Idyllically located at Sapphire Coast on the New South Wales coastline is this beautifully recessive house.

Designed by architect Jack Hawkins, who worked closely with his architect father Rob Hawkins and his mother Sally, a town planner and a garden enthusiast, the low-slung rammed earth home sits poetically in its undulating landscape of approximately 40 hectares. Recipient of an award from the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter), the exacting siting for this new house was discussed over several family meetings around a campfire. “Given the land, on sacred Yuin Nation terrain, we were conscious of being both recessive in the landscape and also not visible from other properties on the other side of the lake (Mt Gulaga beautifully frames Lake Tilba),” Jack says.

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The living room includes a double-sided fireplace that allows for unimpeded sight lines.

Once the siting for the house was agreed, then came the discussion of suitable materials and an appropriate floor plan. “My parents wanted a house that they could eventually retire to, and a house that was as comfortable for them on their own or when family and friends stay over,” Jack says, who was keen to use rammed earth for its thermal value as much as for its aesthetics.

Given the environment can be challenging at various times of the year, with brisk winds coming up from the lake, the family was keen to ensure the house could be more enclosed with an additional layer should the temperature call for more warmth. “We were also faced with the dilemma of orientating the house to the west, due to the aspect of the lake and mountains. This is where the timber battened screens and operable timber walls come into play,” he adds.

Given the summer months can be magical, Jack was keen to create a series of ‘outdoor rooms’ in the design, including a carport that ‘pierces’ the form of the house rather than being a separate entity. This carport which appears ‘carved’ into the single-storey form, is accompanied by an entry/outdoor dining area adjacent to the kitchen. There are also two protected outdoor terraces at either end, one leading from the main bedroom suite and the other from the guest bedroom area (the latter having two bedrooms, a kitchenette and a living area).

However, it’s the kitchen, dining area and sunken lounge at the core of the elongated floor plan (52 metres in length) that is constantly in use, whether or not family or friends happen to stay. While the exterior features rammed earth, charred timber and steel, the interior palette is predominantly black steel (as in the case of the island bench in the kitchen), black laminate joinery, charred timber, and finely encrusted nooks and joinery (including the ceiling) made from a blonde-coloured birchwood ply. “We were inspired by the banksias on the property, the burnt-like pods with blonde pods,” Jack says, who used the birch ply for some of the customised furniture, such as the bespoke dining table.

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The bathroom features a limited palette of materials such as stone and rammed earth walls.

The handmade hanging shelf above the kitchen island bench is just as delightful, used for both storing glasses and hanging pots and pans. “Mum and dad spend most of their time here. They enjoy cooking as well as entertaining, so these spaces had to be generous and quite flexible to respond to the weather,” Jack says, who illustrates this by pulling across a timber-battened screen.

The Mystery Bay house has a strong Japanese aesthetic, with each manoeuvre made with such care and deliberation, whether it’s the ‘floating’ mirror in an ensuite bathroom, suspended from the ceiling on a fine steel frame, or the treatment of the sculptural gutters that channel water (the property is off the main grid). “Part of the pleasure is hearing the sound of moving water and seeing it funnel into the 10,000-litre water tanks,” Jack says, who enjoyed the process of building the house with his parents as much as seeing the pleasure they and their friends receive from it. “Where else would you find a site like this?” Jack says. The same could equally be said of this fine contemporary home!

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