Highlands House by Luke Moloney Architecture

This house in the Southern Highlands is barely visible from the street below. Even though many of the trees have just been planted, leaving much of the terrain bare, it’s materially, a combination of concrete and timber, which makes it recede in the landscape.

Designed for a couple who have an extensive collection of Australian contemporary art, the brief was for a large house that would accommodate substantial paintings and sculpture. It also had to work as a house for a couple of empty nesters as much as for their adult children. The other criteria was for a house that could accommodate a sizeable number of people for events.

“Previously the clients had lived for many years in a house further down the crest of this rise, in a 1970s AV Jennings house,” says architect Luke Moloney. However, with their goal to be at the crest of the hill with views over the Great Dividing Range, it was decided to build an entirely new house – one that would suit all their needs - rather than make a series of compromises. Given the brief stipulated quality, the team was conscious of using quality long- lasting materials – hence the material palette is essentially concrete and timber, the latter being the genus Manilkara which turns to a silvery grey in a relatively short time and would add patina to the home’s exterior.

Given the other part of the brief was for a ‘barn-like’ form, Luke Moloney Architecture conceived a double height barn that branches off to form other wings. The main wing comprises the kitchen, a living area and a dining area with three bedrooms and two bathrooms located on the first floor. The other two components in the design are the garage wing that comprises a double garage with guest accommodation above and also a separate wing for the main bedroom and ensuite. Connecting these parts is a long curvaceous gallery that offers glimpses of the landscape via strategically placed slot windows (also for the appropriate amount of light). The substantial concrete chimneys (approximately 8 metres in height) on either side of the living areas also give the design a strong country, rather than urban, sensibility.

As well as using quality materials such as marble for the kitchen island bench and for some of the bathrooms, including the one for the main bedroom ensuite, the design features carefully articulated planes. The dramatic pitched ceiling in the main dining area, for example, features a slither of a break in the pitch to allow for a continual light show on the pristine white surfaces. The steel mullions used to frame the extensive glazing at ground level also articulates both the near and more distant views of the countryside. And given the owners’ collection of art, each wall was carefully measured well in advance to accommodate specific works – such as a large diptych by artist Peter Godwin.

Other spaces, such as the point of arrival, have been as thoughtfully considered. In contrast to the more public areas, such as the gallery and living spaces, the main bedroom has a more intimate feel, with lower ceilings, cosy nooks and walls lined with dark painted timber. Other thoughtful details can be seen in the ensuite to the main bedroom that features both generous floor-to-ceiling glazed doors and a ‘veil’ of timber battens in the form of a screen – both capable of fully retracting to allow for a sense of bathing outdoors. “It’s a large house but it’s also a house that can be used in a number of ways, depending on who stays over and the event at hand,” adds Moloney.

Architecture by Luke Moloney Architecture, photography by Tom Ferguson, styling by Megan Morton and words by Stephen Crafti.