A suburban oasis uses a calming palette of warm natural timbers

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The Narrabeen House, on Sydney's northern beaches, shows how innovative design can link our homes to their natural environment.

From the street the house is in keeping with its suburban setting; there's a lawn, driveway, and a garage door. When you enter the four bedroom, two-storey house, complete with leisure pool, study and large outdoor deck, you travel to a private oasis.

Timber fences and screens line a covered walkway to the central courtyard that comprises the main entrance to the house. Organised around this courtyard are a series of downstairs rooms, featuring various timbers. To the rear of the house, the kitchen and entertaining areas open out across the deck to welcome views of the lagoon and island beyond.

Architect Tai Ropiha, from Choi Ropiha Architects, chose a "calming palette of warm natural timbers" to assert "the connection the house establishes with the natural assets of the lagoon and island". Ropiha's design concept harkens back to the earliest ideas of suburbia as a retreat from the city.

Architect: Choi Ropiha

Builder: Graybuilt

The Narrabeen House structure uses timber in a range of applications. The main structural columns are made from Blackbutt, a durable hardwood that performs both structurally and aesthetically. LVL beams and 90mm studwork form the frame, and chosen for their strength, their ease of use and their economy. A partially structural timber screen alongside the covered entry, created from 200mmx75mm tallowwood, holds up the roof.

The house is built to withstand flooding, so blockwork footings and a concrete slab are used in conjunction with framing timbers, demonstrating timber's ability to be used in conjunction with a range of other building materials.

The exterior brings together the suburban and the natural. "From the street, the house's composition is built around the entrance, driveway, and garage like a typical suburban house," explains Ropiha. However, the appearance of the dark-stained White Cypress, also chosen for its durability and stability, helps create a sense of mystery about the building, "withholding the drama of the lagoon beyond."

Hardwood battens span between the sub-floor blockwork piers to support the stained Cypress cladding that creates a floating skirt upon which the house appears to rest.

Timber is employed across the exterior of the Narrabeen house. In addition to the stained Cypress pine, Tallowwood cladding has also been used. Windows and doors are made from Rosewood, a hardwood chosen for its durability. Durable Tallowwood decks lead visitors through the main entrance, flanked by Tallowwood screens and columns. The door to the courtyard entrance is also Tallowwood. Boundary fences are made of plantation pine, adding to the sense of privacy.

The dark stain used is Wattyl's Deck & Exterior Stain, charcoal

The Narrabeen house is designed to create the sense of a suburban retreat that is connected with its natural surroundings. "A limited palette of concrete, painted plasterboard, and timber is used throughout to harmonise the house's interior," says Ropiha. "A soft character has been created by keeping a natural finish to the materials."

Wall panels of Tallowwood boarding are used alongside joinery constructed from Tallowwood veneer. The beautiful timber stairs, made from solid Blackbutt, appear to branch out of the Tallowwood walls.

A pair of Rosewood windows is positioned high up the walls to protect the residents' privacy while allowing light in. The burnished concrete floors have a muted appearance that complements the warmth of the timbers.

Timbers used in this case study:



200mmx75mm Tallowwood semi-structural screen

90mm studwork

Poles Beams: 

Blockwork pier stumps


External Cladding: 

Cladding 1: stained White Cypress
Cladding 2: Tallowwood clear finish


Internal Paneling: 
Joinery Cabinetry: 
Interior Stairs: 

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