Darren Palmer comes to Canberra! He’s the talented (and rather handsome) judge on the Nine…
No, that’s not a typo, but a reference to when architect Ben Walker and builder Ben Matthew built what is arguably Narrabundah’s most stunning home.
What is remarkable about this story is not only the design and finish of the home—which Ben M now lives in with his wife Jo, baby daughter Indie and two French Bulldogs Huxley and Marley, nor the fact that it came in on time and (sort of) on budget.
It is the fact that what was originally in its place was a hoarder’s home, filled to the brim with 120 tonnes of garbage, a house that Ben M referred to as “a rotten apple”.
Ben M and Jo brought the home in May 2019 off-market without being able to look inside before settlement at the previous owner’s request.
“It was a huge risk as we didn’t know what could possibly be inside. All we knew was it was full of rubbish.”
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They made an offer which was accepted. But they only found out the enormity of what they had taken on when the rubbish could only be removed by using an excavator to pull it through the windows during the demolition phase because no one could even open the doors.
It took enormous vision to see the site, on Carnegie Crescent in Narrabundah, for its potential, rather than for a red brick box containing one metre-deep trash.
But for Ben M, there was no doubt it was the right decision. It felt like coming home to his childhood. While he grew up in Tuggeranong, his grandfather was a builder who arrived in Canberra in the 1960s and settled in Carstensz Street Griffith with his wife to raise their family.
Ben spent much of his young life hanging out in the inner south, walking with his grandmother to pre-school or assisting his grandad on various building projects.
“I remember being a kid and thinking how cool it was that Pop got to go to work and watch big diggers all day and build things and my passion really started there.”
The elevation and leafy green streets of Narrabundah called to him.
So with the hoarder’s house finally demolished at the end of 2019, the two Bens set about making their shared vision of an ultra-luxe family home set high on the street and nestled in a tree canopy a reality within an incredibly swift timeframe of just nine months.
The pair found each other after Ben and Jo were watching an architecture show and some of Ben W’s homes were featured.
“Jo and I always wanted to use someone local and I loved his style and ideas, he just felt like the right fit.”
Ben W said Ben M—whose company The Ideal Group specialises in high end residential and commercial facade finishes—possessed incredible drive and a meticulous eye for detail.
“Ben M did an absolutely amazing job of driving this project, coordinating a huge number of trades and also integrating his very strong sense of character to the project. In addition to the overall building and structures we documented all the joinery drawings and details but Ben M interrogated them regularly and made many refinements that strengthened the end result.”
This included overseeing some of the more unusual features of the home including stopping the joinery short of the ceiling, using doors the full height of the rooms and trimming every edge in a fine line of brass.
“Stopping the joinery short of the ceiling provides a very open feel internally and creates a slight sense of ambiguity about the edges of different living zones. That allows light to ‘breathe’ throughout the interior spaces and makes rooms feel larger and more generous than they actually are.”
Ben W’s other favourite aspect of the design is the use of upper floor courtyards to allow sunlight into deep parts of the floor plan.
“We introduced two courtyards in this way—one is between the kitchen and formal living space. This allows morning and daytime sun into the kitchen/dining space, and also provides a great landscape/exterior separation of the rooms. It is wonderful to open up all the stacker doors around the courtyard and look from one room through to the others with a Japanese maple framed in the middle. The second courtyard is a two-storey space beside the main internal stair. This court allows sun into basement level rooms, an ensuite, bedroom and the stair itself. Without the courtyard these rooms would be ‘landlocked’ and only have a single aspect to the west or south.”
For gobsmacked onlookers who watched the project rise rapidly on the crest of the hill, other aspects including the massive steel shroud around the entry and front windows and the bespoke gold cladding and louvers bolted on the imposing pre-cast concrete frontage may have caught their attention.
Inside, the home is just as impressive. From generous corridors lined in herringbone flooring, to the use of dry-pressed brick and recycled timber that Ben M salvaged from the hoarder’s floor joists and roof rafters to be used to line the high ceiling, to the block-pressed Italian terrazzo tiles layed perfectly around gold tapware on the walls of the bathrooms, not one centimetre of this home is left to chance.
For Ben M it was an obsession, to do everything he could to the highest level of quality possible—like custom-making a brass island bench and wrapping it in super-white marble or sourcing top-of-the line black Smeg ovens purely for the fact they had a brass trim.
Perhaps the budget got lost a little in the process, but they certainly fitted the theme of the house and now it is completed, there is nothing he would change. With the couple moving in just weeks before Indie’s arrival, there was a scramble to get it done.
But now not a day goes by without Ben M and Jo marvelling at their new surrounds.
“I am so proud of what he has achieved, it is beautiful to sit in every room,” says Jo.
But in true project manager style, Ben M’s brain is ticking over and he cannot promise to stay put.
We love this spot and are proud to have delivered something unique to Narrabundah but I am ready to do another project,” he laughs.
“They’re stressful but so much fun.”
Indie may get to see in a few birthdays splashing in the pool or learning to negotiate the hand-made curved concrete back steps that take you from the outdoor dining and kitchen area to a little terrace of grass before they relocate.
But Ben is aspiring to a plot in Forrest.
“I’ve got so many of ideas already I love this industry and I want to keep pushing the boundaries of normal!”