Sleek is the word that first comes to mind when looking at photos of Bunker House, a mid-century modern home located in the sleepy town of Gerringong on Sydney’s South Coast. The seven-bedroom is all sharp lines, floor-to-ceiling windows, matte black accents and — handy over summer — cold-to-touch, concrete walls.
But best of all, the home is available to rent. Yep, the couple who built it has put it on the rental market so you and 15 friends or family members can wake to crashing waves and spend days swimming in its ocean-facing pool, dining on its terrace or exploring the surrounding area.
We chatted with its owners Neil and Krystal Hipwell to find out more about the inspiration behind the home, the sustainability features within it and how their vision changed throughout its building.
The Latch: Can you tell us a little bit more about the original vision for Bunker House?
Krystal Hipwell: We’ve always loved Gerringong, on the South Coast of NSW. We used to spend every holiday with all of our friends and family in the caravan park. As our family grew, we needed more space.
There was a vacant block that was set directly back behind Werri Beach with amazing views. We used to stand at this block and daydream about it, and when it came up for sale, we put in our bid and were successful.
We wanted to create a place where we could host our friends and their young families to come and stay, and create the perfect house for entertaining.
Neil loves mid-century modern architecture, so we wanted to incorporate elements of that, but we needed to make sure the design was sympathetic to the landscape.
We decided to design the whole exterior in concrete which gives a really raw, contemporary vibe. It also tied in well with the nearby war-time concrete bunkers, and our choice of cedar cladding was inspired by Gerringong’s history as a cedar port in the 1800s.
The design needed to capture and frame the incredible views, but we wanted to make sure we had privacy in this prominent block. We also needed to make sure we didn’t encroach on our neighbours’ views to the rear and to the left.
We really wanted to build a fully-automated smart home, so we could control the entire home from anywhere. We also wanted a pool with some great views, lots of beds and bathrooms for guests to come and stay, and a gym and a steam room.
I also really wanted a big, round bath in the master ensuite with some ocean views. We ran with the resort-style vibe and included a pool, steam room and a gym along with the seven bedrooms with ensuites, it’s the perfect place for a getaway with friends and family.
TL: How did your vision change throughout the course of the build?
Neil Hipwell: Because my design and construct company, Futureflip, was the designer and the builder, it was reasonably easy to make changes as we went. We were really happy with the design and didn’t make any big changes until one week out from Christmas.
Krystal decided that she hated the bricks that we had initially designed for the walls to the lower levels, so I madly rang around to different stores to source acrylic render to cover the walls.
We covered the bricks in a Tyrolean finish render in a bright white, and next to all the concrete and the timber it looks pretty amazing. It was a shame to have to cover everything (and we chose face bricks which are more expensive), but it was worth it to get a finish that we are both completely happy with.
TL: Can you tell us a little bit more about the materials used and how these were sourced?
NH: Because of the oceanfront location, the effects of the sea salt and strong north-easterly winds are particularly strong.
Concrete was the perfect material choice for the majority of the home, and we sourced it locally to lower the embodied energy/carbon emissions in transport — we bought the concrete from a nearby Kiama-based family business who source their rocks from Albion Park quarry and their sand from Gerroa, which is less than 2km away.
The cedar cladding and the grey limestone cladding will continue to age and weather over time for a stripped-back, textured look. We installed an architectural pool window in the pool to allow for better supervision from the alfresco BBQ area, and we chose artisan glass mosaic tiles in a light blue.
For the landscaping, we chose large pandanus trees and cacti that work perfectly with the sophisticated, masculine feeling of the home and provide some additional privacy.
TL: Let’s talk about that interior! What was your intention for the décor and
how does it complement the dramatic outlook?
KH: The interior of the home needed to feel raw and stripped back but still warm and welcoming. Because there was so much concrete, I needed to make sure that we softened it up a bit with the decor and the finishes we chose.
As you can see, Neil and I aren’t big fans of colour, so the house is largely finished in raw materials, but we did bring in some colour to the bathrooms. We chose bronze tapware, which paired so well with the timber and the concrete. Each bathroom featured a different colour concrete sink and we paired these against matte white tiles with the grout to match the basin.
The living room is another favourite space of mine, we chose an incredible dusty pink corduroy lounge and combined with the fireplace and the views, it’s a great space to relax in.
The kitchen features all top-of-the-range appliances, which we absolutely love — originally, we were going to integrate all of our appliances, but we liked the Smeg look so much that we kept it all out in the open.
When it came to styling, we used lots of linen (in neutral tones) and some beautiful statement rugs. We chose some simple artwork in timber frames and made sure to include a lot of greenery and plants to warm up the space too.
TL: What sustainability principles were included in this home?
NH: It was really important to us that the house was low impact, low maintenance and could run self-sufficiently.
We installed 10,000L of rainwater storage, and the entire house is powered by 21.46KW solar, which means the house can run “off-grid”. Passive solar design principles of using solar and thermal mass were incorporated.
We designed the house to sit largely underground, which meant the earth became a tool in controlling the temperature. Paired with the high thermal mass of the concrete, the home requires less energy to run. We gave consideration to our window placement, and all windows were double glazed, low-e glass. We paired this with motorised Silverscreen blinds that reduce heat, light and glare.
Concrete splay overhangs were incorporated in order to shade windows and the top deck without impacting views. The glass floor of the kitchen/living room meant that light and warmth could be sent to the lower levels. The pool was located over a roof slab, which meant that cost was saved here, and it also acts as an insulator when filled, contributing to thermal mass benefits.
By using raw materials it meant we saved a lot of embodied energy by not needing finishing materials like gyprock, paint, tiles and floor coverings that a conventional house would normally have.
To book a stay at Bunker House, head here.