Jesse Bennett Studio
Designed and Built
2011/12 - 2012/15
Edge Hill, Cairns QLD 4870
3 Bedroom, 2 Bath, Study (flexi-space), 4+ Car
(2 cars covered)
Organic L-shaped house creating a courtyard space immersed within heritage rainforest
© Sean Fennessy, Ben Hosking
Planchonella House is surrounded by the striking natural beauty of Queensland’s rainforest. Set in the desirable suburb of Edge Hill, Cairns, it is a highly crafted 240-square-metre house (on a 4,818-sqm block) with sculptural form and surprising spaces designed for the tropical landscape and climate. Unpredictable and joyful, it is, above all, breathtaking.
Planchonella House is borne from the drive, energy and vision of husband-and-wife team Jesse Bennett and Anne-Marie Campagnolo, described by the 2015 National Architecture Awards’ jury as “an architect/builder/inventor and an interior innovator at their combined best.” It represents Bennett and Campagnolo’s ‘total design’ ethos and uncompromising vision in which architecture, landscaping and interior design have become a single, unified, harmonious ‘total work of art.’
The couple has been deservedly awarded. Planchonella House won Australia’s top architectural honours with the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture in the 2015 National Architecture Awards. It won numerous other awards on a state, national and international level; photographs and stories have been published in magazines worldwide; and it has been referenced alongside the world’s finest ‘tropical’ and ‘forest homes.’
But photographs of Planchonella House tell only half the story. The physical experience of being there, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the tropical rainforest, is the other half of the story and one that can’t be told from the photographs.
“An architect/builder/inventor and an interior innovator at their combined best.”
Planchonella House sits on an impressive site bordering Mount Whitfield Conservation Park in Edge Hill, Cairns. Bennett and Campagnolo immediately the saw potential of the site covered in dense virgin rainforest. With enthusiasm and dedication, they designed and built their visionary house taking a hands-on and hand-crafted approach, even camping on site during the two-year construction.
When an architect designs their own house, it is a chance to experiment with ideas, develop their personal style and express their design intent unconstrained by client brief. Planchonella House is inventive, consistent and resolved, representing a fully resolved design that encompasses the landscaping and the building down to the clothes hooks and door handles. The secluded site provided “total design freedom,” and allowed Bennett and Campagnolo to pursue their vision unencumbered by neighbours or a local design “scene.”
Planchonella House is a response to topography and climate. Its sculptural form, beyond its beauty, is a functional approach to use of space, privacy, visual connection and passive solar design. The house has undertones of Brazilian modernism – a far cry from Australia’s typical timber-and-tin bush architecture – and comparisons have been made to John Lautner’s Arango House in Acapulco, Mexico, Lina Bo Bardi’s work in Brazil and even Alvar Alto’s Savoy Vase.
The contours of the ridgeline influenced the curving design of the house, with two organic-shaped concrete platforms forming the roof and floor. The concrete platforms at the front stretch out like wings to float above the ridge and sit within the tree canopies. Glass walls wrap around the house, following the curves of the concrete profiles. They meet the edges to create indoor spaces projecting into the trees, surrounded by rainforest, and are recessed to provide outdoor spaces with deep rounded eaves, like the rainforest canopies.
Inside, raw and robust materials, such as concrete, timber and brick, accentuate the form, and the glass amplifies the indoor-outdoor connection and sense of immersion in the landscape. Glazed vertical panels have fine black silicon lines defining the joints and solid rosewood frames around operable windows. Black steel columns extend from floor to ceiling and minimal internal walls allow for unobstructed views. Tropical foliage spills indoors, covers the rooftop (with more than 600 Rhoeo Spathacea plants) and trails over the concrete platforms to enhance the synthesis of indoors and out.
Planchonella House is approached from the front and below with the concrete platforms, set on large black columns, cantilevering over the driveway. A workshop and parking is underneath the house and a staircase, encased with a black-steel bannister provides access to the upper floor with a tropical green-wall entry.
The L-shaped plan provides three distinct spaces. Common areas are at the south-facing pivot point with the kitchen flanked by a breakfast booth and butler’s pantry, and the dining, lounge and deck offering views across the hinterland and city. A timber wall conceals the adjacent master suite with bedroom, bathroom and dressing room that spans into the tree canopy. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and a flexible-use, studio space stretch out the rear of the house.
The curving and asymmetrical form generates unpredictable interior spaces with uses that are suggested, rather than prescribed. The living, dining and kitchen is an open, free-flowing space with inventive features designed and made by Bennett and Campagnolo. A timber wall between the common area and master bedroom has a bookshelf on one side, black upholstered silk on the other and a concealed pivoting door that opens with a long rosewood handle. A built-in timber breakfast booth perfectly placed at the end of the kitchen is bathed in dappled morning light, and the terrazzo island benches are covered with tiles Bennett found on his travels in Brazil.
Bennett crafted these and most of the furniture and fixtures, including tables, bathtub, wardrobe, door handles, clothes hooks and the elegantly curved pink couch, designed by Campagnolo. It is their favourite piece of furniture, and like a 1970s conversation pit it furls around the television room to provide different vistas through the landscape.
The colourful and playful mid-century-inspired interior complements the organic-shaped concrete platforms and has warmth and personality against the green and concrete backdrop. In addition to the custom-built features, it includes vintage furniture, classic lighting, vibrant textiles and exclusive art pieces. Tropical-patterned fabric by Christian Lacroix upholsters the master-bedroom wall; an abstract mural by Nadia Hernandez covers the third-bedroom wall; and the dressing room has hand-printed wallpaper by Erica Wakerly.
At the rear of the house, the L-shaped plan skirts around a northeast-facing glade. It is a protected, enclosed and private outdoor haven that nestles into the rainforest ridge. Zoysia Materella grass is soft and spongy underfoot, and water cascades over the side of the above-ground magnesium-filtered pool. Bennett describes this space as the “lungs” of Planchonella House. Functionally, it provides sun, light, ventilation, activity, entertainment and a connection to the rainforest. Sensorially, it offers so much more; it’s an extraordinary experience that photographs don’t capture. Facing up to the mountain and surrounded by towering trees, the rainforest is alive with the sights and sounds of birds, goannas, butterflies, floating seed pods and flowering Planchonella trees.
The kitchen opens to the glade with the rosewood bench folding to form an outdoor seat. This is the place to take in the grandeur, wonder and life of the tropical environment. To unwind, to refresh, to be present and to enjoy nature – and architecture – at its finest.
As the judges of the 2015 Australian Houses Awards commented, “This is a building that will get better with time.”
Modern House looks forward to introducing prospective new owners, who themselves, look forward to realising this concept during their stewardship of a building that cannot be defined by fashion but ultimately by the enjoyment of ‘place’. Planchonella House already sits amongst the finest Australian architectural residences and we believe time will be kind to the robust design and it will become an important item in Australia’s built heritage – this modern house has a great future.
Further details at PlanchonellaHouse.com
Edge Hill, Cairns QLD 4870
3 Bedroom, 2 Bath, Study (flexi-space), 4+ Car
(2 cars covered)
450 sq m (4,844 sq ft)
Living Level - enclosed with glass (approx.)
240 sq m (2,583 sq ft)
Living Level - including patio (approx.)
280 sq m (3,014 sq ft)
Pool with ornamental waterfall (approx.)
7.5 m x 3.6 m (24.6 ft x 11.8 ft)
Rainforest garden courtyard (approx.)
210 sq m (2,260 sq ft)
Land area (approx.)
4,818 sq m (51,861 sq ft)
Planchonella House is located on an elevated and private block in Edge Hill, a desirable suburb of Cairns on the edge Mount Whitfield Conservation Park.
Cairns is the gateway to some of Australia’s most magnificent regions, natural environments and world-famous destinations. To the north is the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest and the remote tropical paradise of Cape Tribulation. Great Barrier Reef, also UNESCO Heritage listed, stretches 2,300 kilometres southeast off the coast from Cairns and is the world’s largest living coral reef system – easy access from the Cairns ferry terminals (8 kms). There are hiking and mountain biking trails nearby, as well as pristine beaches and natural swimming pools set amidst the rainforest.
The house is the ideal permanent residence or the perfect lock-up and leave holiday house being just 6 kms to Cairns Airport. There is a selection of local cafés and restaurants at Edge Hill and more to choose from in the city centre (7 kms) and Palm Cove (25 kms). Nearby, Rusty’s Farmers Market has locally grown and seasonally harvested produce and exotic flowers, and Flecker Botanic Gardens, the only wet tropic botanic garden in Australia, is just a short walk away.
Planchonella House joins a list of notable architect-designed houses. Eddie Oribin House + Studio is a stone’s throw away and Charles Wrights Architects’ Glass House is in a neighbouring street.
Jesse Bennett Studio
Jesse Bennett and Anne-Marie Campagnolo are a Cairns-based architect/builder and interior designer. They met studying in Brisbane – Bennett at Queensland University of Technology and Campagnolo at University of Queensland – and lived and worked in Sydney before moving to Cairns and establishing Jesse Bennett Studio in 2012.
Jesse Bennett Studio offers architectural and interior design services and a range of handcrafted timber fixtures and furniture. Custom components are a defining element of the couple’s work as they take a hands-on and handcrafted approach to buildings that have a low environment impact.
Set in tropical north Queensland, the house embraces the heritage rainforest surrounds and utilises experimental passive design methods. The simplistic approach and use of Lo-tech solutions results in a raw and honest dwelling. Contours of the site ridgeline have formed basis for the playful lines utilised in concrete profiles. Visual amenity from surrounding lower areas has been maintained with this design, in that rather than creating a dominant form on the landscape, it tucks back in at the critical highest most revealing point.
The wings created each side of the ridge float into the surrounding rainforest and become part of the tree canopy. The large flat roof with generous overhang acts as a rainforest canopy above, minimal walls and columns in between allow for un-obstructed views and moments to be shared with the landscape.
This omission of boundaries between inside and outside gives an openness and quality of space that is surreal, living completely within and engulfed by the beautiful landscape. The resolution of plan follows a purely functional approach to use of space, privacy, visual connection and passive design principles.
The plan wraps around the courtyard space, which is considered the second hearth (after the kitchen) or perhaps lungs to the entire dwelling. The courtyard contributes much to the house and its occupants, it is an oasis that provides sun, light, ventilation, happiness, activity, visual stimulation, and entertainment. It also provides connection to the surrounding rainforest, connection from one part of the house to another, and acts as the focal node to the promenade experience of moving through the house.
Planchonella House has been recognised at a regional, state, national and international level, receiving the following awards:
Australian Institute of Architects 2015
• National - Winner - Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture (Houses New)
• Queensland State - Winner - Robin Dods Award for Residential Architecture (Houses New)
• Far North Queensland Regionals - House of the Year & Regional Project of the Year
Houses Magazine Awards 2015
• Winner - Australian House of the Year
• Winner - New House over 200m2
Australian Interior Design Awards 2015
• Winner - New House over 200m2
• Shortlist (Residential Design)
American Architecture Prize 2017
• Winner - Interior Design / Residential
Australian Institute of Architects’ 2015 Jury Citation
“Here is an architect/builder/inventor and an interior innovator at their combined best. The Planchonella House in Cairns is not constrained by climatic concerns or by a client who might have had differing design aspirations. It has a consistency throughout. Its most persuasive attitude is its invention and directed playfulness. As architect and builder Jesse Bennett informed us on site, “The form of the house evolved out of planning the internal relationships.” This house was not formed from a singular concept but from an evolving set of often opposite relationships: open to closed container, concrete upper to concrete lower slab, concrete to glass, timber framing to metal framing, air to solid, planar to curved. The house often appears raw because of the directness of its materials but it is highly sophisticated and inventive in its detailing. The combination is surprising and confident and it is this that sets this house apart.
The Planchonella House also belongs to its place. The rear northern courtyard sets the datum for the large amoebic living platform. This courtyard, with its spongy carpet of green grass, is a northern harbour while the house proper occupies a southern viewing platform. With arms extending north and east, enjoying the calm lawn that faces upwards to the mountain and rainforest, the house focuses on the south, the long view and long drop of the impossibly steep site. It is to the south that the curvaceous edge of the two concrete slabs – floor and roof – are most wonderfully linked by the play of glazed vertical panels, framing the view in rosewood, then floating in frameless glass. The fine black silicon lines of glass panelling joints are reminiscent of seamed hosiery. The joy of living is embraced at every viewpoint.
Detailing is never taken for granted. Every moment is an opportunity for a new analysis and a fresh invention. Glass sliding door mechanisms have been rethought, designed and cast; the thick bookshelf wall – lined with books on one side and black upholstered silk on the other side – has a long rosewood crafted handle that allows one to enter the inner sanctum and close out the public realm. It opens with a simple pivot. There’s a “femme fatale” wardrobe that is a shop setting out of Sex and the Single Girl . The steel frames that support the stair treads also become the balustrade frames of steel to echo the frames of rosewood windows. All the furniture – like this house – has been designed to fit or echo relationships of harmony and surprise”.
The house has been published in Australian and overseas magazines, including Architectural Digest, Houses, Architectural Review, Urbis, Deco, Home Art, Green, Elle Decoration, Wohnrevue, Wish, Mezzanine, Architecture Australia, Living Under the Sun, and many other leading online design publications.