Reach for Success

Last Updated: 09 Sep 2015
Lisa O’Neill

Nestled into the Blackwall Reach escarpment, this award-winning home is a shrine to its brilliant river views.

Facing a patch of water that boasts the highest frequency of dolphin sightings in Perth, the cliffs of Blackwall Reach provide front-row seats to regular (albeit spontaneous) performances from these marine merrymakers.

A masterpiece by Hillam Architects, the Blackwall Reach Residence takes full advantage of its spectacular location, with every conceivable space in the home stretching out to the views. The clever design elements allow constant homage to the surrounds, while sensitively reflecting the client's personality, and recently won over the Australian Institute of Architects WA judges, securing Hillam the Marshall Clifton Award for Residential Architecture.

A louvred pergola structure above the outdoor living space controls the heat elements, keeping out the rain in winter and manipulating the light and heat throughout summer, allowing the space to be enjoyed all-year round.

But the journey from design to the winner's podium wasn't all plain sailing. There was the small matter of cutting three storeys into a limestone cliff face and dealing with height restrictions in the attempt to optimise the outlook opportunities.

The next vital consideration was creating a home that took into account the changing needs of a family with two teenage boys. Hillam's principal, David Hillam, was particularly aware of the requirement that the home not only complement the current family dynamics but also support their evolving demands.

The infinity-edge pool blurs the line between the house and the river's edge, creating a striking effect from the outdoor living space.

"We try to make sure clients are designing not just for now, but for the future as well," David says. "So it's about the kids having their own space – something the clients were conscious of – and a space they can grow into."

The middle level of the home is dedicated to the family's sons, featuring their bedrooms, plus a home theatre and a family room largely for the use of the boys and their friends. The boys' space extends out to the communal cabana and infinity-edge pool, with glass balustrading allowing unobstructed vistas of the river and beyond.

A black light feature from Yellow Goat Designs floats above the staircase, while a glazed void welcomes natural light into the entry zone.

A sculpted staircase, surrounded by glazing to further capture the outside environment, provides the transition from the entry to the top floor, where the kitchen and main living area are located. Intended as the heart of the home, the open space has prime outlook to the sparkling Swan River. Floor-to-ceiling windows welcome a subtle interaction with passers-by, which David acknowledges is an interesting element, and one the client appreciates.

The marble island bench caters to myriad purposes, including a casual meeting point and breakfast bar.

"Blackwall Reach is very active there, with people walking along the path and enjoying the river," David says. "There's not a direct interaction, but passers-by get a sense of activity in the house, which makes it interesting. Our clients like the fact they are appreciating the environment at the same time as passers-by."

Dubbed 'the glass box' by David, the top pavilion is filled to the brim with design elements that draw full attention to the exceptional view. The cantilevered island bench acts as a casual meeting space for meal preparation while providing minimal obstruction to the outlook. The entertainment hub and fireplace are combined in an almost camouflaged feature, its low aspect functional yet secondary to the view.

The coal-coloured granite mosaic plinth extends from the master bedroom through the ensuite and into the adjoining courtyard, to further connect the spaces. The courtyard provides a tranquil green space and ample natural light.

The highest point of the house is the master bedroom and ensuite, set half a level above and behind the main living area. With the slight differentiation in level, Hillam has delicately cordoned off a parents' retreat that creates a sense of privacy from other internal spaces and the outside. The view is still displayed in all its glory, through floor-to-ceiling glazing.

The finely crafted details separating zones yet tying them all together highlight the beautiful balance of the Blackwall Reach Residence, catering to all aspects of the homeowners' lifestyle, present and future.


David Hillam on this award-winning design.

What was your favourite aspect of the house?
I think the way the house is connected through the various levels is one of the things we've been really pleased with. There are literally five levels in the house, because not only are there three distinct levels, but the master bedroom and the guest bedroom are also both on split levels. We designed the house in a manner that would really give virtually every room a view back towards the river and its own particular aspect.

What made your design stand out to win the Marshall Clifton Award?
What made this one stand out was that I think it very much felt like a home. We got a really good result on a difficult site that had some specific challenges. The manner in which we brought light into the back of the house also helped. There's a three storey-deep lightwell at the back of the living space, which I think was something the judges thought was particularly effective. That will also become a green space but it's still fairly early, the plants need time to establish. I think it was a combination that the house responded quite well to its environment in terms of the materials, reflecting the local area, and the manner in which we took the best advantage of the opportunity that was there.

Would you change anything in hindsight?
Tricky question! There are always little things, but I think, in general terms, we've been really pleased with the outcome. I think everything you design, you look at what you've created and think of different things that you can do... It's just important to acknowledge that you can keep trying to get better.


Hillam Architects (architects)
Attica (flooring)
Bernini (marble kitchen island bench)
Laminex (cabinetry and splashbacks)
Myaree Ceramics (main ensuite's mosaic plinth tiling)
PACT Construction (builder)
Yellow Goat Design (black light feature above stairwell).


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