Robust Retreat – Mount Martha Courtyard House by Kister Architects

Words by Erin Crowden
Architecture by Kister Architects
Photography by Peter Bennetts
Build by Made Build
Styling by Jess Kneebone
Landscape Design by Amanda Oliver Gardens
Engineer by OPS Engineers

Conceived as a celebration of both outlook and privacy, Mount Martha Courtyard House purposefully responds to landscape and client considerations. Designed by Kister Architects, this robust holiday home simultaneously provides shelter and a platform to enjoy slower country days.

Approached to create a new multigenerational holiday home in Mount Martha on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Ilana Kister, Director of Kister Architects, worked with the clients to create a sanctuary founded on a strong connection to place, encouraging a private retreat that allows the family to rest and restore. With an overarching desire for the home to sit comfortably and at peace with its immediate landscape, planning is carefully balanced to provide privacy, definition of spatial zoning and reprieve from the exposed, gently sloping site. The resultant floor plan is wrapped in nature and reveals itself slowly upon approach, with the majority of built volume concealed behind a sculptural charred timber wall facing the street.

Large water tanks and a tennis court that originally occupied the site provided definition for the new dwelling, sited away from the western boundary and within a neatly contained footprint to enable landscape to take priority. Ilana explains that “during construction, the tennis court was removed allowing a more expansive garden” and encouraging additional landscape shielding from the west and neighbours. Also utilising part of the existing driveway as a pedestrian approach, Ilana retained elements of imprints on the site and used these as motivation to drive the orientation of living zones, channelling the view past the built form to newly landscaped areas beyond. Upon entering the home through the charred timber wall, the view expands dramatically with the internal courtyard capturing the eye and allowing a hierarchy of moments to be unveiled as the building meanderingly follows the natural lie of the land. Unfolding around this central courtyard, the slow revelation of interior spaces offers directional options through level changes, and layered glazing works to provide glimpses across to the main bedroom or the children’s and guest’s quarters.

Deliberately restrained materiality turns the focus away from the home and to landscape as the feature.

The building hugs the southern property edge, turning itself towards the north to maximise solar gain and penetration. The clients’ desire for a house with its “back to the street for privacy and in all other aspects opening up into private landscape” initially drove the planning arrangements, says Ilana. “Even though it is located in a beachside area, it very much feels like a country site,” she continues, allowing the design to build on the idea of a secluded place for the family to relax and enjoy. With no specific views from the site, a “focus on the garden” became paramount, driving the angular form in plan to instead create a “private courtyard internally” to shape and enlarge the perception of space and distance to neighbouring properties.

Materiality is deliberately restrained, selected only to further enhance the play of privacy and exposure, juxtaposing a conversation between built form within the landscape. Honest exposed masonry reflects solidity, punctuated rhythmically with full-height glazed panels set to create a dynamism of light across the façade throughout the day and seasons.

Charred timber cladding also features externally, slowly peeling away in the pedestrian approach to the covered entry portico. External surfaces echo the robust materiality with split stone crazy paving enabling minimal upkeep and allowing planting to creep and create new edges, ever-changing over the seasons and marking time passed. The timber lining the eaves lends warmth to the solid materials, creating a consistent linear pattern against the soft curved steel pergola as if in reply.

Considered moments of playfulness and connection feature throughout the design, drawing attention to specific elements.

The conversation of materials continues internally; the timber clads adjoining ceilings, walls and key areas of joinery, adding depth and movement to the palette and constantly referencing nature and fine-grained imperfection. Consideration of place equally informs use of natural-coloured tiles throughout wet areas, selected specifically for reference to local foliage and coastal environs; it is also used to slightly expand the minimal palette to add a distinctive tone. Considered moments of playfulness and connection feature throughout the design, drawing attention to specific elements. Ilana explains, “I like to integrate curves as they soften the harsh lines, create interesting shadows and bring us back to nature.” Evidenced through a black painted lining to the oculus, the simple yet distinctive gesture of creating a void leads to a moment of pause and interest in an otherwise angular building envelope.

“I like to integrate curves as they soften the harsh lines, create interesting shadows and bring us back to nature.”

Seeded in a fascination with research on biophilic principles, alongside the client’s desire to engage with the site, Ilana led the connection of landscape with built form through expansive floor-to-ceiling thermally broken glazing, encouraging an abundance of natural light to flow into the house. Furthering the permeability of the building’s interface, large glazed sliding panels to both sides of the living areas are designed to be used depending on season and climate. This allows a sense of informality, blending life lived inside and outside equally. Anchoring the courtyard, the informed use of glazing establishes this direct connection with the landscape, ensuring the natural environment is consistently acknowledged from each and every room. Working with Amanda Oliver Gardens, landscaping across the site is brought to life with textural plantings and tactile materials, echoing the robust nature of those used in the built form while contributing to blurred lines between internal and external areas.

Negotiating the complexity of considered internal zoning with tact, Kister Architects successfully overlays existing site parameters with the client brief to deliver a robust and deceptively modest “simple building”. In a response driven by orientation, connection with circadian rhythms and an overarching aim to “celebrate the landscape”, Mount Martha Courtyard House honours slow moments while ensuring the family can enjoy the space for many years to come.