A modern beach house by architect Robert Riddel

Smart architecture takes advantage of stunning light and water views, making this Redcliffe home much more than a simple beach house. Words: Leesa Maher

Robert Riddel Redcliff home

When it came to inspiration for this oceanfront idyll at Redcliffe, renowned Brisbane architect Robert Riddel found it half a world away, on the Isle of Capri in Italy. For there, on a rocky headland, sits the famous Villa Malaparte, built in 1938 for the poet and writer, Curzio Malaparte. “It’s my all time favourite water house,” Robert says, “such an evocative house. It’s all about the idea of how you address the sea.”

Robert Riddel Redcliff home roofline

Robert Riddel Redcliff home facade

A dramatic, modernist design, which draws equal parts admiration and ire from the world’s architectural community, the Villa Malaparte features reverse pyramidal stairs leading to a roof patio. It was these stairs that inspired the stepped terrace at the Redcliffe house, a striking feature linking its living areas to the garden and, beyond that, beach.

Built for a Brisbane couple, who one day plan to retire there, the house boasts a sunny roof terrace; four bedrooms on the second floor, including master with private bathroom and dressing room; spacious living areas and blackbutt veneer kitchen with butler’s pantry on the first floor; and, on the ground floor, an indoor swimming pool, boathouse, entry, and two-car accommodation. A lift links all levels, as does a central staircase that essentially splits the house in two, allowing light to flood in through windows and translucent Ampelite.

Robert Riddel Redcliff home rooftop terrace

“They spent quite a while looking for a suitable site, and finished up in Redcliffe on a 916 sqm block,” says Robert. “They wanted enough space for a garden, for it to look out on the beach and the water, and to be as high as we could go, which was three storeys. The roof is a floor as well, although it’s not completely covered.”

A public walkway runs along the front of the house, separating it from the beach, which made privacy an issue. Other neighbouring houses were built on dunes, making them naturally higher and more private, so Robert and associate architect Geoff Cook hit upon the idea of creating an artificial rise, lifting the garden up one level, placing it inside a solid wall facing the boardwalk.

The living room was already one floor above the ground, located above the pool and garage. “It’s like the idea of building a Palladian villa, that you build the principal rooms one floor up, so you get the view from there. Here, it means the house gets privacy from the boardwalk, where people walk past day and night. Also, the higher you go, the better you look down on beach and water,” says Robert.

Robert Riddel Redcliff home stair void

Robert Riddel Redcliff home void

In another nod to the Villa Malaparte, the two best bedrooms – the master and a guest bedroom – sit at the front of the house, each with magnificent water views, and separate, cantilevered balconies supplying shade to the terrace below.

The master bedroom features a striking blackbutt headboard, along with a timber slat chaise lounge by Queensland furniture maker Roy Schack, who also crafted the dining table, sideboard and hall table in the downstairs entry.

In all the bedrooms, European-style solid timber shutters exclude the light, along with exterior Ventel blinds on the eastern side. Timber is key to the overall colour palette, with floors of spotted gum warming the white walls and cement render finishes. “The grey, the colour of the render on the walls, is quite deliberate, contrasting with the white walls and the white ceiling, and the wood of the floor. It’s such a nice texture. I just love it. In times past, people used to experiment with all sorts of colours, but the grey goes so well with the blue of the water and the sky and the coastal plants in the garden – the banksias, casuarinas, bunya pines, pandanus, tuckaroos and snake vine.”

Robert Riddel Redcliff home master bedroom

Robert Riddel Redcliff home bedroom

Robert Riddel Redcliff home bathroom

Robert Riddel Redcliff home indoor swimming pool

The neutral tones also create a wonderful backdrop for the couple’s art, which includes several sculptures by the late Redcliffe artists Len and Kathleen Shillam. Among the treasured pieces is a cat that sits, looking out to sea through glass doors on the terrace, and a seal, a bust and a mermaid in the pool area.

As in any home, the kitchen forms the heart, with the island bench, topped with white Corian, geared for casual meals. In winter, the owners can dine in the open air, in an indented section of the terrace, just off the kitchen. “It’s very nice to sit there in the sun, because you’re out of the breeze but still getting the views through glass,” says Robert.

Robert Riddel Redcliff home kitchen

Robert Riddel Redcliff home stairs

The house retains a timeless quality – a feat also achieved by the famous Villa Malaparte. “I get that same feeling if you go to a house by Le Corbusier, which you can in Paris. [Those houses] are just as exciting to me now as they ever were. They are so beautifully done. It comes down to using finishes and textures which are really satisfying,” says Robert.

Photography: Christopher Frederick Jones