Launch Slideshow

Holman House

Holman House

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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    Holman House cantilevers dramatically over the edge of a 200-foot cliff.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The house rises in a series of terraces that seem to grow out of the native geology.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The view to the north, over the pool, takes in a relatively populated section of shoreline.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The house’s street entry is unobtrusive in the extreme.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The main floor’s central living space opens onto a terrace via a set of curved sliding glass doors.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    A pair of cable-hung weights counterbalance the living room window’s operable lower sash. A nearly invisible glass guardrail stands just outside.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The dining room area and entry hall overlook the wild south coast and the blue waters of the Tasman Sea.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    A partial view from the kitchen. The full view would require a panoramic camera.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    A sliver of skylight follows the curve of the kitchen’s bead-blasted steel counter. The interior millwork is all rift-sawn white oak.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    A west-facing clerestory window admits late-day sunlight. Plantings screen the view of a neighboring house.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The master bathroom.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The lower-level study opens into an indoor/outdoor room.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    Raked cement stucco clads the house’s upper level.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    Angled columns support the main-level volume.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The pool wall forms a bright line between the swimming vessel above and the sea below.
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    Peter Bennetts / OTTO

    The three layers of structure above the pool terrace comprise a stone retaining wall, the stone-clad lower level, and the stuccoed upper level.

When the architects who designed Holman House first visited the building site, the place may have scared them a little. Located at the end of a residential block in suburban Sydney, Australia, the property borders a sheer cliff that drops more than 200 feet to the Tasman Sea. “We get south winds that just bucket down that coastline. There are waves crashing on the rocks below. It’s pretty wild,” says Camilla Block of the Sydney-based firm Durbach Block Jaggers. “We were almost intimidated by how beautiful it was.” Block and her partners, Neil Durbach and David Jaggers, overcame their aesthetic vertigo to produce a house that perches not only at the edge of a continent, but also at the balance point between the force of nature and the reach of human aspiration. 

The structure emerges organically from the cliff face, climbing in a series of terraces bordered by stone retaining walls. The same stone masonry covers the house’s lower floor, blending it with the striated geological formation below. The primary spaces at this level are two children’s bedrooms and a central, glass-walled studio that bulges into the otherwise straight-edged floor plan. “Sydney sandstone erodes almost from underneath, so you get these undercut cave spaces,” Block explains. “[The studio] is kind of a dream of that.”

The building’s form and materials shift dramatically at the main floor, above, which occupies an undulating volume whose exterior surfaces are coated with raked cement stucco. Fully exposed on its seaside elevation, this layer of the house presents a vanishingly low profile to its neighbors, offering only a garage and a small entrance canopy as clues to the house’s presence. “You see virtually nothing from the street,” Block says. “People go looking for it and pretty much never find it.”

But those who do are in for a powerful experience. The central living space—which includes kitchen, living, and dining areas—is a freeform X that extends two arms in a dramatic cantilever over the cliff edge. The living area opens to the north, terminating in an enormous operable window that fills an entire wall with a view of headlands jutting out into the sea (a glass railing provides security when the counterweighted lower sash is raised). The dining area telescopes toward an unobstructed prospect of the southern coast. A ribbon of glass slices through the curved eastern wall, linking the bigger views with a deliberately narrowed slice of horizon. “North and south are where the events of the ocean happen,” Block says. “Also, we have so much light, so much outlook. Something that’s more cinematic and edited is more powerful and serene.”