Sydney-based design studio Alexander &CO. draw on a concrete clifftop home’s “invisible charisma” to carve out a new story that reflects the family that lives there.
“Substantial in structure but devoid of spirit” is how Alexander &CO. director Jeremy Bull personifies this ’90s clifftop home in Sydney’s East. Admitting the home “wasn’t saying very much” when they first visited the site, Jeremy and his team set out to tell a story that’s both personal and genuine – an exercise that underpins Alexander & CO.’s revered residential design approach.
Recognising its structural clarity and integrity, the Alexander &CO. team proposed a materially-rich evolution for the built form and its surroundings, drawing on the homeowner’s European “Story of Origin”, the dramatic coastal environment and the ebbs and flows of family life. And with this coalescence of place and influence, Jeremy happily admits, “The building is once again breathing and quite alive”.
It wasn’t the first time Alexander &CO. had worked with the homeowners. Collaborating on several commercial projects, the design firm could bring their understanding of the client as the foundation to the story that unfolds within.
While structurally sound, the home was not set up with a logical layout – nor did it speak to where it was – making little effort to connect with its garden and ocean outlook. Alexander &CO.’s revisions were in line with how the young family live presently, but aware the home would need to grow with them comfortably. As a result, there are now two sides to the home’s story; one that prioritises functionality and play – the kitchen, garden and pool side of the home – and a contemplative side for watching the waves roll in (with the parents in mind).
Wellness takes precedence on the home’s lower level, which features a sauna and gym (and the garage). Above, the family kitchen, breakfast nook, rumpus, living and dining room, and a guest bedroom open up to the pool and garden. And on the upper floor with roof access lies five bedrooms, including the primary with ensuite, robe, and a family bathroom.
Outside, the home now presents as a subtle taste of the Mediterranean, white and textural, with greenery draped over the top; a softer, more sculptural version of what was, while not forgetting its 90s ties. “The exterior facades of the building contain terraces, gardens, balconies and planted edges. The building is conceived to become lost in gardens,” Jeremy maintains.
“There is this beautiful sense of the floor being both important, materially valuable, and yet relaxed, worn in, lived upon. It is a thousand trips to the Duomo, worn foot fall cross the church threshold.”
– Jeremy Bull
The Pacific House stone kitchen floor feels a world away from its Sydney East location. Conceived in collaboration with the client and Alexander &CO. associate Shelby Griffiths, the marble Palladiana is reminiscent of the “found-ness” of an Italian Piazza. “There is this beautiful sense of the floor being both important, materially valuable, and yet relaxed, worn in, lived upon,” Jeremy says. “It is a thousand trips to the Duomo; worn foot fall cross the church threshold.” Echoing its European origin, the marble floor exemplifies how the home’s spirit of place expresses those that live there and yet the home’s story more broadly; old and new, found and deliberate.
Detailing is a fundamental part of Alexander &CO.’s storytelling. As with other homes in their portfolio, Pacific House’s material palette is naturally derived from the client, context, and unique site constraints. The European oak ceiling in the kitchen and dining area was one such example – a purposeful focal point in the face of ceiling height constraints. The ceiling mirrors the European oak floors seen through the living, dining, stairs and hallway.
A consistent dialogue between select materials is felt throughout – as seen in the shop-sawn American oak veneer joinery, custom banquette and cabinet in the kitchen that also makes an appearance in the arch-shaped living room alcove and custom bedhead in the primary bedroom. Polished plaster walls are a soft backdrop to each space, while downstairs, archways are lined with Grigio Firma marble – one of three marbles used for the kitchen floor.
A curation of European and Australian design furniture, lighting and art also cultivates a spirit of place. Australian design highlights include lighting by Henry Wilson, Douglas and Bec and Marz Designs, furniture by Daniel Boddam and Zuster and accessories by Dinosaur Designs. These pieces are positioned alongside European icons such as Mario Bellini’s Camaleonda sofa and the Arflex Botolo High dining chairs.
Alexander&CO.’s storytelling through design has ensured the Pacific House rests in equilibrium – aged and contemporary, Australian and European, encasing and yet open to its coastal surroundings. But ultimately, what’s manifested is a home that speaks for and of its owners. “It is expressive and alive and specific,” Jeremy says. “It is laden with the stories of its now inhabitants, materially rich and communicative.”
“The building has evolved to speak on behalf of its owners, and their beautiful Story of Origin.”
– Jeremy Bull