Australian retirees William and Catherine Parsons have settled down in a front-line beach house on the country’s south coast, about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne.
They took the long way home.
Back in 1995, Mr. Parsons, now a 71-year-old retired airline pilot, and his wife, 57, a retired nurse, spent $258,000 on a 1/7th-acre lot on a windy bluff on the Bellarine Peninsula, near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, leading to the Port of Melbourne.
Their original plan was to raise their two daughters in a new 4,000-square-foot villa, completed in 1998, but faulty construction, they said, culminated in the home’s demolition in 2016. That fiasco paved the way for a $2.1 million do-over with new architects and new builders.
For several years the family endured makeshift living arrangements, including home schooling their children, now adults, during extended overland trips on four continents, or “road schooling,” as Ms. Parsons likes to call it.
Finally, in the fall of 2019, the couple moved into a new 3,800-square-foot, four-bedroom home.
Timber framing, structural steel: $238,000
Exterior timber: $32,000
Consultant fees: $135,000
The three-story house has a concrete-and-eucalyptus facade sealed against potentially heavy winds and corrosive salt spray. The second floor has a sheltered terrace and pool area accessible from the split-level open living and dining area that highlights ocean views.
The couple make the most of the site, says Mr. Parsons, with the help of poured-concrete walls and double-glaze windows. “We’re extremely exposed,” he says, “but the new house is rock solid. With the doors and windows closed, we can just hear the ocean. When they’re open, it’s like a train going past.”
Known for ideal surfing and hang-gliding conditions, the couple’s stretch of peninsula is a dunescape. They went for a wild look with $71,000 in landscaping, opting for low-maintenance indigenous species and a naturally planted roof garden.
The couple worked with Auhaus Architecture, a Melbourne studio specializing in upscale single-family homes. Kate Fitzpatrick, an Auhaus principal, estimates it cost an extra $160,000 to $200,000 to build on their site rather than on a sheltered inland lot. Benjamin Stibbard, her fellow Auhaus principal, says that the peninsula’s predominant southern winds, blowing most days off the ocean, can cause “rain that is horizontal,” adding that the house is “as waterproof as a bathtub.”
Retirement, Australian Style
Eucalyptus and concrete set the tone for the sturdy beach house perched on a windy stretch of the Bellarine Peninsula
The second-floor lounge has Scandinavian furniture, and the rear-wall painting is by Ginger Wikilyiri, an Aboriginal artist from South Australia.
Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal
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The peninsula can also have hot sunny spells in January and February, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. The couple spent $412,000 on concrete, and their double-thick walls help keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter.
The main section of the house includes a top-floor master suite and lower-level guest suite (known as a granny flat in Australia), while an adjoining single-story wing, separated from the rest of the house by the $79,000 pool area and reached by a first-floor corridor, has bedrooms for their visiting daughters, as well as a music room and a yoga deck.
To navigate the main portion of the house, the couple spent $52,000 on an elevator—an upgrade, jokes Ms. Parsons, of the previous home’s dumbwaiter. But their major splurge, they say, was a spiral staircase.
“I have always had a thing for staircases,” says Ms. Parsons of the $87,000 set of stairs, which has a looming sculptural presence when viewed from the pool and terrace.
The interior of the home tends to rely on dark elements, including eucalyptus paneling, but the staircase itself is painted gleaming white—at her architects’ suggestion, says Ms. Parsons.
She might have opted for the original battered-silver of the unpainted steel, she says, but the white, she decided, “looks elegant.” On the whole, it “takes away the brutality” of the bare concrete walls that show traces of the wood forms used to shape them on site.
The kitchen has a hushed quality due to blue-green Japanese tiles, which give the back wall a dark iridescence. Left over from the master bathroom, one of four in the home, the single-glaze tiles were a last-minute substitute for a continuation of the veined white marble used for a countertop.
“The sun can be glaring in summer,” says Ms. Parsons, “but there is something so lovely and soothing about looking at the kitchen—it’s like looking into a rock pool.”
The kitchen cost nearly $111,000, with $46,000 spent on a suite of American appliances from Wolf and Sub-Zero, which are rare choices in Australia.
The staircase led to a second splurge: the placement of an antique piano that Mr. Parsons inherited from his maternal grandmother. Too big for the winding stairs, it was moved into the children’s wing with a crane while the house was still under construction.
“It was our first piece of furniture,” says Mr. Parsons of the 19th-century upright, made in Dresden, Germany. Mr. Parsons plays mainly classical music, while his daughters, when visiting from college, may join in on the flute, guitar or ukulele. The plentiful concrete boosts the acoustics.
Settled into their new home at last, the couple have an easier time visiting nearby fellow retirees: Mr. Parsons’ parents. “My father is 102 and my mother is 100,” he says, “and they’re still going strong.”
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