Completed in 2014, The Sawmill House by Archier is a compact, yet supremely versatile home, designed and built collaboratively, from start to finish. The project was commissioned for Archier director Chris Gilbert’s brother, sculptor Ben Gilbert, who required a simple, flexible, single bedroom home as an upgrade to the tool sharpening shed he was previously sleeping in! Positioned on the edge of an old gold mine quarry, Chris describes his vision for a space ‘that would calm an artist’s eccentric mind’.
The kind of blind faith you can only really entrust in a close family member was clear from the initial documentation – or lack thereof. ‘As designers and builders we were able to evolve the design on the fly’, Chris explains. ‘It was very (deliberately) vaguely documented before we commenced the build’. Decisions were made as the project and needs evolved, and even the custom-built furniture and interiors (from the couches, the lighting components and the joinery) were designed in real-time, mostly using materials Ben had available in his workshop (the old converted Sawmill).
The house was designed to be flexible and adaptive for a wide range of uses, including a central kitchen designed for use by just one person, or to entertain visiting friends.
The home is laid out as one long pavilion, zoned for different activities, progressing from entry on the west side of the space into the lounge, dining and kitchen, through to a master bedroom (with a bathroom and wardrobe tucked behind), with the eastern wall opening up to a grassy courtyard. This allows the space to be opened up completely on either side, as well from the northern-facing front wall, made up of sliding glass doors that look out over lush vegetation. ‘It is completely adaptive to the seasons through its large, moveable elements’, tells Chris. ‘It converts from an enclosed warm grotto to an expansive deck with a few switches’.
Upcycling existing materials is a major feat of the Sawmill House. 270 (!) recycled concrete blocks that would otherwise have become landfill make up the exterior and interior walls, while Red Stringy Bark trees that fell during a storm 7km up the road were dried, milled and dressed within the region, and used to line the ceiling and floor. The distinctive kitchen joinery is hand wrapped in a fine brass sheet, patinated with Apple Cider Vinegar, contrasting brilliantly with the raw natural materials.