General

‘A place to picnic’: Cascade House

‘A place to picnic’: Cascade House

Weeping lilly pillies ( Waterhousea floribunda ) are attractive evergreen trees indigenous to coastal regions of eastern Australia. The tree is distinctive for its gently drooping leaves, which flow like a textured green waterfall. A weeping lilly pilly is a feature of the courtyard at Cascade House, around which a new lean-to extension is organized. The house is connected both horizontally and vertically to the tree’s hanging foliage: on the lower floor, the shade from the tree provides a delightful picnic spot, while from the verandah of the upper level of the house – the original cottage – it’s possible to reach out and touch the crop of waxy green leaves.

Cascade House is a thoughtful addition to an early-twentieth-century Queensland vernacular “timber-and-tin” cottage, located in the inner-Brisbane suburb of Paddington. The addition repurposes an existing lean-to structure, providing new living spaces and an open kitchen for a family of five. The lean-to cascades down and across the site, negotiating the steep terrain by traversing some four metres in height from the original house down to street level. The skillion roof tilts down to the west, providing relief from the heat of the afternoon sun without interrupting a picturesque sunset outlook from the verandah over hilly, green and character-filled Paddington.

A view of the pool from the kitchen strengthens the indoor–outdoor connection.

Image:

Toby Scott

The project involved a minimal reconfiguration of the original house, which now accommodates the private areas of the home. The changes included a new ensuite, an updated family bathroom and a very functional laundry. Otherwise, the planning has retained the flexibility typical of Queenslander homes. Bedrooms, offices and playrooms are transposable to meet changing family needs. The characteristic wrap-around verandah to the north and west of the original home also remains.

In the addition, located to the side of the original house, architect John Ellway has cleverly used tiered site planning to generate a gradient of thresholds between spaces. Starting from the street entry, each set of five or six steps gradually marks the transition from the public sections of the house to a private, elevated retreat for the family. This staggered organization is vital in connecting the original high-set home to the ground, fulfilling the client’s need for spaces in which children can play while remaining within sight of the adults. A view of the new swimming pool from the kitchen window is an excellent example of how the addition strengthens the connection between inside and outside and enhances family life.

The success of this home is due in part to the collaboration between John and his clients, Jacqueline and Oscar – both creative professionals – as well as to John’s ability to bring the client brief to life. A critical element of that brief was the request for “a place to picnic, on grass, under a tree, and sky.” American architect John Lautner received a similar brief for the Schaffer House (1949), a California home that was made famous decades later in Tom Ford’s 2009 film A Single Man. The Schaffer family wrote to Lautner, stating they wanted “a house that feels as if we’re picnicking under the oak trees.” The driving force behind great houses is usually a desire for specific spatial qualities that look beyond a mere list of required rooms.

The existing pitch of the roof has been extended over the addition, shielding living spaces from western sun.

The existing pitch of the roof has been extended over the addition, shielding living spaces from western sun.

Image:

Toby Scott

Cascade House is characterized by thoughtful details that help bring order to the occasional chaos of family life. Quality daylight in the living areas results from internal planning arranged around the landscape, where plants naturally filter changing light conditions throughout the day. Exposed timber rafters express the robust and simple geometry of the roofline, organizing the house practically and logically. There is a space for everything, and the level of care applied to built-in joinery is exceptional, from the contemporary take on the sunken lounge to the storage cupboards conveniently placed in entry spaces. John’s talent in translating a client’s vision for their home into a skilfully crafted design is commendable.

The shape and form of the weeping lilly pilly, and the colour and texture of its leaves, tell us about the climate from which it originated. In the same way, the scale, form and materiality of Cascade House speak to its historical origins and the neighbourhood it occupies. When renovating houses of this type, there is a temptation to use the undercroft by lifting the existing home and building in underneath it. However, this approach often compromises the proportions of the existing house, and the suburban character with it. John Ellway’s design for Cascade House demonstrates how good design can preserve the character of a house for its residents and benefit the visual amenity of the neighbourhood at large. The humility of Cascade House’s lean-to addition is true to its place, just like the weeping lilly pilly at the core of its plan.