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DOUBLE DECKER: WEEKEND RETREAT HIGH ABOVE HARDY’S BAY

DOUBLE DECKER: WEEKEND RETREAT HIGH ABOVE HARDY’S BAY

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TO LOOK AT it now, with its massive twin decks framed in muscular steel, it’s difficult to believe that Susan Hilliard and Shane Allen’s weekender was once — as Susan puts it — “a pine wilderness with floral curtains”. The transformation, designed by architect John Cockings, has turned what was originally an unappealing 1980s timber kit house into a robust and chic home-away-from-home.

The most dramatic and expensive element of the renovation has been to create the home’s huge decks. The big savings were made by retaining the original home’s basic structure and scheme. Steel was chosen to fashion the deck’s structure because it could be prefabricated off-site and then assembled on-site. The decks provide ample outdoor areas to live and entertain — not to mention capture panoramic views.

Built high on the end of a ridge at Killcare, an hour-and-a-half north of Sydney on NSW’s Central Coast, the home was originally wall-to-wall, cornice-to-cornice pine on the inside and cedar on the outside. “It was finished in an eclectic style, with second hand timbers for every element of the property,” says owner Susan Hilliard, a partner in a major Sydney law firm. “The day we moved in I pulled down two [internal] walls,” she says, “and created a large open plan plus a large area outside the living area [now a large, airy study].”

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 “The builder, who is a Hardy’s Bay local, almost fell off at the view. He was gobsmacked at what you can see up there.”

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Soon after Susan called on her “former partner who ran a building business”, together with a brother and stepson who spent the next five weeks camped at the property paring away the interior’s timber cladding. A local builder then took over the work. Although once he’d begun work it soon became clear to Susan and husband Shane — who by now had an ever-more ambitious vision for the holiday retreat — that they wanted it “to become quite industrial and have all these big balconies”.

Enter architect John Cockings.

The new steel framework serves a couple of purposes. It provides a frame for the timber decks that the home opens out to on two floors, but it also serves to stabilise and strengthen the original building. The engineer became aware early in the process that he’d have to use the new structure not only brace itself but to brace the house,” says John. “The whole house moved. It didn’t have enough bracing in there.”

Built to capture sweeping views of the bay and of the surf beach and ocean far below, when the steel structure first went up everyone was surprised at just how good the vistas were. “We clambered up on a ladder and stood on the steel — when they got the top deck framing done,” says John. “The builder, who is a Hardy’s Bay local, almost fell off at the view. He was gobsmacked at what you can see up there.”

After that the deck were soon in and they don’t get much bigger than this. Wrapping around three sides from the front to the back on two levels it’s “around 5.6 metres deep at its deepest point”, says John. Add up the area of the  two decks and they amount to around 200 square metres of outdoor living.

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Originally the home had a “very skinny” veranda on the outside that simply didn’t take full advantage of the possible views. It also offered little useable outdoor space because it’s built on an awkward sloping corner block just above the curve of the road below. The open plan living space and three of the homes bedrooms open to the upstairs deck, while the fourth bedroom, living room and entertaining room open to the downstairs deck. “The whole house is indoor/outdoor,” says Sue, “and no space is wasted”. Each deck boasts a barbecue. Upstairs gets the most use, but in the hot summer months the shade of the downstairs deck provides welcome respite from the heat of the day.

Having decided on giving the original home indoor/outdoor on two levels, the original windows had to be swapped for a series of glass doors, floor-to-ceiling picture windows and louvres. Deep eaves provide shade and sunshades — that will stretch across the steel structure to the edge of the deck (outside the living space) are planned — so that the space can be used to full advantage in the height of summer. Each of the original bedroom windows were removed and swapped for a uniform louvred windows and glass door. Each of the bedrooms and living spaces – both upstairs now opens direct to a deck. The living space is bordered by a series of sliding doors and louvres to let the natural light  and cross breezes wash through the space.

In the master bedroom meanwhile — which looks down at Killcare beach and the open sea –“we cut a big picture window,” says John. There’s no need for screening as it’s not overlooked and Susan and Shane wake to the sounds of birds in the adjacent tree tops and the new day’s light filtering into the room.

The beach house has two ovens and two dishwashers and the kitchen is what Susan describes as “chef level”—because it often has two or three accomplished cooks working in there side by side. “It’s designed so that more than one chef can work here,” she says, “because meals are often turned out for 18 or 20 people and in my family there’s a long tradition of cooking.”

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If most people use their beach house as a place of retreat – a place they can get away from things and put their feet up – this is a home-away-from-home that also serves as the epicentre of its owners’ social life. “When we have friends over, they don’t come to our city house very much because we are too busy during the week,” says Susan. “We work late, so all our entertaining is here.”

That said the place’s primary function is as a refuge from the workaday urban grind for its owners — so the emphasis is very much on relaxation. Accordingly the home has an elegant but rugged sensibility and the detailing isn’t overly fussy or precious.

Inside the finishes are calm and understated. The walls are white and floors a balance of slate and limestone. The deck is hardwood. “Susan was very keen to treat it like a beachhouse,” says John. “She didn’t want it to be super precious in terms of all the finishes.”

Outside the steel is expressed and exposed. “You can see how it is put together,” he says. “I had this vision for it to be quite industrial,” adds Susan. Industrial and relaxing – it’s a rare mix but one that patently works.

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WORDS

JEREMY KAHN

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