Playfully At Ease – Highlands House by Other Architects
Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia

Photography Clinton Weaver
Architecture Other Architects
Interior Design Other Architects
Words Rebecca Gross
Landscape Design Michael Jackman
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The Local Project print publication was created to inspire, inform, entertain and engage through exclusively curated content.
Issue Nº7 features 18 projects, including new work from Architecture Architecture, Jack McKinney Architects, Shaun Lockyer Architects, Ha Architecture, Workroom, Other Architects, Placement, Tecture, Christopher Elliott Design and more. Older projects from Edition Office, Woods Bagot and John Wardle Architects are also featured. This issue includes profiles of stylist Megan Morton, artist Stanislava Pinchuk, architect Fiona Dunin of FMD Architects, and many others.

With a sense of playfulness and feeling of familiarity, Highlands House sits quietly in its landscape while simultaneously embodying its own character. Designed by Other Architects, the home provides the luxurious simplicity of living in a single volume, allowing the residents to enjoy the informality and flexibility of their country lifestyle.

There is a casual ease to country living. Time and space can feel more relaxed, less restrained by a defined structure of the day or functions of a house. David Neustein and Grace Mortlock, Directors of Other Architects, captured this feeling of openness and open-endedness in the design of Highlands House. Located in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, Highlands House is informal and flexible, crafted as a single volume with timber joinery divisions and soft edges, allowing time and space to feel unhurried.

Highlands House is informal and flexible, crafted as a single volume with timber joinery divisions and soft edges, allowing time and space to feel unhurried.

The project is the country home of a semi-retired couple – it will become their permanent residence with time. When the clients purchased the property, it had a three-bedroom cottage along with an artist’s studio, and it was overgrown with weeds and creepers that blocked the ocean view. The couple invited Michael Jackman to landscape the surrounding area; they then engaged Other Architects to design a house that supported their relaxed country lifestyle and enjoyment of their new garden.

The clients sought a country house simply for themselves rather than providing extra space for guests. “They wanted the luxury and ease of living in a single room, with the landscape always close at hand,” the architects say. “Our approach was to offer a different experience of living in the landscape to that of the quintessential modern Australian house. It is loose-fit rather than functionalist, soft and inviting rather than hardedged, and it sits quietly in the background and the garden, ceding the foreground to people, pets, furniture, art and plants.”

The project is the country home of a semi-retired couple – it will become their permanent residence with time.

Highlands House is built on a concrete platform that replaces the footprint of the previous cottage. Its flat roof relates to the retained artist’s studio across the courtyard, while a lower-level structure has been repurposed as a guest bedroom. The builders carefully dismantled the existing house so that materials could be recycled; the cedar beams have been reused in the construction of the new dwelling, verandah posts are now steps in the landscape and crushed brick forms the driveway.

With its low-lying, horizontal form, Highlands House has the sense of being a pavilion, with large sliding glass doors and windows that allow for the freedom and informality of movement that goes with country living. The compact but generous interior is experienced as one space that contains living and sleeping areas, with timber joinery dividing areas and providing a warm internal backdrop. Travertine flooring inside and out enhances the sense of the interior space flowing and expanding outside. The kitchen, dining and lounge have an easterly view across the garden and spread out to the north-facing loggia. Behind the bookshelf, the bedroom faces south and opens to a curved terrace atop the guest bedroom. The laundry and boot room are behind the kitchen cabinetry, and the ensuite is in the back corner of the house.

The clients were not afraid of using colour in their house and were interested in how colour affects mood.

Where the glass doors open the interior to the landscape, pop-ups and skylights in the roof bring light deep into the plan. They also add a distinctive playfulness to the pavilion form. “It would have been a simple, utilitarian country house if it just had a flat roof, but these exaggerated volumes give a sense of occasion and levity,” says David. A curved popup in the bedroom provides a view of the night sky and tree canopy, and a triangular opening brings northern light over the kitchen and dining. A chimney-like form rises above and ventilates the laundry, and there are skylights over the ensuite and boot room.

The clients were not afraid of using colour in their house and were interested in how colour affects mood. Turner’s yellow in the pop-up above the bed glows with the morning light. Bright yellow also punctuates the otherwise plain and solid western façade, which shields the view, allowing the openness of the house and landscape to be revealed upon entry. The boot room is painted deep red, and the bathroom has translucent green windows. “It’s like a concentrated dose of pure colour to create joy,” says David. The rendered exterior and steel roof – the building is constructed with structural insulated panels – are a soft eucalypt green, allowing the house to recede into the landscape. Similarly, the colour relates it back to the many vernacular buildings in the area, all having the standard Colorbond hue as a common quality.

With a sense of playfulness and feeling of familiarity, Highlands House sits quietly in its landscape while simultaneously embodying its own character.

Grace and David visited Donald Judd’s gallery spaces in Marfa, Texas, during the planning of Highlands House and it influenced their approach. “The freedom of those spaces and the way the furniture delineates how the warehouse-like spaces are used,” Grace explains. She and David applied this idea to the interior through the flexibility of furniture and movement, so that life is lived comfortably within the one space. Furniture can be moved depending on the season and climate, and different seating areas allow the clients to sit and read in different places throughout the day. “What’s really beautiful and desirable about living in the countryside is the opportunity for simplicity and informality, which can be reflected in the casual placement of furniture,” says David.

Designed with a sense of playfulness and a feeling of familiarity, Highlands House sits softly in the surrounding garden. The flexibility of the interior supports the casual of country living, responding to the fluidity of time and space.

Published 9 October, 2021
Photography  Clinton Weaver
Issue 07 Sold Out
FEATURED IN THE LOCAL PROJECT PUBLICATION - ISSUE 07
The Local Project print publication was created to inspire, inform, entertain and engage through exclusively curated content.
Issue Nº7 features 18 projects, including new work from Architecture Architecture, Jack McKinney Architects, Shaun Lockyer Architects, Ha Architecture, Workroom, Other Architects, Placement, Tecture, Christopher Elliott Design and more. Older projects from Edition Office, Woods Bagot and John Wardle Architects are also featured. This issue includes profiles of stylist Megan Morton, artist Stanislava Pinchuk, architect Fiona Dunin of FMD Architects, and many others.
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