HOME DESIGN | Sugar Gum House marries sculptural simplicity and sustainable luxury

Nestled above the picturesque McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia, the award-winning Sugar Gum House designed by Architects Ink has a sculptural simplicity that embraces sustainable living. Pictures: Sam Noonan.
Nestled above the picturesque McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia, the award-winning Sugar Gum House designed by Architects Ink has a sculptural simplicity that embraces sustainable living. Pictures: Sam Noonan.

Two very large sugar gum trees and a move toward sustainable living inspired the design focus for the affectionately named Sugar Gum House in South Australia.

Nestled in the hilly terrain surrounding Willunga, Sugar Gum House captures enchanting views across the McLaren Vale wine region to the sea beyond. It presents a sculptural simplicity through its clean, rectangular composition and embraces an uncomplicated palette of brick, concrete and glass.

Lead architect on the project and director at Adelaide's Architects Ink, Tony Lippis, said apart from making the most of the view, creating a sustainable home was important to the clients.

Completed in 2018, Sugar Gum House is the long-awaited dream home of a semi-retired couple who moved from California some 30 years ago. They wanted a home where they could truly relax, host international visitors, share their love of food and wine, and enjoy the landscape that brought them to the picturesque region.

"The clients sought a sustainable home with a strong connection to its site. The result is a compact, light-filled house, which incorporates some of the latest technical efficiencies in heating and cooling integrated with passive principles, while capturing magnificent views," Mr Lippis said.

A simple material palette and combination of concrete and brickwork finish, both externally and internally, provide a simplicity and warmth throughout the home. Colours were deliberately subdued to act as a backdrop for the client's furniture and art collections.

The upper level lounge, dining, and kitchen open up to a large external area with integrated wood oven, providing an undercover second living space and the absence of a rear balcony maintains unobstructed views from the interior.

"Northern sun penetrates the external space through a linear slot opening in the far wall and roof, a subtle but effective subtraction from the building form," Mr Lippis described.

"The entry and the stairwell are my favourite design feature. The connection to the view, the trees and the site occurs at the glazed front door when the view is revealed through the stairwell," Mr Lippis said.

On the lower level, three bedrooms, a bathroom, study and laundry all open directly to the garden. Wide frameless corridor openings with pivot doors create a seamless transition between spaces, also allowing for future access requirements as the clients grow older.

The scale of the home was determined by the gradient of the block and the need to maintain the two significant sugar gum trees. This also inspired the shape and materials of the home and a desire to present a low key facade to the road, and instead capitalise on the expansive views.

Due to the west facing glass that orientated towards the views, triple glazing windows were used to minimise the solar heat gains of the western elevation, without compromising on the stunning outlook.

Double brick external walls with a concrete core also help to further insulate the building and contribute to its longevity and bushfire protection, which were also key considerations in selecting external building materials.

Louvre windows provide ventilation and a high-performance hybrid evaporative cooling system powered by only a 10amp plug can cool the entire house, yet it is rarely required. Hydronic underfloor heating supplies the lower level, while an efficient slow-combustion wood fireplace heats the upper level living spaces. LED lighting, solar panels, Tesla batteries and rainwater are also used throughout the house.

Last year the home won the Australian Institute of Architects (SA) John S Chappel Award for New Houses.