Being in place: Karri Loam

Studio Stooks
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In Margaret River, a skilfully planned new residence interleaves a love for the handmade with a celebration of local materials, resulting in a house imbued with making and meaning.

On a forested edge of the Margaret River townsite, a large block was cleared for development. Interest from prospective buyers wavered due to the perceived smallness of the resulting strata lots, but local designer Ash Stucken of Studio Stooks saw potential in an outlook usually reserved for more expensive and expansive bush blocks. Ash and his partner Miranda Geiger purchased a site and set about designing a home that would best capture the essence of its location.

The finished result is Karri Loam, a skilfully orchestrated sequence of intimate spaces that intensifies everyday experiences and encourages loose occupation. Miranda describes their desire to design the house as a retreat, and to compose an unhurried arrival sequence: “After stepping away from the street and closing the heavy steel door, we didn’t want to just open up onto views of our next-door neighbours. Instead, we wanted to feel immersed within rammed earth walls, with darker, quieter ground-floor spaces, and then to come up via timber stairs to a light-filled living space. The forest view slowly opens up from behind a ‘timber box’.”

Daily rituals are lived in tune with external site conditions. Meals are prepared and eaten at the do-it-all island bench, a space that is animated by the light-play of forest shadows, or a sunset glow slowly stretching across the bare walls. At night, the house turns inwards, the shifting edges of dimmable lights defining areas of retreat and comfort in the living and sleeping spaces.

There are notable absences: no mirrors over vanities, no television, no fireplace; all excess is purposefully omitted. Karri Loam offers a different sort of luxury, perhaps requiring an adjustment in expectations. This reduction in visual clutter allows a new focus to take place. Over time, Ash and Miranda intend to slowly accrue more “stuff,” and already artworks and homewares from Western Australian makers have found their places within the home.

Ash and Miranda were hands-on in the building process, which has meant that memories and meaning are imbedded in many aspects of the house. Ash recalls making the timber staircase with his dad and finishing the bathroom vanities with friends. They worked closely with builder Tom Godden and the trades, who Miranda says “supported our experimentation while providing pragmatic solutions to meet the budget.” The house is filled not with replicable finishes and off-the-shelf products, but individual moments of character. The intent was to be direct with materials and finishes, to accept flaws and allow things to age and patina. Ash describes this as “a different sort of timelessness – one that favours time and tactility rather than just fixed appearances.” There is evidence of making throughout: rammed-earth walls, rough-sawn marri boards, sanded metal-faced cabinetry, hand-troweled cement render to benches and basins, and clouded patterns of lime-based paint to walls and ceilings.

There is also an inherent concern for environmental, social and economic sustainability, with much of the timber sourced from local mills near Margaret River. “The timber came from one guy with a tiny little mill up at Gracetown,” Ash explains, “and another guy down at Witchcliffe, and much of it was rescued from naturally fallen trees found in local paddocks. We became good friends with a lot of the people and businesses involved in the project – much like my parents did in the 80s when they built their own home, swapping cartons of beer for building materials.” This care and consideration was extended to timber offcuts and leftover stone tiles, which have been artfully refashioned into bedside tables, benches and clothes racks.

In many ways, Karri Loam makes material and atmospheric qualities that already exist more apparent. In spaces that are purposefully pared back, one’s awareness is meaningfully drawn towards the “extra-ordinary” moments. “Miranda hates the term ‘slow living,’ but we are both always designing for a more conscious kind of ‘being in a place,’” Ash says, and Miranda adds, “A design that makes you more aware of where you are, what you’re doing and how you’re living.”

In this home, it is easy to find oneself feeling rather than thinking. Later that evening, immersed in the warmth of the outdoor bath with a light rain prickling my skin, I watched the clouds slowly part to reveal bright stars above the karri forest. Here, even in the tiny gap of a minimum side setback, an opportunity for connecting daily rituals to the specific qualities of a place has been achieved.

Now, back in the city, I wonder how many other moments in our everyday we might be missing?

Karri Loam house is a skilfully orchestrated sequence of intimate spaces that intensifies everyday experiences and encourages loose occupation.  Image: Glenn Russell

Karri Loam house is a skilfully orchestrated sequence of intimate spaces that intensifies everyday experiences and encourages loose occupation. Image: Glenn Russell