Quietly Surprising – Deans Marsh House by Tecture
Thoughtfully conceived in relation to its context, Deans Marsh House by Tecture is grounded in a tangible sense of anticipation. Located in regional Victoria and accessed via a winding driveway, the push-pull of momentum and repose is evident in the arrival sequence as well as in the experience of the dwelling itself, resulting in a home that Tecture Director Ben Robertson dubs “quietly surprising”.
The very first indication of the built form is a glimpse of a long rammed-earth wall punctuated by a single threshold. Whilst this contemporary structure sits in contrast to the pastoral land that surrounds it, the rammed earth and timber cladding are symbiotic with the natural environment, and the rudimentary form expresses an intriguing modesty. This was intentional; as Ben explains, “we wanted the house to be nestled into the landscape and to create a reveal as part of the approach.” He adds, “it’s not until you step into the home that you really experience the outlook to the north of the bushland and valley below.”
Cleverly, the home’s footprint takes advantage of the site’s slight gradient and its desirable northern aspect. It also responds to the clients’ preference for a home that expands and contracts depending on occupancy. Tecture’s architectural response is two parallel pavilions stretching from east to west, separated by a central passageway acting as the building’s spine. The larger front pavilion, which encompasses the primary living areas and a master suite, is stepped down and opens onto a terrace and a pool, whilst the back pavilion, which predominantly houses guest bedrooms, is smaller and can be completely closed off when not in use.
Within each of these pavilions, a series of north-south oriented rammed-earth walls divide the large volume into zones. Up to 400 millimetres thick in some places, these walls act as framing elements, simultaneously directing the view outwards and containing the experience within. Importantly, the compelling environmental properties of this material were highly appealing; as Ben says, “rammed earth’s thermal mass is phenomenal” and, as such, the house is “highly efficient and economical to run.”
“as most of the living spaces face north, we were able to select Made by Storey’s Mantle floorboards based off the principle of creating more depth; allowing the inside to be darker; and shifting that sightline out.”
The overall footprint is relatively compact, yet it exudes a generosity of space due to various architectural moves. “It feels large because we’ve psychologically played with scale and volume,” Ben explains. The three steps that connect the central hallway to the main pavilion are key to this; stepping down creates additional height and the resulting sequence directs the experience up and out. This effect of openness and light allowed Tecture to employ darker-toned finishes inside, including Made by Storey’s Mantle floorboards. Ben says, “as most of the living spaces face north, we were able to select Mantle based off the principle of creating more depth; allowing the inside to be darker; and shifting that sightline out.”
Characterised by mellow, nut-brown tones, the French Oak floorboards – which Ben describes as having “an almost rural feeling” – feel contextually relevant in this agricultural setting and act as a subtle conduit between indoor and out. “Many of our clients gravitate towards light timber floorboards, but here we wanted a richness that spoke back to Australian natives as opposed to lighter oaks, which are more reminiscent of the inside of trees,” Ben notes. Further, the dark chocolate hues are a pleasing complement to the exterior timber cladding and decking, which will silver over time.
“The clients wanted a home that was easy, relaxed and minimalist – minimalist not in a traditional sense, as the palette is certainly earthy and textural – but ultimately a minimal, calming and private sanctuary, which I think we’ve done,” Ben reflects.
The rammed earth, which is inherently neutral, sits well alongside the timber and natural stone, and its natural variations and irregularities bring gravitas to the highly refined palette. Pleasingly, the sun dances on its rippled surface, creating space for light and shadow to play, in turn, filling the home with an effortless tactility and warmth. The decision to incorporate rammed earth into the palette with such significance was driven by the clients’ personal affinity for the material, and it has proven essential to the home’s enduring identity. “The clients wanted a home that was easy, relaxed and minimalist – minimalist not in a traditional sense, as the palette is certainly earthy and textural – but ultimately a minimal, calming and private sanctuary, which I think we’ve done,” Ben reflects.
This home, enriched by its myriad of “quietly surprising” moments, elegantly illustrates how the built form can frame or direct an experience. The sense of discovery upon encountering Deans Marsh House is powerful indeed, and whilst it may emerge time and time again, so too will this project’s resounding stillness and tranquillity.