Put down the hammer and the drill for a minute, it’s time to tear up the plans! This is what owner-building is all about! The hard yards have been done and the house is feeling more like a home every day. It’s time to get funky and add some Art! And by art, I don’t mean it’s time to hang some crazy-ass, psychedelic, indie, post-modern, Van Gough-esk paintings on the walls!… (That will come later) I mean, let’s do something a little bit more different.
As you could probably tell by now, Alice and I certainly have had a fair bit of creative input into what this house looks like. From memory, we were sitting at the table one Sunday morning having breakfast when we first discussed building a house and we were living at 7a Bellevue terrace at the time, long before 18 Little Howard street was a deal we had a chance on. It must have been some time in 2008. We drew sketches of the façade and how we wanted the layout. I remember the imagination running wild, realizing that if we were going to actually design our own house then we could put on the blank piece of paper anything we wanted to. Anything we liked. Then from that sketch (I’ll have to pull it out and post it here one day because I did keep it … somewhere!) things have evolved to where we find ourselves today. It is overwhelmingly mind boggling to recall where we have creatively been on this project from that Sunday morning breakfast to here. We are still dreaming and creating.
Maybe it’s better to see ourselves as instigators or creators rather than artists. The artists are the people whom we choose to transform our visions into material form (and in most cases, the results are much better than we had expected). Mike Richardson, our architect, who melded all of our crazy ideas into an aesthetically balanced building of appropriate function, scale and form. Nick the Stonemason, whose passion for his trade and attention to detail, makes him an artist in his own right. Peter the carpenter (or more appropriately “jack of all trades”) who I should correctly refer to as a wood-smith didn’t just help us build a roof but a timeless piece of amazing art.
Recently we have taken a few of the “art” aspect to a different level and “commissioned” if you will, several locals to help us with some aspects of the house that demanded a little additional attention just because of what they are.
When we built the short stay living area, Alice and I came up with the idea of adding a bit of “Fancy” steelwork to the set of double doors that looked out into the court yard. The initial reason for this is we wanted to create something that occupants could look “through” that was of some interest rather than just a plain door which drew attention only to the courtyard. A fair bit of time was spent on this design with drawings being sent to and fro for a few weeks. We wanted something that was never seen before and what Wayne (GWM steel fabrications) provided to us on paper, then in material form, was exactly that. So I suppose this was probably the influential moment that tipped us in the direction of creating some balustrading for the main living area in a similar style. The balustrading has always been on the plans as being made of steel with some small amount of fancy detail but primarily, a practical and simple design. I had always wanted to build the balustrading out of timber. Find some big “sticks” with natural curves and shapes and make it “rustic” looking. But, once the doors were finished, it didn’t take us long to decide that if we were to ask Wayne to make the balustrading in a similar style of design, we probably would not be disappointed. To say that Wayne was enthusiastic to put his skills and creativity to such a task was an understatement. He has literally been itching to get started on them for the last 18 months! And near the end of August 2015, that day came and Wayne started. His creativity and imagination, coupled with the skills of welding and working steel gives a result that I’m going to find difficult to gratify. (This is where I need to thank the wonder of pictures!).
The “look” we wanted for the balustrading was by now a no-brainer. Sorting out how we were going to combine the practical function, without losing the essence of the art led us down another path of problem solving. Normally, balustrading has a stanchion or post to support the top rail at regular intervals. Our discussion concluded that to use a different (larger) diameter steel post, with decorative steel art work in panels would interrupt the aesthetic flow of the design. By using 4 pieces of 10mm square steel bar welded as a hollow square column would give the same strength as a much bigger bar but wouldn’t stand out. Each of these hollow stanchions were then free to “grow” away at the top like a tree, and all different directions of course, before they connect with the top handrail plate. As ideas evolved, so did the function and what we were essentially creating was a two layer balustrading with a 20mm gap. Another previously un-planned advantage of doing this was that the decorative detail now took on a quite 3D appearance. The planned use of recycled steel ball bearings on the ends of the steel art also plays a very practical role where the two layers of the pattern are “locked” together by welding a steel ball between the two layers. From a distance, the steel ball bearings seem to be sitting or floating in the design. As I write, the final pieces of the balustrading for the stairs are being completed. In due course, the top plate of the steel work is going to have a lovely smooth recycled jarrah handrail fashioned for it. The results have already spoken for themselves. Recent visitors have been totally wowed by the steel art balustrading and we think they have turned out pretty awesome as well.
So with the recycled Jarrah front door installed, the attention moved to glass. We have designed the front door and side windows to take 18mm thick double glazed units but have also left a little bit of room for a bit of coloured glass. Even before we decided to go for a timber front door over steel we had discussed coloured glass design. When the time came we were presented with a few options. We could opt for a style of painted or even printed coloured glass. We could have gone old school stained glass windows done with proper lead seams and all. Or we could try something that I have only ever seen one example of (Upstairs at the National Hotel, Freo) . There was this little shop at the Freo Markets where a glass artist melts different coloured glass together to make bowls, platters, coasters and other arty little (and not so little) pieces. I wondered if Kooky Glass Art can do coloured glass that we can put in our front door?
Most of our initial communication with Amanda (Kooky Glass Art) was actually by email. By the time we met on site face to face, Amanda had a pretty good idea of where we were heading. It seemed like after the first 20mins of meeting her the ideas were flooding in quickly. I could tell Amanda was pretty excited with the prospect of this commission and to be honest, we were pretty excited at the fact Amanda was so enthusiastic and the ideas and possibilities became engulfing. We were going have to give this a go. Let’s take a moment to not forget that building your own house is hard work. Engaging in this process with Amanda was like a big reward and a celebration of how far we had come. With pens to paper again, Alice and I discussed form , function , colours , meanings, shapes , symbolism and pretty much everything in between to come up with some concept ideas we could present to Amanda. Without a doubt the standout concept involved, a rugged vast and unforgiving ocean juxtaposed by a sunset or sunrise, warm colours in abstract images. Amanda was immediately onto the ultimate creation. The only problem was that I was having so much difficulty imagining the finished product. Amanda was so enthusiastic about the creation that at one stage she told us that it is going to look so awesome that she was going to make it whether we were going to buy it or not! In situations like this, I had to remind myself that we are the creators, not the artists and we should just let it flow.
We took the commissioning of this art in various steps. Firstly, from our original design discussions, Amanda made some life sized drawings of the design. Once this was finalized, we spent another session going through the many thousands of options of colours and types of glass available. Then, from the life sized drawings, we decided which colours were going to go where and Amanda cut templates out for each piece of glass that needed cutting. Before cutting commenced we had to completely commit to the design, as once the glass pieces are cut there is no turning back. Next, we met with Amanda again with all the pieces cut and assembled loosely. This was the last opportunity we had to change our mind on anything or discuss adding any additional detail to the design. From there it was into the kiln for fusion into single pieces of art. Amanda texted us pictures of the glass just before the kiln door was closed just to create the suspense and excitement of the process. Our final visit to Amanda was to see the pieces all completed and the four glass panels together for the first time.
A long and detailed but rewarding and exciting process all the same. A fascinating process to go through and learn about at the same time too. So all that was left to do now was to see if they fitted in the front door! Of course they did (once we had taken a slight shave off the sides)!
The glass art panels were installed by Matt (glazier). The morning he saw them, he was so excited about installing them that we got straight into it. The whole lot went together so nicely and look so great. A wonderful process and long journey from concept to fruition but now they are there for us to enjoy forever!