When we first moved to Australia from the UK in 1998, we were invited to a full-moon party at Coasters Retreat – a water-access-only area on Sydney's northern beaches. My husband, son and I were picked up from the wharf by a man with wild grey hair and a seafaring face, who spirited us across the water in a tinny to a small beach, where we set up camp. As the night progressed, people fished from the shore and we watched our London-pale two-year-old run in and out of the black water – a silvery, joyful presence.
It felt like a quintessentially Australian experience, heralding the life we were now to be part of. The house shown here, which at time of writing had just come up for sale, is the very place we stayed. The man in the tinnie was award-winning architect Richard Leplastrier, who designed the house alongside architects Karen Lambert and Ian Martin, with Jeffrey Broadfield its talented builder.
The aim of the project was to link an existing log cabin to the east and a fibro shack to the west with a new building for dining, living and bathing. Leplastrier recently reflected on the process of adding the third pavilion. "Suddenly the whole place worked," he recalls. "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."
While a remarkable house, it is not for everyone, a sentiment echoed by selling agent Marcus Lloyd Jones. "We know from experience that if we demonstrate the true design value of a house, we will attract a purchaser who also recognises the value of the architect," he says, adding that it can take time to find that person.
In Melbourne, Patricia Callan has created what she describes as an "architecture fan site", Modernist Australia, which aggregates real-estate listings for architect-designed houses across the country. Her motives are broad – offering inspiration, awareness, a buyers' guide, renovation ideas and a platform for preservation.
Callan, who grew up in a house designed by one of Victoria's most celebrated architectural practices, McGlashan Everist, says the appeal of the Australian holiday house – particularly the beach house – lies in the use of humble materials. "Their basic nature reflects a true Australian virtue, egalitarianism, which in turn informs the overall aesthetic. They were constructed simply as a place for family and friends to get together, within the natural environment."
Styling tip: As an architect Leplastrier likes to maximise the experience of the outdoors. Here, all living - including bathing- occurs on the central deck.