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Balmoral House

Builder: Steele Associates Construction Architect: Richard Cole Architecture

This is a house in which every element has been deeply considered from first principles. No stone is left unturned, except for the massive sandstone blocks we had to preserve and suspend the structure over.

Possibly the greatest project innovation was in the process Steele Associates initiated with the architect and client. We floated the concept of a Design Orientation Meeting and they were pleased to attend. Our client was particularly involved in the interior design, having recently completed a diploma of Architectural Technology, and really enjoyed the opportunity to communicate all her thoughts and ideas to the people who would be on site building it for her. The architect appreciated working with a builder who was committed to every member of the team sharing the project vision.

We also pioneered the idea of a full-day detailing workshop attended by client, architect and builder. We spent the day together early in the construction period poring over the detailed drawings. Steele’s site manager and director raised buildability, durability and other issues in a constructive way, and the owner and architect had a chance to explain the thinking and wishes behind the details. We sketched and talked as a team, nutting it all out over coffee and sandwiches.

This workshop saved countless RFIs later in the job, strengthened key relationships, and led the way to a smooth process and high quality building.

Some of the particular challenges, features and innovations of the building are:

  • The new house was built over existing sandstone basement walls which were covered with partitions when we commenced work. We had to expose, clean and repoint the walls as well as key new stone walls into them  to create a new basement living area. A lot of care and skill went into matching the existing Mount White Sandstone stone masonry to achieve a seamless finish.
  • We needed a 30 tonne crane set up on a steep hill and blocking the street, to install the roof beams.  Sensitive management of council and neighbour relationships was essential to a smooth process.
  • We pushed Colorbond steel to the limit by using it to form large fin cappings around openings and ridges.
  • The steel hoods creating bay windows had to be completely redesigned on site to take account of drainage, weather sealing, corrosion control and structural stability. Steele lead this process to achieve a sound result.
  • Aligning and detailing all the timber cladding and lining boards in up to 25m long runs with custom milled Tallowwood capping and sill pieces required our most skilled chippies.
  • Installing the main living room sliding doors and making up their pocket frames to include solid tracking for the large heavy doors as well as drainage in a minimal width cavity stretched our wits a little. But we made it work.
  • All exterior doors and windows were made in a workshop from tallowwood in accordance with detailed drawings. They were installed by Steele’s site team complete with timber plugs over fixing points.
  • Two of the bathroom wall tile types were particularly challenging. One is a concave faced tile that required very careful grouting to achieve a clean, seamless finish. Another is an elongated mosaic tile which we wrapped around a partition wall and into a shampoo recess, taking care to align the joints and get the exposed tile ends straight.
  • All joinery was designed and documented by the owner who’s branching out from a career in finance into interior design. We worked closely with her to realise her very particular requirements and help her get the job done to budget and on time.
  • The main staircase consists of steel plates wrapped in boxes fabricated from oak flooring with mitred corners. The treads are in turn supported by the steel flat bar balustrade. We expressed our concerns to the architect and engineer  about the stiffness of the bars in respect of the max. 125mm balustrade gap rule. Despite additional stiffening added, we found there was still too much play on installation, and added an additional row of lateral support delicately woven into the balustrade to make the staircase safe for a family.
  • The Exterior staircase is cantilevered from a retaining wall and had to be detailed with minimal fixing, careful alignment, and corrosion control.
  • And finally, the owner wanted to preserve a number of mature plants through the build, so we established a site nursery in which we cared for the plants so they could be relocated on completion. They (almost) all survived!