14 April 2022

'Surreal' Red Hill home, The Nest, takes Canberra architecture to new heights

| Katrina Condie
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Tina and Ian Oliver outside their home

Tina and Ian Oliver’s new home, The Nest, takes in bird’s-eye views over Canberra. Photo: Tina Oliver.

Perched on Red Hill with bird’s-eye views over the city, The Nest is more than a home; it’s a design and engineering marvel that has elevated Canberra architecture to new heights.

When DNA Architects director AJ Bala drew his first rough sketch – that’s now framed and proudly hanging on the wall of Ian and Tina Oliver’s new home – he wasn’t sure if his ambitious design could be pulled off on a residential block.

But four years and many wines later, a combination of clever planning and “complex engineering gymnastics” has brought the Olivers’ dream home to life.

AJ describes The Nest as a “once-in-a-career project”.

“It’s pretty surreal,” he said, “you don’t get an opportunity to build a home like this every day”.

“You definitely won’t find another home anything like it in Canberra.”

AJ’s design brief from Ian and Tina was pretty simple: the semi-retired jet-setters wanted a retreat they could come home to and space to gather with their family and friends.

They only had three key ‘must-haves’ – a swim spa for Tina, a basement garage large enough to house Ian’s collection of motoring memorabilia and classic cars and, of course, a design that captured the iconic Canberra views from the airport all the way ’round to Telstra Tower.

“When I stood on the balcony of the old home that was on the site and saw the incredible view, I drew a rough sketch and the owners loved it,” AJ said.

“Perched up on the hill, with those views, is when we coined the phrase ‘The Nest'”.

After designing the Olivers’ previous multi-award-winning home in Guilfoyle Street Yarralumla, AJ said he had a pretty good idea of their lifestyle requirements and how much they loved to entertain, so he was given free rein on their second project.

“We became good friends and I spent a lot of time at Guilfoyle Street, so I knew what Ian and Tina loved about the home and what was lacking,” he said.

“This time I wanted to really push the boundaries when designing their forever home in Red Hill.”

But building such a large footprint home on a sloping residential lot came with some massive challenges.

“We had some pretty tight envelopes to work with due to the volume, height and setback of the home,” AJ said.

“There was a lot of planning and engineering gymnastics required to get such a large area of home on the block, including the 480-sqm basement garage and taking into account things like privacy and shadowing.”


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Many on-the-spot design changes were made during the build to accommodate a car lift, a two-person elevator to the roof-top terrace, a metre-thick suspended slab to support the swim spa and a massive counter-levered “floating” steel and concrete roof over the driveway.

But AJ said, despite the many challenges, the team of structural engineers from Sellick’s Consultants and builders Paul Kerr and Dean Hess from Preferred Builders were “phenomenal” to work with.

“This was a very complicated project and was really a commercial build on a residential site,” he said.

The finished product is a super contemporary four-bedroom home wrapped around a 5.5-m high central glass atrium that completely opens up to become part of the expansive indoor-outdoor entertaining area.

Ian and Tina settled into their nest six months ago and have hosted a string of house-warming parties where friends have been given an opportunity to revel in their breath-taking location.

“The best thing about the home is our tremendous open living space with spectacular views over the Canberra scenery,” Ian said.

“It really is the heart of the home where we can spend time socialising – which is what we like to do.”

Ian and Tina in the entertaining area

The glass atrium opens up to expand Ian and Tina Oliver’s massive entertaining space where they gather with family and friends. Photo: Tina Oliver.

Tina is relishing the sleek dark timber kitchen with its 6-m-long stone island bench and marble “blade” design features, and of course loves spending time in the swim spa or enjoying a nightcap on the intimate roof-top terrace.

The home also features a state-of-the-art media room that’s completely hidden behind a pivoting wall, a study for Ian and a studio for Tina with triangular windows overlooking a stunning rose garden showcasing plants rescued from the demolition site.


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Knowing how much the couple enjoys entertaining, AJ included a lavish bar area in the plan, which has been fitted out with a commercial beer keg and built-in display cases and storage for their extensive Scotch and wine collection.

The edgy, industrial-style home comes to life with a mix of burnished concrete and blackbutt timber flooring and huge expanses of glass and steel throughout.

Guests are greeted by an impressive 4.5-m-high eucalyptus green-coloured zinc ‘leaf’ panelled front door that reflects the surrounding bushland and opens up to reveal uninterrupted views through the centre of the home to the city beyond.

Car in the basement garage

Ian Oliver is happy to finally have his incredible car collection at home in his basement garage. Photo: Anne Stroud.

The managing director of Canberra’s Capital Holdings Group, founder of Capital Self Storage and treasurer of the Rolls Royce Club of Australia, Ian is thrilled to finally have his collection of post-WWII Australian cars and classic European vehicles at home.

The sweeping driveway leads to a three-car garage that comes complete with a car lift to the basement garage that can house a further 15 cars, plus Ian’s collection of motoring memorabilia.

DNA Architects has entered The Nest in the Australian Institute of Architects National Design Awards and the ACT Master Builders Awards of excellence and plans to enter the Housing Industry Association Awards at the end of the year.

The DNA Architects team is design-driven and people-focussed, specialising in residential and commercial architecture.

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