This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Jungle Treehouse Meets Urban Brisbane Home

Architecture

Located halfway up a ridge of Highgate Hill in inner-Brisbane, stands the lush Terrarium House, created by owner-architect John Ellway.

John and his wife Amber Winter reflect on their considered design for this dreamy home, adaptable to the seasons and imbued with cherished memories.

23rd July, 2018

Architect John Ellway and Amber Winter outside their home in Highgate Hill, Brisbane. Photo – Toby Scott.

The ‘Terrarium House’ is an atypical extension of a 100-year-old cottage. Photo – Toby Scott.

Joinery throughout the home is by Mast Furniture. Photo – Toby Scott.

Kitchen with artwork on timber wall by Laura Patterson.Photo – Toby Scott.

Rear exterior, showcasing John’s adaptable screen and door systems. Photo – Toby Scott.

Meals and living area downstairs. Photo – Toby Scott.

Kitchen details. Photo – Toby Scott.

In winter, a large panel slides to enclose the rear void, while in summer deep eaves protect the north from the sun and the aforementioned large panel can be left open allowing breezes to flow through. Photo – Toby Scott.

Ceramics by Amber Winter. Photo – Toby Scott.

The food preparation bench in solid blackbutt with black granite on a narrow, rendered block plinth. Photo – Toby Scott.

‘The semi-transparent downstairs eastern windows are magical on misty, drizzly days,’ tells Amber. Photo – Toby Scott.

This home is designed to be adaptable to the seasons. Photo – Toby Scott.

John was inspired to integrate lush greenery into the home from past trips to Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. Photo – Toby Scott.

Built-in bed and shelving system by Mast Furniture. Photo – Toby Scott.

Upstairs, the two front rooms can either be opened up to a common hallway space or separated by their large floor-to-ceiling sliding panels. Photo – Toby Scott.

‘The house, it has an unreal, dreamy feel about it; it’s instantly relaxing to come home.’ – Amber Winter.

Terrarium house is a physical manifestation of memories – from childhood through to more recent travels – for owners John Ellway and Amber Winter. In his design, John used screens to open and divide space, along with semi-translucent glass, invoking memories of past trips to Japan, while the lush planting, rendered block, and semi-outdoor bathroom are inspired by more recent travels to Malaysia and Singapore.

Other aspects of the design have more pragmatic origins – responses to managing the overland flow of storm-water, sewer pipes, easements, planning rules, budget, as well as a ‘100-year-old cottage that was slowly crumbling into a backyard jungle.’

Rather than building up, John’s extension utilises the space below the original one-bedroom cottage and its sloping site. Comprising laundry, bathroom, meals and lounge areas, this new lower level is both designed and detailed to reflect the former shadowy under-croft. Black stained ceilings, concrete floors, rendered walls, and a perimeter ledge all contribute to a ‘grounded’ atmosphere.

The kitchen, with its stunning white polished plaster walls, incorporates two zones. A more public, open area for food preparation, cooking and entertaining, whilst appliances and pantry – with beloved gauzy glass doors – are all carefully hidden.

The large cantilevered concrete bench on the western side of the house was poured as part of the wall construction. The dishwasher and a series of wide timber drawers are hung from its underside, keeping the floor visible. ‘It feels like a really generous large space – since we spend so much time in there, we can both be cooking or cleaning up without tripping over the other,’ jokes Amber.

The lower level can be enclosed by timber framed sliding doors to the north and south, and when open these slide seamlessly behind external walls. The solid wall to the west protects from the afternoon sun, while finely textured glass to the east captures winter morning sunlight. Furthermore, greenery casts dappled light into the space, providing sanctuary from what the couple notes can be intense Queensland sunlight!

Upstairs is accessed via protected external stairs, or through the original cottage door – with its charming, flaking green paint – and comprises three bedrooms and a shared bathroom. The two front rooms can either be opened up to a common hallway space or separated by large floor-to-ceiling sliding panels. Featuring custom cabinetry by Mast Furniture (wardrobes, shelving and extendable bed frames), there are lots of nooks for trinkets in these rooms too, harking back to John and Amber’s childhood homes.

The upstairs bathroom feels almost open to the sky, drawing in light and the calming sound of rain, thanks to its semi-transparent polycarbonate roof. The vanity and a third bedroom sit adjacent to a large void in the rear northeast corner of the house – connecting the two floors. ‘The daily ritual of brushing teeth and drying hair becomes a social one that isn’t hidden away; everyone can communicate while breakfast or dinner is being made,’ explains John. ‘I’ve lived in lots of houses, but this is the first house I’ve lived in that seems to “make sense”,’ adds Amber. ‘It feels like it was built for me (it was!!).’

Architect: John Ellway 

Size: 215m2 site, 105m2 home

Builder: Mat Saggers

Engineer: Josh Neale

Cabinetry: Mast Furniture

Steel work: Ash Brown

Terrarium House has been shortlisted for the 2018 Houses Awards, in the ‘House Alteration & Addition Under 200m2’ category. Stay tuned for our announcement of the winners this Saturday, July 28th!

 

Film below by Anglea Leonardi.

Similar Stories

Homes

A Spectacular Update For Mary Featherston's Iconic 'Featherston House'

Mary Featherston updates her iconic Robin Boyd designed home in Ivanhoe.

Architecture

A Triumphant, Textural Home In Armadale

The extraordinary Armadale Residence by Melbourne-based firm B.E Architecture.

On the Market

Revisiting The Jaw-Dropping 'Planchonella House'

Three years on, we return to an unrivalled home just outside of Cairns in North Queensland – it's on the market!!

This Week

Studio Visit

Local Artist Hannah Maskell Creates Mesmerising Grids Of Colour

The Melbourne-based artist's geometric drawings and wooden sculptures are a cross between 'colour theory and colour therapy'.
Christina Karras

Art

A Look Inside Abbey Rich's Mesmerising New Exhibition

See the Melbourne artist's beautifully bold abstract pieces at MARS Gallery, filled with playful patterns and hidden meanings.
Christina Karras
  18 hours ago

Food

Julia's Crunchy Crumbed Fish With Cos Salad + Yoghurt Tartare

Julia Busuttil Nishimura's delicious take on a classic summer fish dinner – on high rotation for the rest of the season!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Homes

An Owner-Designed Renovation Of A 1970s South Yarra Apartment

How designers Lola Digby-Diercks and Sebastian Owen completely transformed their South Yarra apartment in just six months.

Sustainable Homes

An Off-Grid, Modern Country Farmhouse In Regional Victoria

Step inside a newly built farmhouse that's fully off the grid, with all the classic features of an old country home.
Christina Karras

Climate

Everything You Need To Know About GreenPower (+ Why You Should Make The Switch)

The easiest way to invest in in Australia's renewable future - and it's simpler (and cheaper) than you think!

Gardens

A Lush Secret Garden, Inside A Converted Melbourne Church!

This surprising garden in East Melbourne has its own lagoon pool, a natural fish pond and 10m-tall walls covered in ivy.
Christina Karras

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life With Local Icons + TikTok Stars, Ginger And Carman

Get to know the fashionable, dynamic duo, whose fun-filled adventures (and inspiring approach to life) have made them Internet famous!
Christina Karras

Shopping

Shop The Chunky, Colourful Furniture You’ve Seen All Over The Internet

Meet the tradie brothers behind FEARON, who have been making quirky, must-have furniture that blends fun with functionality!
Christina Karras

Art

9 Unmissable Exhibitions To See In 2023!

From NGV's Alexander McQueen exhibition, to a showcase of Frida Kahlo's works, here are the must-see exhibitions of the coming year.
Christina Karras

Homes

A Quirky Redfern Terrace With A Hidden Green Roof

The unconventional family home of designer Sacha Coles, split over 4 levels!

Architecture

A Brazilian-Inspired Update Of A 1920s Brisbane Cottage

Bowen by Shaun Lockyer Architects elevates a 1920s cottage with a stunning renovation and addition.

Creative People

The New Small Business Making Mid-Century-Inspired Furniture In Australia

Culture Cush are making velvet-covered modular lounges inspired by retro designs, with the best materials of today!
Christina Karras

Gardens

A Boundless Garden Immersed In Native Bushland

A new coastal home on the Mornington Peninsula buried deep within a native grassy woodland, with stunning gardens by Plume Studio.

Architecture

An Unconventional Beach House Elevated On Steel

Steel beams elevate AB House by Office MI—JI to form an unconventional beach house in Barwon Heads.

Similar Stories

Homes

A Spectacular Update For Mary Featherston's Iconic 'Featherston House'

Mary Featherston updates her iconic Robin Boyd designed home in Ivanhoe.

Architecture

A Triumphant, Textural Home In Armadale

The extraordinary Armadale Residence by Melbourne-based firm B.E Architecture.

On the Market

Revisiting The Jaw-Dropping 'Planchonella House'

Three years on, we return to an unrivalled home just outside of Cairns in North Queensland – it's on the market!!

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net