• Night view of the Japanese landscaping, living area and screened kitchen (Max Dupain).

32 Killeaton Street, St Ives, NSW, 1949–53

This one-storey residence is one of Sydney's first post-Second World War exemplars of a 1950s–1970s movement that in 1962 was named 'the Sydney School'.

Almost certainly Snelling’s first significant completed residence, it presented a transparent façade to its broad front lawn, fully revealing the living zones, including a magnificent freestanding fireplace of rough-hewn sandstone. Although Wrightian in its horizontality, Usonian open plan, hovering flat roof with wide overhangs, and use of timber and stone, it also incorporated the extensive glazing and machine-age materials preferred by California’s early Case Study architects.

Snelling’s desire to fuse West American regionalism with California interpretations of the international style is most evident in his selections of materials. He juxtaposed cedar panelling, stone and bronze with pink-grey rendered walls, plastic laminates, stainless steel, and glass. This house was far more generously glazed (1,150 sq ft; 106 sq m) than most residences of the time, yet Snelling was careful to introduce a variety of weather-management and comfort strategies. These included 8-ft roof overhangs for sun control, window details for storm-proofing, privacy screens in the garden, spotlighting of key garden features to “get rid of the black hole of Calcutta” (as noted in Architecture and Arts), and summer and winter sundecks on opposite sides of the entertaining area.

Promoted on the September 1954 cover of Australia’s Architecture and Arts magazine, this residence was distinguished by a “four-courters” plan to encourage indoor-outdoor flows; likely to have been inspired by Richard Neutra’s pinwheel layouts for the Edgar J. Kaufmann house in Palm Springs (1946–47), the Stuart Bailey house in Pacific Palisades (1946–48), and the Warren and Katherine Tremaine house at Montecito (1947–48). (These echoed earlier plans by Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe.) In the Architecture and Arts article, the Hay house (sometimes also named for its second owners, the Richmonds) was said to be:

… 'a first-class example of the brilliant planning developed by Richard J. Neutra in his ‘house in the desert’ in 1947. It is based on the ‘four courters’ plan, which puts social areas, open or enclosed, toward the centre and which leaves each dwelling area open to its own private court. '

Built beneath tall blue gums on a suburban battleaxe block that slopes slightly to the southwest, the house occupies the centre of its 452 x 125 ft (138 x 38 m) site, with its glassy north façade spread across most of the land width. It was never completed to the original plan. Snelling’s proposed two-bedroom guest pavilion and swimming pool (for the southwest corner) were not built by the Hays, and later owners instead added a bedroom wing (not designed by Snelling).

Concealed from the street on a battleaxe block, the house has different entry sequences for people arriving by car or on foot. Pedestrians walk from the driveway across stepping stones on the front lawn; past a Japanese-landscaped carp pond and a screen of cedar louvres, to casually enter the kitchen near the western staff quarters. Drivers instead emerge from the double carport on the northeast corner, to a sandstone-flagged covered way that is shielded by a stone wall incorporating skylit flowerbeds.

Set above three steps concluding this entrance path is the front door with a matching glass panel. Inside, the small lobby is floored with sandstone and walled with the house’s palette of natural materials: stone, redwood (cedar), glass and painted plaster. As built, the plan incorporates a large parents’s suite at the eastern end of the house with glazed walls facing east and south. Like the lobby, this private zone is three steps higher than the main living zone, creating a more intimate ceiling height.

Before later alterations including a low-pitched rather than flat roof, the 31 x 25 ft (9.5 x 7.6 m) entertaining area included a living room (facing north to a stone-paved verandah and the koi carp pond) and a dining zone facing south from the other side of the monumental fireplace. Cabinetry was extended from the fireplace to form a four-seat dining table and an L-shaped lounge. Off the southeastern corner of this space, a small study zone was provided. At the west end of the house are a substantial kitchen and a three-room staff flat.

Sources

—Apperly, Richard and Peter Lind. 1971. 444 Sydney Buildings. Canberra: RAIA, p. 64.

—Architecture and Arts. 1954. ‘Douglas Snelling, architect: four courters house, Sydney’, September, pp. 22–5.

—Building Ideas. 1962. ‘A guide to Sydney architecture’, June, pp. 11–24.

—Cross-Section. 1955. ‘Houses … maisons’, January, p. 3.

—Kalmar, Steven. 1964. ‘People in glass houses’, You and Your Home. Sydney: Shakespeare Head Press, pp. 35–7.

—Kovac, Johan Andrew. 1999. Three Houses by Douglas Burrage Snelling 1947–1955 (B. Arch dissertation). Sydney: University of Technology, Sydney.

—McInerney, Keiran. 1997. ‘Back to the future’, The Sydney Morning Herald (Domain), 25 September, pp. 8–11.

—Pemberton, Gary J. 1984. Douglas B. Snelling: A Monograph of His Works (B. Arch dissertation). Sydney: New South Wales Institute of Technology.

—Trevillion, James. 1995. The Adventures of Douglas B. Snelling (B. Arch dissertation). Sydney: University of Technology, Sydney.