Complementary Opposition – Brimar House by Michael Ong Design Office

Words by Sarah Sivaraman
Photography by Derek Swalwell
Styling by Jess Kneebone
Landscape Design Bush Projects

Exemplifying harmony between form and function, Brimar House is a generous and tranquil multi-generational home. With poise and restraint, Michael Ong Design Office draws on dualities of light and dark, delicate and heavy, open and enclosed, built and natural to create a responsive and intuitive place for one or for many.

With clients who have lived in multiple countries overseas, Michael Ong Design Office was briefed with creating a home to settle down in, supporting the family’s current life in Melbourne. The house needed to accommodate the clients, their two young-adult children, as well as the various family and friends who would often visit from overseas. The outcome is a residence of over 600 square metres that effortlessly manipulates volumes, lines and levels to realise serene and intimate spaces. With a restrained colour scheme and an emphasis on materiality, the building is at once striking and composed.

Offsetting the heaviness of the brick, delicate lace-like details curve gently with the wall.

“From the street they wanted something that was a bit dynamic, that had a point of difference,” explains Michael Ong, Director of Michael Ong Design Office. “The exterior is formally quite strong, but it’s not trying to be in your face.” On approach, and indeed from all angles, the exterior of the house is divided. Built by Visioneer Builders, the bottom half consists of ivory coloured brick, whilst the second storey is clad in blackened Cambia ash. “It’s simple,” Michael says, “so it was critical that we had something that was quite heavy and grounded. The ivory-coloured concrete brickwork sort of holds the house down.” Offsetting the heaviness of the brick, delicate lace-like details curve gently with the wall. Achieving such a light touch with this material was no easy feat. Steel plates through each level of brick hold the lacework together, and the architects “did a lot of work with the bricklayer and the engineer to get that lacework to curve.”

Accentuated by the dynamic simplicity of the form and colour palette, the texture of the timber, the brickwork and massing of the volumes offer depth and variety to the building. Michael describes how the timber surface, with its grain still visible, “picks up the colours of the trees and blues [of the sky] – it does change as the light hits it. So, you get a really nice change in tone and texture on the building but it’s very subtle.” Equally, he reflects that “while the brick itself is more consistent it has more shadow play.” With brick defining the lower level and timber the upper, an impression of discrete volumes is created. Yet the two levels of the house necessarily intersect and overlap each other at various points. As a result, there is a sense of fluid movement to these grounded forms, which seem to expand, contract and unfurl around a central courtyard garden.

An entirely glazed link that gently curves through the courtyard emphasises the lightness of this lower level that opens directly onto the green space at the heart of the home.

Michael explains that the courtyard “allowed us to create a centre and an anchor for the whole house. It’s a big house; I wanted the whole house to feel like it’s connected – by the exterior, by the courtyard – so you always know where you are.” With the building oriented to drink in views across the Riversdale Golf Club, the courtyard allows more light into the home. It serves as a contemplative space, as well as a place to gather and entertain outdoors. Three birch trees feature amongst verdant landscaping by Bush Projects. Bench seating and an outdoor fire are embedded into the exterior architecture, as is the case with the shelter over the outdoor dining space, formed by the underbelly of the black building. “I like to have the architecture doing the work in a way,” says Michael. “The form is actually providing the cover for the outdoor space, instead of having the outdoor space and then putting up an awning of some sort.”

The concept of light and dark as mechanisms of both connection and delineation is extended beyond the exterior. Downstairs, Michael explains that “we wanted it to feel like it was all one, like there was no contrast between inside and out.” Whitewashed oak floorboards continue out onto a timber deck, untreated, so as to softly grey over time. An entirely glazed link that gently curves through the courtyard emphasises the lightness of this lower level that opens directly onto the green space at the heart of the home. This downstairs area has the capacity to house guests comfortably and ensures visitors have their own privacy and space, both indoor and outdoor, with a smaller pebbled courtyard that is screened by curving brick lacework and accessed through a guest bedroom.

Upstairs, the family are self-contained, with bedrooms, kitchen, living and dining areas, as well as a pool, a sauna and a gym. Here, the dark tones of the Cambia ash cladding are mirrored in the strong, dark kitchen, finished in a blackened timber veneer. The use of black upstairs frames the green view out towards the golf course and the glimpses into the central courtyard. It also creates a sense of closeness within a larger space. “We wanted to make sure the space felt right when it was just the two of them or the family of four – still cosy,” explains Michael. He describes how the dark interior palette “brings the scale down. Even though the space is big enough, it doesn’t feel like you’re being swallowed up by the space. It has an intimate feel to it with the darker timber walls, timber cabinetry, timber ceiling, timber floors, the darker detailing of the fireplace and shelving.”

The home seems to expand and contract as required, whether housing many or sheltering few. Visually, functionally and conceptually, Brimar House evokes the idea of yin and yang, whereby opposing forces are interconnected. Rather than conflicting, they counterbalance one another to form a dynamic whole.