Richard Leplastrier

Osborne House

 
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Osborne House

Architect

Richard Leplastrier

Designed and Built

c1994 – 1995

Design Architect

Richard Leplastrier

Project Architects

Richard Leplastrier with Karen Lambert & Ian Martin

Builder

Jeffrey Broadfield

Location

51 Coasters Retreat, Coasters Retreat, NSW

Building program

Three Pavilions around 'Living Room'

Spaces

'Living Room', Cooking, Eating, Sleeping Space x2, Family Lounge, Writing Desk x2, Shower, WC x2, Japanese Outdoor Bath

Photographer

© Michael Nicholson

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Introduction

Osborne House plays with time. A day spent at the house may fly by – but at the same time there is also the curious experience that time has elongated. A day can feel like days in this calm and inspiring space.

But this is not a fact of the house alone. Osborne House, designed by Richard Leplastrier, Karen Lambert and Ian Martin, like other work by these architects, invites the natural world into your reckoning. And it is amazing what the combined whisperings of she-oak and ironbark, and the changing moods of the Pittwater, can do to the psyche. For the forest canopy and the mood of the National Park comprise the true living room of the house.

...the forest canopy and the mood of the National Park comprise the true living room of the house.”

Current Owner

The Design

On a stretch of Pittwater only accessible by boat, Osborne House lies three to four minutes’ walk from a public jetty. At first view, the three buildings comprising the house fan across the contour of a hill – quietly harmonious as they face both the visitor and the water. And as with all Leplastrier houses, there’s a great sense of arrival. In this case, a sweep of stairs, much broader than it need be and with each tread carefully detailed, rises up towards the deck.

Yet ‘deck’ is too prosaic a word for what is essentially the main living area, and the heart of the house. Facing North, and with the escarpment behind protecting the house from the Southerlies, this living space is a dining area and contemplation space that can be used year round. The long decking boards reach away from the house, and into the Pittwater bush beyond, serving to emphasise a landscape in which generations of families have lived. The harmony of the house within its context is the real genius of the architecture, and with a Japanese bath tucked against one timber wall there are opportunities to meditate on place and nature.

The house came about when, in around 1994, the then-owner, a woman closely involved in the arts, approached her friend Richard Leplastrier to make sense of the place she had bought some years before. At that stage it consisted of what she called ‘the parrot house’, an early twentieth century shack on stilts that was painted in bright colours and used as a bedroom, and about 10 metres away a cabin built at ground level.

The architects decided the best thing they could do was to unify the buildings with an enormous deck and, at the back of the deck – the South end – they built the kitchen. “Suddenly”, explains Richard Leplastrier, “the whole place worked; it’s curious – it’s like having a piece of music that’s off the mark, with two instruments that don’t go together. By putting a third one in, it suddenly turns into a wonderful piece.”

One wall of the kitchen pavilion – a structure made from Sydney Blue Gum and Brush Box recycled from the warehouses of 1800s Sydney – opens to the deck via a tilting door of translucent corrugated polycarbonate. Ingeniously, the mechanism has been reversed so that it pushes outwards rather than inwards. The current owner, also a friend of Leplastrier who helped build the house, remarks on the practicality of such an arrangement – with the door providing a sheltering visor against the elements.

If the deck is the main-stage and living room of the house, the kitchen pavilion serves as its backstage. Light streaming through the large glassless portholes – operated via a finely detailed pulley system – it is an inspiring place to create food. With a three-burner cooktop that sits on a custom-designed trolley and floating cabinets that incorporate an underbench oven, sinks and plenty of storage, the kitchen is beautifully crafted and designed to be practical. And in winter, with the tilting door closed and the pot-belly stove radiating heat, it is also very cosy.

Just as the house has been designed to connect with and incorporate into its location, the kitchen acts as a nature ‘hide’. With the portholes at the back open, not only are there framed views of National Park bushland, but wildlife, including wallabies, goannas and lyre birds, can be seen at close quarters. “When you open up something that’s not glass and are just left with a hole in the wall, it’s the most acute connection to outside you’ll ever get”, says the architect, who tries not to use glass in his buildings.

With a Leplastrier house, it’s safe to say that unconventionality is to be expected. One example in the Osborne House is the shower pod that sits within the kitchen pavilion. The power of a Leplastrier house is such that after a few hours of being here, this placement of the shower seems completely inspired.

The design and construction of the kitchen pavilion is somewhat akin to that of a boat. Doorways are ellipse shaped, there’s a finesse to the detailing, and the exquisitely simple brass handles are pleasingly tactile. And, like a boat, says the owner, openings close tightly against nature and the weather. In common with other buildings by Leplastrier, Lambert and Martin, this one is so carefully constructed by Jeffrey Broadfield, a long-time collaborator of the architects, that it could, in essence, be dismantled and re-erected.

Original doors and windows were left in the ‘cabin’, but timber built-in storage was added and the outside of the building clad. The architects lined the interior in plantation hoop pine ply, added a wood-burning stove and installed a storage unit along one wall. This storage unit floats above floor level, helping to give an overall sense of lightness to the structure. Windows were replaced with corrugated translucent polycarbonate panels, and sliding doors installed to open onto the deck. While the room functions as a light-filled living area, the bookcases and two built-in desks mean it can also double as a workroom or study.

Behind this pavilion is an open area with polycarbonate roof, comprising of a laundry, storage area and a toilet with portholes that frame the bush cliffs above. Behind the parrot house, another toilet sits on a strip of deck, looking out into the hillside.

Since the current owners moved in a decade ago, they’ve made one addition to the Osborne House. With two young children, they needed a second bedroom. Rather than building a solid room, they have created an airy space, with netting surrounding the bed, a rug on the deck, and storage built between uprights. The house, they say, has invited them to think very differently about the way they live.

Floor Plan

Download

PDF floorplan →

Specifications

Address

51 Coasters Retreat, Coasters Retreat

Building Program

Three Pavilions around 'Living Room'

Spaces

'Living Room', Cooking, Eating, Sleeping Space x2, Family Lounge, Writing Desk x2, Shower, WC x2, Japanese Outdoor Bath

Internal area (approx.)

97 sq m (1,044 sq ft)

External ‘Living Room’ (approx.)

99 sq m (1,066 sq ft)

Land area (approx.)

1,246 sq m (13,412 sq ft)

 

Sustainability + Structure

Environmentally designed to maximise orientation

Passive heating and cooling

North facing to front elevations of the three pavilions

Orientated to enjoy the North Easterlies

Protected from the Southerlies

Cross ventilation and clerestory vents

Onsite rainwater collection: 30,000+ litres

Timber with concrete footings

Structural and historical preservation

Recycled timbers

Native vegetation & trees

Register your interest to view

Modern House Estate Agents
National: 1300 814 768
International: +61 2 8014 5363
Email: viewings@modernhouse.co

Location

Coasters Retreat is in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, on the western shores of Pittwater looking northward toward the Basin. Only one hour from central Sydney by car, a classic timber ferry from Palm Beach Wharf takes you on the final and most delightful part of the journey, alighting at the calm, protected waters of Bonnie Doon Wharf. The house is located in the trees, at the base of the ancient escarpment, just a short walk up the path from the wharf.

Having no road access, Coasters Retreat is the perfect location for those who seek a timeless Australian ‘get-a-way’. Although just fifteen minutes on the ferry from Palm Beach, the feeling of ‘Coasters’ is one that is a world away. Safety for children and community spirit are key attributes of the close community of around 50 houses. The area is perfect for children having an array of natural amenities; nearby beaches and those dotted along the coast; walking tracks and bush walks; the netted, shallow waters and wide sandy beach of The Basin are just the start. For those who are still a kid at heart, adventuring is all around you, or one can just sit and be still. The perfect respite from the city.

The area was first inhabited by Indigenous Australians, the Kuringgai (also spelt Ku-ring-gai, Kuring-gai, Guringai). On the headland north of Coasters Retreat, is Red Hands Cave, featuring a hand print in red ochre. Other hand prints, and pictographs, middens and carvings can be found nearby. Indeed, just above the house on the escarpment there is a midden that is hard to date but proves that the location has been valued for many hundreds of years for its orientation to the North and protection from the Southerly winds. Coasters Retreat became enclosed by national park following the establishment of the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park in 1896.

Coasters Retreat is the ideal family location; a secluded part of nature right on Sydney’s doorstep and yet still one of her lesser known secrets. This is a place where time, nature and families meet. This is a place that is the making of memories.

The Myra from Palm Beach Wharf

The Basin & Coasters Retreat looking to Palm Beach

 
 

Richard Leplastrier, highly regarded by his peers around the world, does not have a large portfolio of built works, but has been awarded a number of prestigious national and international awards. He studied architecture at the University of Sydney – early mentors were artist Lloyd Rees and Jorn Utzon, for whom he worked on the Sydney Opera House. For a number of years he studied and worked in Japan, most notably in the office of acclaimed architect Kenzo Tange. In 1999, Leplastrier received the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal, and in 2009 was awarded the Dreyer Foundation Prize of Honour for his commitment to sustainability.

Dreyer Foundation board member Lene Tranberg described his architecture as ‘an ode to nature’. When Leplastrier received the Spirit of Wood Architecture Award in 2004, fellow architect Peter Stutchbury stated his architecture ‘sits like a garment in the landscape, a pleasure to experience, concerned with personal place and a respect for the land… These buildings are restful, the silence that bestows his work is reminiscent of a temple where the mind is given opportunity to overtake the body and touch on thoughts beyond memory.’

Architect's Drawings

Architect's Awards and Publication of the House

RAIA Gold Medal 1999

Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award, 2004

Accompanying book: 'Richard Leplastrier: Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture', published by Rakennustieto, Finland, 2004

Dreyer Foundation Prize of Honour, 2009

Register your interest to view

Modern House Estate Agents
National: 1300 814 768
International: +61 2 8014 5363
Email: viewings@modernhouse.co