The Bayside Concrete Bunker - Light Vault House by Chamberlain Architects
Brighton, VIC, Australia
The Light Vault House by Chamberlain Architects explores the many possibilities of concrete as a material, using it to inspiring and sometimes surprising effect in this home designed for entertaining in collaboration with restaurateur clients.
Using words and phrases like “over the top”, “dramatic”, and “beautiful”, Glen Chamberlain’s passion for the project, five years in the making, is clear. “It was a great brief,” he muses.
The clients requested a “concrete bunker”, the exterior celebrating its strong materiality. Photographed by Derek Swalwell & styled by Beck Simon.
The clients for the Light Vault House approached Chamberlain Architects to design a “concrete bunker” in the bayside Melbourne suburb of Brighton. The project proved a challenging yet rewarding experience for the architects, who felt blessed to work with daring and trusting clients to create something extraordinary. “Working with someone who trusts you is really rewarding because you can try different things out”, Glen says. “They fully back your vision, then together we see it built and realised. We love that”.
Glen Chamberlain’s passion for the project is clear.
Chamberlain Architects are a Collingwood-based studio led by director Glen Chamberlain and principal Ella Leoncio. They operate as a collaborative firm, committed to listening to each idea presented, regardless of experience. While Glen and Ella may set the design direction, Glen explains “no one has a mortgage on good ideas”, adding “just because you’re 1-2 years out of uni doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the design process in a meaningful way. There’s not one person who does the drawing and then another who is the designer, it’s much more open than that. We try to get our projects through everybody’s hands”.
The entry’s high ceilings and expanses of concrete create a dramatic impact. Photographed by Derek Swalwell & styled by Beck Simon.
Timber batten ceilings create warmth in contrast to the concrete below.
The emphasis placed on planning and open discussion certainly filters through to every level of the practice’s design, contributing to their excitement about unusual projects like the Light Vault House. The entire premise of a concrete box is polarising, to say the least, with concrete’s powerful materiality eliciting strong reactions both for and against. The clients’ love of the material’s tactility and strength led them to request using it in as many forms as possible. Chamberlain Architects chose to work with concrete’s dramatic qualities, enhancing them in some places, contrasting with them in others and delighting in exploring its diverse range of potential.
The clients for the Light Vault House approached Chamberlain Architects to design a “concrete bunker” in the bayside Melbourne suburb of Brighton.
With the intention to provoke different emotions in each space of the home, the Light Vault House takes the inhabitant on a journey, from an experience of austerity through to a composed serenity. “You start in that double height entry void and the acoustics are quite resonant”, explains Glen. “Then you reach the timber ceiling. The whole sound of the space changes and it becomes really quiet and soft, which is very unexpected for people because they just see the concrete and think it must be very intense the whole way through,” he says.
The timber ceiling also influences the home’s acoustics. Photographed by Derek Swalwell & styled by Beck Simon.
The kitchen is inspired by the client’s background in hospitality. Photographed by Derek Swalwell & styled by Beck Simon.
The flow from the spacious double-height concrete walls in the entry to the timber-lined ceilings throughout the rest of the ground level enhances this notion of zoned spaces. Minimal in aesthetic, the open plan living, dining and kitchen is never the less rich in materials and textures. Polished concrete floors and enormous cast in-situ concrete walls act as a reminder of the client brief. The hero of the space is the timber-panelled ceiling, the natural timber creating a covering of warmth contrasting with the concrete below. “The clients are in hospitality and run restaurants. They had requirements and specific ideas of how they wanted to entertain while at home,” Glen says. This background undoubtedly contributes to the space’s restaurant-like atmosphere, combining considered and consistent detailing with practicality for cooking and entertaining. Dark and elaborate Pietra Grigio stone adorns the benchtops and splashback. Accented with brass benchtop inlays and tapware and complemented by black textured wood grain joinery, the stone exudes an understated luxury.
Chamberlain Architects are a Collingwood-based studio led by director Glen Chamberlain and principal Ella Leoncio.
The informal dining room, draped in sheer curtains, with a custom-designed table and banquette seating continues this atmosphere. Meanwhile, the formal dining room captures picturesque views of the courtyard framed by windows, and a statement marble table creates a focal point. Not just a beautifully-designed space, it is highly practical too, with a secret door concealed within timber joinery leading to a scullery, once again utilising the highly effective combination of practicality and refined design inspired by hospitality.
With the intention to provoke different emotions in each space of the home, the Light Vault House takes the inhabitant on a journey.
A secret door leading to the scullery is hidden by joinery in the formal dining room. Photographed by Derek Swalwell & styled by Beck Simon.
While by no means a modest home, the interior design and finish selection in the Light Vault House is elegant and meticulously controlled, focusing on celebrating the beauty in the simplicity of fine materials, rather than on gaudy embellishment. The finesse of the interior design continues upstairs. As intended, the feel of the upper level is remarkably different to the lower ground. Noticeably lighter, the bedrooms are effortlessly charming and understated. As Glen explains, the rooms were the perfect fit for the clients’ two teenage daughters. “We went big and expansive in the living areas downstairs; up here it’s all under control. It’s certainly luxurious but still restrained,” he adds.
Upstairs the architects deliberately pulled back on the downstairs’ expansive luxury, creating a more restrained yet peaceful sleeping quarters.
The main ensuite’s expanse of arabescato marble is the exception to the tendency toward restraint in the upper levels. Photographed by Derek Swalwell & styled by Beck Simon.
The main ensuite, however, wrapped in the grandeur of arabescato marble, embraces some of the more expansive qualities of downstairs. The book matched marble creates a breathtaking statement, which is testament to the attention to detail in the interior. A deep stone bath and beautiful yet minimalist tapware complements the colour palette without taking any focus away from the impact of the marble.
Chamberlain Architects chose to work with concrete’s dramatic qualities.
Using the initial brief for a “concrete bunker” as a launching point from which to explore the vast potential of concrete, Chamberlain Architects have achieved this initial goal and much more. In the Light Vault House, they have created spaces that evoke an emotional response as one moves through them, challenging the austere connotations associated with concrete and constructing a lively home that surprises at every turn.