest technical level. Several of the builders, including Mike, lived on-site and the place was always bustling with good-natured activity. Project architect Leigh and I met with the owners and Mike on-site often and these meetings were always open and constructive.

The tradespeople understood the interplay between interior and exterior space was important to the success of the construction. The covered walkways, decks, pools and outdoor elements help inform the totality of the space and every one has been flawlessly realised. Each courtyard area has been designed with a purpose in mind—the children’s play area adjacent to their bedroom, the kitchen garden area accessible from the kitchen. They’re functional, but the high level of craftsmanship in every detail lends refinement and beauty.

The richness of the spotted gum meshed walkways that lead to the bedroom areas are definitely my favourite feature but I also love the earthy warmth of the immaculately finished plywood ceilings and walls in the living and kitchen areas, the open-sided walkways, with their fine steel columns, and the construction of the pool in off-form concrete that lends a wonderful lightness to its potentially imposing mass.

As a response to environment and a modern functional family retreat I think this house is a great success. In no small part is this thanks to the fine work of the Bellevarde team.

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