Textually Timeless – Sand Castle by Luigi Rosselli Architects, Raffaello Rosselli Architect and Alwill Interiors

Words by Edwina Hagon
Photography by Prue Ruscoe
Interior Design by Alwill Interiors
Landscape Design Dangar Barin Smith
Windows Vitrocsa

With Sand Castle, Luigi Rosselli Architects, Raffaello Rosselli Architect and Alwill Interiors unite to produce a shimmering statement on codes of humanism as well as a poetic exploration of materiality and site.

From the vantage of the street, Sand Castle occupies a bastion-like presentation. Built into the natural slope of the hill and split over three levels, the house extends upwards from the ground, a towering figure sculpted in brick, concrete and glass. The sculptors behind the project are architects Luigi Rosselli and Raffaello Rosselli – father and son with their own two practices that sometimes merge. “It’s a joint project, four hands’ work,” says Luigi. “The clients came to us, Luigi Rosselli Architects, but being a young couple the generational affinity with Raffaello was ideal, and so it was a good project for him to take charge of.”

European oak floors and joinery are accompanied by the Monument Table by Daniel Boddam and a Stephen Ormandy sculpture.

The brief called for a four-bedroom, four-bathroom house that captured views, granted fluid connections between the house, garden and street, and could be comfortably occupied in all seasons without the excess often found in Sydney waterfront properties. While the existing structure – a modest, split-level house – did not offer opportunity for conversion or repurposing materials, a symphony existed with the clients’ desire to incorporate healthy, natural materials and maximal environmental solutions.

Bold, dynamic shapes, neutral tones, and contrasting textures characterise the architects’ thoughtful interpretation. A keen interest in material exploration and low-impact building practices are reflected in the use of slim, textural Krause Emperor brick for the façade and interior – a decision spearheaded by Raffaello that was initially met with some scepticism due to the poor renditions of brick buildings the clients had seen growing up. Needless to say, his determination paid off, bringing a depth of colour and modern, organic detail not typically associated with brick homes. As Luigi points out, this particular type of brick is “soft, not angular; it’s handmade and has edges that are not too sharp, giving a warm feeling.”

Bold, dynamic shapes, neutral tones, and contrasting textures characterise the architects’ thoughtful interpretation.

Landscape design by Dangar Barin Smith settles the building into its steep site.

It is a site best experienced in a progressive way. At the base of the property, a bulging sandstone block lines the boundary like a retaining wall. A timber gate opens to an indoor-outdoor space, covered but not enclosed, with sunlight streaming in from above. From there, a staircase winds up towards two possible entries. The first is a long, nocturnal tunnel concluded by a wall painted in Yves Klein Blue – “Peter Lewis, the founder of Porter’s Paints, gave us the recipe’’ – and a lift. Alternatively, there is the option to approach the building through the garden populated by young greenery and native plants.

With the help of landscape architects Dangar Barin Smith, a path – or “mountain goat track,” to use Luigi’s words – winds up through the garden, accompanied by a handrail cleverly fashioned out of rope made for mooring large boats. A platform at the main entrance sets up a moment to pause and observe the views across Rose Bay.

Moving through the internal space, timber panelling, bricks in muted form, and an abundance of natural light create a calm and welcoming mood.

Alwill Interiors collaborated with the architects on the project to create warm and inviting spaces.

Moving through the internal space, timber panelling, bricks in muted form, and an abundance of natural light create a calm and welcoming mood. The lower level comprises a rumpus room and study – generous, personable spaces that balance warmth with functionality. The ascent up the timber stairs reveals a crescendo of light filtering down through the slats of the second flight above. Arriving at the living room level, a classic open-plan living, dining, kitchen arrangement that is spacious, comfortable and well-lit is to be found. Large windows offer framed views of the harbour and direct access to the terrace that, with its pointed corner, projects outside the building footprint towards the water like the bow of a boat.

“Then you turn around, and on the opposite side of the living space you have direct access to a level garden, which is a surprise,” Luigi says. It is no small feat either, considering the inflexibility of such a steep site and the subsequent challenges the architects were able to overcome to achieve a perfectly usable, enjoyable space. To moderate the effects of the sun, sliding shutters have been installed, angled in such a way that views are still available, while the brise-soleil on the building’s façade adds further shelter along with an element of dynamism and charm.

The materiality of the Krause Emperor bricks contrasts with the minimalist white planes of the ceiling, whilst complementing the warmth of the timber floor.
Sculptural furniture, including the Cappellini Sofa with Arms from Cult and the Reeno Bench by Grazia & Co, harmonises with the drama of the spaces.

For the interior design, the architects joined forces with Alwill Interiors. Together, they sought balance, creativity and purpose, ultimately crafting a series of resolute spaces each with its own distinct character, from the colour and finishes to the elements of joinery and selection of furniture. Continuing upwards to the bedroom level, a skylight reveals itself as the source of light cascading through the stairwell. Four bedrooms – one master, two children’s bedrooms, and one guest bedroom – vary in personality, size and aspect.

“You have a feeling of being on top of the world, high up among the trees,” says Luigi of the scene and sensibility of the third and top level. With this in mind, the architects decided against the inclusion of a balcony, choosing instead to co-opt the roof of the living room wing for use as a garden. “It’s a roof with low-growth plants and succulents that need very little maintenance among pebbles,” Luigi explains. Then, there is the pool, a dazzling stretch of blue extending out from the bedroom level accompanied by a terrace where one can sit and enjoy that formidable view. “The harbour has a presence everywhere,” says Luigi.

In the kitchen, a subtly curved island is enhanced by the Morrison Stools by Cappellini from Cult.

Befitting of the project’s inception, its architects and designers and now its inhabitants, “the main character of this house,” he concludes, “is one of being quite natural, with natural materials and embracing spaces. It’s a very, very happy place.”