A Former Dilapidated Cottage is Restored without Enlarging its Footprint

Highlands House

Text by Other Architects

Highlands House offers a very different experience of living in the landscape to that of the
quintessential modern Australian house. It is loose-fit rather than singular, soft and inviting rather
than hard-edged, its environmental performance features integral rather than expressed. The
house sits quietly in its place within an established garden.

A former artist’s home and studio in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, the site had been
overgrown with weeds and creepers so dense that they hid the ocean from view. Planted long
before Other Architects were engaged, the garden remains more important to the sense of this place than any work of architecture.

Highlands House

Our approach was to do no harm, altering only what was necessary. We replaced a dilapidated
existing cottage without enlarging its footprint, while preserving the adjoining studio, courtyard and
garden wall. The topography was not modified and no trees were displaced.

The clients desired a weekend house for themselves, with guests optional. Drawing on an
Australian tradition of one-room shacks, but avoiding modern Australian functionalist country house
clichés, Highlands House attempts to evoke the luxury and ease of living in a single room, with the
surrounding landscape always close at hand.

The main dwelling comprises one large volume that contains both social and sleeping spaces. With
few dividing walls and partitions, the house’s interior is demarcated in three ways: through the
placement of furnishings and artworks, by carefully framed openings to the exterior, and with a
series of apertures to the sky that .

Highlands House
Highlands House
Highlands House
Highlands House
Highlands House
Highlands House

What is unbuilt is considered equal to what has been built. The negative space around the house is
as important to its use and experience as the enclosed footprint. Doors and windows slide
completely out of view, while the floor extends like a stone carpet into the outdoors.

The house’s construction consists of a concrete plinth and prefabricated insulated wooden panels
that form both walls and roof, creating a thermally-efficient envelope that provides year-round
comfort. A rooftop solar array meets the house’s energy demands, including underfloor heating,
while water is collected and stored onsite.

Highlands House

Photos by Clinton Weaver