In a leafy street among the grand, stately and historic mansions of Unley Park, neighbours watched with keen interest as an overgrown and forgotten house was finally bought and demolished.
The property was a ’70s style clinker-brick home with a fibreglass pool and hadn’t been lived in for years. In such an iconic suburb, one of South Australia’s most expensive and tightly-held, the property took time to sell because it posed serious challenges for anyone wanting to demolish and rebuild.
The steep block is home to several significant eucalyptus trees — including one that measures almost six metres in circumference and sits right in the middle of the property, towering over the block. From street level, the block falls away steeply down to Brownhill Creek, which runs inside the rear boundary, where an old stone wall a few metres high supports the neighbouring land and another significant tree.
Design complications included the land’s one-in-100-year floodplain, the significance of the eucalypts for migratory birds, the health of the tree roots and the area’s historic conservation zone.
But in the challenge, one family saw opportunity. They bought the land and enlisted Lares Homes to design and build their dream property. “A lot of people discarded this as a difficult, unworkable site,” says Lares Homes designer Eric Pagnozzi.
The owner had a clear vision to build a home for his family, without compromising on luxury. Building approvals took an entire year before construction, which took a further 18 months. First, arborists scaled the giant trees like gymnasts, trimming branches by hand. Then the most significant challenge of the build was to engineer a foundation supported by steel screw piles, rather than a normal slab, driven several metres into the ground.
It is now six months since the family moved in, and the result is true to the owner’s grand vision. “To his credit, he forged on and the result speaks for itself,” says Eric. “Very few people would dedicate this much space for every room. When there’s a square metre rate a lot of luxury comes down to the size of the rooms. There is luxury in the materials and fittings, but much of the luxury is created by the use of space.”
The complications of the property were turned into its greatest assets, including the giant eucalypt, around which the home was built. “Although you’re in the middle of Unley Park, you can look through the windows and feel like you’re out in the country,” says Eric, who designed the home so that every room has a leafy outlook. “I think the result is pretty spectacular.”
Upon walking through the three-metre-high stained mahogany front door, the spaciousness of the main living room is impressive. On the right, a floating timber staircase of American oak stair treads leads up to the first floor, punctuated with an opulent pendant light feature from sculptural lighting company Bocci.
This main hub of the home features a sunken living room and soaring ceilings, with cornice plasterwork highlighted by LED pelmet lights. The split-level design helped to manage the slope of the site, while creating extra volume and adding to the extravagant feel of the home.
The family’s beloved Yamaha C7 grand piano, a model worth up to many thousands of dollars and weighing about 500 kilograms, was factored into the floorplan. “We designed the spot for the piano from day one. That was very much a focal point for our clients and their daughter,” Eric says.
The timeless white colour scheme — from the statuario Italian porcelain tiles to the walls, carpet and cabinetry — contrasts the owners’ pieces of dark timber furniture and piano. The sound system is top of the line with Bang & Olufsen speakers that are just as much sculptural as functional. Eric says the home has an international appeal, and wouldn’t look out of place in Singapore or Los Angeles.
The spacious kitchen has a spectacular view of the trees and creek, sporting bespoke cabinetry and integrated Miele appliances, with a hidden butler’s pantry that is impressive in itself, providing a nice view to the back yard for anyone who enters the room to grab a bottle of Grange from the wine fridge. The Caesarstone kitchen benchtop imitates marble without the tiresome maintenance issues.
The bright white interior gives way to the greenery of trees and vegetation as you step through the sliding glass doors to the back yard landing. Instead of tiles or concrete, decking has been used to allow water to drain to the soil and reach the tree roots.
It feels almost like a country setting, rather than Unley Park, with the gurgling of the creek, the chirping of birds and the nearest neighbour barely visible from the deck area. “On a sunny day it’s just magic here, it really is beautiful. The sound of running water is magnificent — it’s like having a river in your back yard,” Eric says. “You feel isolated and out amongst nature.”
With the enormous trees branching over the home, the roof trusses were built with extra strengthening as insurance against the chance of a falling limb. Arborists must inspect the ancient eucalypts at least once a year.
The pool is the centrepiece of the garden, with granite coping and a glass edge that gives bathers a view over the creek, while lighting creates a spectacle after the sun goes down. Although it appears to be an in-ground pool, it actually sits above ground to avoid disturbing the soil. From the pool area, users can access a small powder room, which is the only space in the house without a window.
The overall design of the home is split between two wings. Downstairs there is a cinema room, garage and tea room at one end, with guest bedrooms and bathroom at the other.
It is upstairs where the luxury shines. A large central living space at the top of the stairs splits into two wings that mirror one another. Each wing contains a bedroom, voluminous walk-in-wardrobe, and opulent bathroom.
The only difference is that the master has the largest wardrobe. Each bathroom contains two showers on the other side of a dividing wall, Hansgrohe tapware and ultra-luxurious Villeroy & Boch bathtubs. Postcard windows look out to the treetops, which illuminate with the colours of dusk and dawn.
Using solid blocks of sandstone, the building’s street facade was designed to complement the neighbouring homes, with many historic properties making up the iconic fabric of the area. Eric says the feedback so far is that residents are pleased. “I don’t think anyone else had the foresight to work with this block of land, but this family clearly had a vision to build a luxury home and create something special.”
This story first appeared in the September 2019 issue of SALIFE magazine.