Rural and Familial Connections – Stonelea by Matthew Woodward Architecture
Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
Responding to context and climate, Stonelea by Matthew Woodward Architecture delivers an authentic, multi-generational country retreat embedded in the landscape. Nestled in the western foothills of the Blue Mountains, where the clients have resided and enjoyed time with family for many years, Stonelea tenderly responds to context – geographical and familial. “It’s a special place where the children (big and small) swim in the river, lunch on log benches, ride horses, grow veggies and pick fruit from the many fruit trees,” describes architect Matthew Woodward.
“Foremost, the project is about family,” reflects Matthew. “It talks about the integral connection of the past, present and future, along a string of happy memories and hopeful aspirations across multiple generations.”
Continuing a long-standing interest in connecting people with landscape, Stonelea gently frames the human experience within its striking rural surrounds. An existing cluster of workers cottages, each with a unique view across the vast valley and connection to the Cox’s River below, informed the planning and articulation of the home. “The siting of the house is contrary to the common practice of finding the most attractive, pronounced position on the rural site,” he reveals. Instead, Stonelea is built in place of an existing station-master’s cottage in the meandering river valley. Winding downwards along the dusty drive, the familiar burnt and grey hues of the Australian bush prelude the first impressions of the architecture.
The home’s linear and low-lying pitched form draws on the Australian shed vernacular, addressing the clients’ wish for “country honesty and earthiness”. Turning to the works of Glenn Murcutt, Bruce Rickard and Frank Lloyd Wright for deferent guidance, Matthew and his team developed a narrative around authenticity, generosity and longevity. A minimalist approach to form is articulated in the generous floorplan, while the earthy materials reflect an affinity with the landscape. Stonelea’s barn-like form skillfully combines hardwood timber shiplap and metal roof sheeting set on a weighty podium of local stone, embedding the house across the slope of the river valley panorama. An existing chimney pillar, finished in stacked stone, is symbolically retained at the centre of the new homestead, an ode to the old cottage and a tender continuation of its legacy.
“It talks about the integral connection of the past, present and future, along a string of happy memories and hopeful aspirations across multiple generations.”
The home is dexterously planned around established trees, giving a seamlessness with the landscape that belies the age of the architecture. A simple, elongated spatial arrangement gives hierarchy and order between public and private space – “striking a balance between intimate country living and the need to accommodate three generations of family,” explains Matthew. Ensuite guest bedrooms and a kids’ bunk room are lined along a timber-screened walkway, flanked by a large master bedroom to the north and expansive living spaces to the south, affording acoustic separation and privacy.
The clients’ love of food, wine and entertaining is embraced in the generously scaled kitchen, living and dining area. Wide sliding doors open the interior to the landscape with wrap-around timber decks, paved stone terraces and native gardens providing sprawling surfaces to socialise with guests. A geothermal-heated lap pool is used daily. “It’s such a nourishing experience to swim amongst the elements,” comments Matthew, “it really is for everyone.” While these lively, communal spaces are highly utilised, the home’s dedicated retreat spaces are equally valued by the clients. Two double height, timber-lined stairwells descend into the stone plinth below: one to the cellar and wine-tasting room, the other to a large rumpus room for the kids. The master bedroom creates a serene atmosphere to be appreciated in its own right, allowing for quieter moments for the principal residents.
Continuing a long-standing interest in connecting people with landscape, Stonelea gently frames the human experience within its striking rural surrounds
Throughout, a robust palette of rustic, natural materials enables Stonelea to take the knocks of a working cattle farm: “we have a tendency towards raw and characterful materials that age favourably over time,” explains Matthew. This proclivity is expressed in pitched ceilings of meranti plywood and tapered blackbutt rafters that float above burnished concrete floors. A gallery of recycled blackbutt shiplap cladding, sliding glass doors and external timber screens creates a link between living spaces and bedrooms while casting dappled light patterns that change throughout the day.
While Stonelea expresses rawness and tactility, the restrained composition of the home maintains a sense of refinement. Function and utility are key, as are the environmental principles employed to continue the legacy of country living. “Passive design combined with technological initiatives for power generation, water collection, heating and cooling mean that the operational footprint on the environment is minimised,” Matthew says.
Oriented along an east-west axis with glazed north-facing openings and low overhanging eaves, the house follows key passive thermal principles with consideration of the Blue Mountains’ dynamic weather conditions. Low, overhanging eaves give protection against the hot summer sun, while louvred windows invite cooling cross-ventilation and concrete slabs manage temperature changes at night. A geothermal system provides hot water and heated floors, supported by a solar farm for power generation. “It’s designed with a conscious mindset,” explains Matthew, “the design principles ensure that the clients’ lifetime of activities can happen with minimal environmental impact and a sound ecological consciousness.”
These sustainable considerations skilfully coalesce with the sentimentality and ambition of the clients’ brief, creating a sincere and unpretentious home that sits comfortable in its rugged landscape. With spaces to meet, share, play and retreat, Stonelea celebrates the simplicity and delight of country life, nurturing the family’s three generations and their lifetime of memories – a place that leaves its mark, to be passed on and on.