Set on a rugged Mount Martha hillside, from the street the elevations of House MT are modest, bunkered down against the harsh coastal winds. It is only as one enters that the full scope of the project becomes clear, capturing panoramic views of the bay and peninsula.
The design process for House MT was extremely deliberative explains Martin Musiatowicz, architect and Kart co-director. The clients were moving from a rural property in Gippsland, and had not previously worked with an architect. Their neighbours were previous clients of Kart Projects, and encouraged the retired couple to consider working with Kart for their new home on the Mornington Peninsula.
“When the clients first came to us, they had a huge list of rooms, the area was over 500m2, and each room had just one purpose”, says Martin. While their children were grown up and no longer living at home, it was important to the clients that they host large family gatherings, so the house needed to perform two very different functions. When hosting family, it needed to expand and comfortably accommodate a large group, while for the majority of the time, it needed to be appropriate for just two people.
The design process for House MT by Kart Projects was extremely deliberative.
The challenge for the architects was to work with the clients to distil what was most important to them, creating a program that made sense architecturally and fulfilled the clients’ needs. “I feel that this project benefited from a really long briefing period”, reflects Martin. “It was a process of helping the client get into the idea of what it could become”. They began by drawing up the clients’ initial plan to visually represent how large it was, and proposed some strategies for a more efficient use of space. Several months later, the clients returned and expressed their appreciation that Kart were willing to risk losing the project to be honest about their design approach.
This resulted in halving the brief, and beginning work on designing for the very challenging sloping site. “There’s a constant balance between capturing the view, staying elevated, but not becoming disconnected from the landscape”, Martin says. While the clients had originally proposed an “elevated box” with a separate guest apartment below, Kart felt this would disconnect the house from the garden. Instead, they proposed to consider the indoor and outdoor spaces as one, spreading the home down the site and integrating some of the ‘hard landscaping’, such as retaining walls, into the design.
When hosting family, it needed to expand and comfortably accommodate a large group, while for the majority of the time, it needed to be appropriate for just two people.
With the view to the south, gaining the all-important northerly aspect was achieved by incorporating a protected courtyard in the centre, bringing the north sun into the middle of the home. From the street level, the home reads as one single-storey volume, a timber lined entry pushed into the main volume to create quite a compressed space with glimpses through glazed doors of the view beyond. The design steps down internally following the topography of the site, the entry opening onto a double-height circulation space that connects and the expansive views with the front of the property and the upper and lower levels.
In order to create a home that functions for both a couple and large groups, Kart created a ‘connected’ plan, that is capable of opening up but that can also become more ‘cellular’ as needed. They focused on robust natural materials to design a welcoming, warm home that could withstand the exceptionally harsh coastal climate. Steel cladding protects the home from the salty sea winds, while timber is used at the human-scale to enliven and encapsulate the spaces.
“I feel that this project benefited from a really long briefing period”.
Martin says they see architecture and interiors as “integral, not separate disciplines”, explaining they were fortunate to select the furniture and lighting in the project as well. “We think of it as a continuous set of ideas, the interior is not separate from the architecture in our approach”, he says. Along with the natural timber, the interiors take their cue from the changeable blue ocean in the distance in the form of deep blue kitchen cabinetry and custom tiles for the kitchen splashback. “The dark blue elements denote the service spaces, with the garage, laundry pantry and storage all condensed into corner of the house”, says Martin. “Because quite a light space as well, we wanted to create a contrast to hold it all together in one darker column”.
From an enormous sprawling initial concept to a connected, efficient home, this is a design that successfully rises to the many challenges posed by the site, the coastal environment and the clients’ needs. The result demonstrates that with honest communication and a thoughtful design process, the most challenging of projects can be the most rewarding.