In noun form, the word ‘retreat’ refers to an act of ‘moving back or withdrawing’, while in modern life the term is more likely to conjure up an elusive getaway. Both these definitions are true of the remarkable Balnarring Retreat by Branch Studio Architects, a building that embraces the process of slowing down and pulling back from the fast-paced world we live in.

Responding to a client brief that called for a building that could simultaneously be a blank slate for hosting a wide range of activities yet act as a fully functioning private residence, the design draws from the surrounding natural landscape and simple yet thoughtful materials and features to create a haven from the hectic pace of modern life.

DESIGN Branch Studio Architects | PHOTOGRAPHY Peter Clarke

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Purposefully low-fi, the design emphasises craftsmanship and quality materiality over technology. Deceptively minimal, what initially appears to be a nondescript timber interior, subtly integrates a comprehensive structure for uniting and dividing the space as required, with each wall of the building designed to contain components that can be folded, opened and closed to manipulate the space.

Each wall has a clear role to fill in the experience of the building depending on what is required. The southern wall contains the fold away bed and houses a desk, book shelves, general storage and the air conditioner, while the eastern wall boasts a series of flaps that unfold and fit together to create a dining table while also revealing the shallow storage between the stud wall framing behind.

The western wall of the building houses the kitchen, the central work space (concealed behind concertina doors conceal the ‘everyday mess’ of a study space) including a flap that can be folded down to create a standing desk, and a hidden door leading the bathroom. The glazed floor-to-ceiling window of the northern wall simply opens up the space to fully embrace its environment – with the clever inclusion of a sunken ‘day bed’ section that can be used as an alternate lounge area or be infilled with a series of plywood boxes to provide a consistent floor level for entertaining (the boxes can also be used as additional tables and seating when placed throughout the space).

The cumulative effect of these design components is a home that is aesthetically relaxed, thoughtful and low-tech but can ultimately reflect any current mood or desired experience. Through the structure, components and materials, the retreat fully embodies the idea of slowing down, creating an adaptive space to do so.

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The connection with place is pivotal to the home’s design, actively drawing the inhabitant in to the natural landscape through its positioning on the cusp of the water, surrounded by dense bush and home to plenty of local wildlife.

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In keeping with its purposefully ‘low fi’ approach, rather than pressing a button on a remote control the inhabitant must fold and unfold the various components by hand, mindfully manipulating the very space they inhabit.

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