The Journey of Restoring A Brutalist Home (House Tour)

The Chambers House is a pretty iconic house in Brisbane in the inner-city of Teneriffe, but unlike a period house this is a brutalist house heritage-listed for its values with regards to its use of concrete block and concrete, and the house that we’re now sitting in represents a number of years of renovation, restoration and addition to that original house. And the house is designed in such a way that it almost had no defined rooms in it at all. We often light-heartedly joke that we started with a zero bedroom house and we now have a four bedroom house, but all of that was done within a very very small extension. What has resulted through the work that we’ve done and what was here and done originally by Rodney Chambers and his wife has resulted in what is now certainly a very functional family home.

It’s an interesting mix of a house that is bold and heavy in its built form but the significance of having the house defined by its landscaped edge onto the street or something that was obviously important in the original design. So the block work walls start to have this lovely patina greenery and landscape growing over it and the house itself then sits very much subservient to those edges on the street.

The softness that the landscaping brings in this instance is an incredibly important element and all credit to Stephen Clegg who designed it. We’re really trying to think of homes as the entire environment. Fortunately with this house we we’re blessed in that it has a long elevation of the house that is predominantly north facing and by virtue of the almost entirely glazed northern facade, you do get this beautiful washer of light that sort of gently falls right through the floor plate. What’s really interesting is that i think it draws on a lot of the central tenets of modernism these ideas of compression and release, and this idea of journey and discovery. You go down through these lovely landscape stairs into a front door area which is relatively compressed and then presented with a series of open plan terraces which would define these areas in a very modernist way, so rather than being defined by walls as defined by edges and thresholds.

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And then there’s a central space of which we’re sitting in now which across both levels became the slightly more transient area where you kind of move through it and move beyond it, and on the upper level that becomes a study and a space where you move through between all the bedrooms and then also houses a robe area which has been tackled in a way that’s quite unique to this house. And then these other open plan spaces become the spaces they’re not only used for living and socialising entertaining, but they also become spaces that you move through the house, so there’s a lovely economy about that because it’s not a house of passages it’s simply a house of a series of sequences of spaces and thresholds.

The key material that really jumps out is the use of the expressed block work and at the time there was cypress pine used for the structural elements that included the floor beams that also extended right through to some of the sun shading devices on the northern side. The cypress pine had come into disrepair so in the act of trying to repair and restore the cypress pond was taken out and then re-threaded with iron bark so that we could actually envisage the house into the future. What is so lovely about working on a property like this is that the clues are so obvious, and so when we came to the project we obviously wanted to work with a block. So when it came to adding to that palette there wasn’t a hell of a lot for us to have to add it is really on the finer grain detail within the cabinetry in kitchens and bedrooms and bathrooms predominantly that any decision had to be made because everything else was essentially there.

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Continuing that idea of the blonde timbers, American oaks and the cabinetry and the kitchens and a number of the bedroom areas was carried through as a balance with the darker black materials and brings a degree of warmth into the place, and that juxtaposition between these beautiful hard and very structured block walls and then these lovely detailed windows offer this lovely contrast between heavy and light which is something that really defines the cells

. While I wasn’t personally familiar with Rodney’s work, I was certainly familiar with the house and it was always one of those slightly mysterious houses because it is so unique in the architectural context of Teneriffe Hill that it’s almost become one of these iconic houses long before we ever got here, so it was interesting in that this house defines so much of what we understand Rodney Chambers as an architect and certainly stands as a testament to obviously his extraordinary skills. I think the fact that we had had this past relationship with Michael and Marlo and the builders as well, John, and Jen who worked on the project with me had a lot of experience in this kind of work and I really do think it felt like an incredibly collaborative process from the beginning. It felt like we had the ingredients to really work through this process in a considered way and when a builder and architect and a client have that sort of happy balance of working together to this common goal you get something that’s extraordinary.

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