Australian House & Garden
A sloping site provided the opportunity for this Melbourne family to implement some clever layout ideas – and enjoy some surprising benefits.

 Homeowners Craig and Megan Bates with their sons Ethan (left) and Campbell. Their new home presents a modern face to the street. photography Martina Gemmola

Homeowners Craig and Megan Bates with their sons Ethan (left) and Campbell. Their new home presents a modern face to the street. photography Martina Gemmola

When Megan Bates was appointed to a teaching position at a prestigious school in south-east Melbourne, it set off a chain of events that ultimately changed her family’s address and lifestyle.

Megan and her husband Craig seized the day and enrolled their two sons – Campbell, now eight, and Ethan, seven – at the school. The only problem was that the family was living miles away. They immediately began to look for a home near the school, only to discover that houses in the area were either prohibitively expensive or had such poor layouts that the couple would have exhausted their budget trying to remedy the existing problems.

Then they came across a property in such bad repair it was advertised as land with a ‘free’ house. “It was disgusting,” says Craig. “It had a bluestone fence, an old fibro pool out front and a wall covered in mould.” To top it off, there was a 9m drop from the front of the site to the back.

‘We’re 8km from the city but from here, all I can see are the top of the trees and views down into the valley.’

This losing combination had scared off many potential buyers, but the couple realised they were well placed to take advantage of it. “Building on a slope was an attractive idea,” says Craig. “Our current house was on a similar, north-facing, sloping site and had a split-level layout that worked for us.”

They decided they could parlay the layout of their old home into a new build, with living areas on the entry level and bedrooms below. Furthermore, they had some clever ideas about how to counter the biggest problem on such a block: drawing light into the south-facing rear.

“We decided to put two pavilions, in the form of a pool and an alfresco kitchen, in the middle of the entry level, for the purpose of putting big windows around those areas to draw light into the back of the house,” says Craig.

 A compact study is concealed behind a sliding door in the kitchen.

A compact study is concealed behind a sliding door in the kitchen.

Craig found the perfect project partners when he googled ‘sloping-block builders’ and came up with Rycon Building Group. Today, after a 16-month build, the family’s new home is a wonderful example of how to turn a negative into a positive.

The home presents a contemporary face to the street. Inside, a central hall leads to a guestroom and ensuite on the eastern side, then the pool. On the western side, a few steps up, is a garage, mudroom, powder room and storage space, followed by the outdoor kitchen, accessed via sliding doors from the hallway. As anticipated, glazing on the northern face draws welcome light into the next section, an open-plan kitchen/dining/living area with views over the bushland valley below. 

“We’re 8km from the city and from here all I can see are the tops of the trees and views down into the valley. It feels as though we could be out in the hills,” says Craig.

‘In the main bedroom, stone-look tiles, timber and flowing curtains give it that retreat feel.’

Downstairs is a main bedroom suite, the boys’ rooms and their shared bathroom, a playroom and laundry. One of the benefits of having bedrooms on this lower level is that the extra distance from the street ensures absolute quiet.

Another aspect that makes the house work so well is its well-resolved interior. Craig’s sister, interior designer Adele Bates, stepped in to help here. Craig and Megan had settled on a warm, industrial aesthetic, with statement finishes in timber, concrete and black. Adele worked in refined details to create what she describes as a “clean, contemporary and minimalistic look”, with special elements throughout that add charm and warmth. In the process, Craig learned a lot from his little sister. “Adele taught me to keep the core elements relatively simple, then accessorise with different things to provide a bit of a feature,” he says.

All in all, it’s been a great education in the theory and practice of creating a happy, functional family home.

Adele Bates Design, South Melbourne, Victoria; (03) 9686 0852 or Rycon Building Group, Blackburn, Victoria; (03) 9894 1500 or