A home’s enhanced sense of connection to the landscape and its owners has been heightened in a second incarnation by the same architect.

A decade after its first appearance in est magazine, Susi Leeton Architects + Interiors returned to the River House to build on themes of light, privacy and landscape for a couple and their now-teenage children. Located on a river bend on Melbourne’s Yarra River, architect Susi Leeton reconsidered how the 1980s home could be ‘grown up’ for young adults, bring friends together and let visiting family comfortably stay.

The River House negotiates five different levels that transition in different ways through steps, bridges and a lift. “Like the river, the building meanders through and down the site, down a garden path across a bridge to the front door,” Susi says.

For the then-young family, the home’s sleeping and living areas were closer together, and the communal areas were more open-plan. Now, the parents have their own upper level to retreat to, while the kids have their own lower floor. In the middle, Susi has enlarged the conservatory kitchen, where mess can be made away from the living and dining areas. “We considered everything from bringing in the shopping from the car to the kitchen, by installing a lift down a few levels, to providing plenty of storage, a drying room and walk-in robes for everyone,” Susi says. “There are lots of different spaces for encouraging connection to each other and the landscape,” she adds.

The architecture is designed as a backdrop – to feel like you’re part of the lush landscape. Window frames are embedded to accentuate the view, maximising all aspects of the now-matured garden. “Every level and floor plane connects to Myles Baldwin’s garden,” she says. “We wanted the garden and views out to the river to take precedence over the architecture”. This allows the home to feel secluded while close to the city.

The architect appreciated the home’s access to southern light and, at the same time, “scooped sunlight from other directions”. A ceiling cut out with a large skylight diffuses light in the hallway, where a Japanese maple tree is embedded in the limed oak floors. A central void wrapped in glass, featuring an established tree, blurs the boundaries between inside and out, as does the use of mirror. “The kitchen’s walk-in pantry lies behind our mirrored ‘Bento Box’ which also discreetly houses the bar,” Susi says. Which also discreetly houses the bar,” Susi says, “It brings the landscape into the room and creates a soft vibration of shifting greenery and southern light.” Marmorino polished plaster walls also gently reflects light while recessive architectural lighting highlights the home’s curved edges.

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The bathroom features tapware by Brodware, an Apaiser vanity and a Merwe Bayou bath to soak in views of the now-matured Myles Baldwin garden.

Beyond the limed oak floors, large-format limestone tiles run from inside to outside and through the private areas. In the bedrooms, walls are painted in a colour Susi describes as the back of a eucalyptus leaf. The grounding palette is a backdrop to Susi’s curation of Australian art, including her own, alongside works by Daniel Boyd, Sally Gabori and Adrienne Gaha and sculptural pieces, such as a 300-year-old Japanese log from a temple in Japan. The architect also nods to local makers with furniture sourced from BARBARA Design, Lowe Furniture and Mark Tuckey.

In revisiting the River House, Susi has continued to bring a sense of the slow-flowing river into all aspects of the design and experience of space. “Combining function with feeling”, Susi says, “allows you to exhale as soon as you walk through the door.”

This feature originally appeared in est magazine issue 49: Force of Nature.

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