Diego Balagna has a passion for modern design, but declares through a dripping Argentinian accent that he “doesn’t do anything because it’s cool”. The Sydney based architect moved to Australia with his wife and son to establish his own firm, Balagna Architects, four years ago.
Since 2010, Balagna’s talent for fostering a gentle relationship between nature and form has left many happy clients in his wake as he has moved from architectural strength to strength.
He was engaged by a Sydney couple to drastically renovate and furnish their ‘weekend home’ on the picturesque beach front of Fisherman’s Bay at Anna Bay at Port Stephens. He presided generous creative control over the former fishing shack, indulging in a celebration of light and flow.
“They didn’t have a very specific brief. They just wanted a place very different from their Sydney home, a true beach house, something very relaxed,” he says.
“Natural materials and modern compositions are something that really define my work.”
With three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a generous deck and a plunge pool overlooking the serene east coast, the 203-square-metre property is the weekend home of the average city slicker’s dreams. Balagna designed the living area with an east-facing aspect to maximise on the stunning ocean vista.
“I think from the outside the house is really respectful to the surroundings. I don’t think you can tell there’s a lot going on, it really blends in with the context. But on the other hand, I personally think it’s a bit different from other houses,” he says.
“The main idea of the living room was to appreciate the view. That’s why the back window doesn’t have any mullions, it’s just frameless glass. The living room continues into the ocean, when you walk into the house your eye just goes straight out.”
There is a seamless amalgamation of the inside and out, with a oversized deck set in sturdy wooden floorboards providing the perfect spot to entertain or relax. Floorboards are carried through to the interior of the home, but whereas the deck is left natural, the inside floor is painted in an industrial-strength two pack polyurethane in crisp white.
“It’s actually meant to be used in factories, so it’s really hard. It’s also graffiti-proof and actually really inexpensive and easy to recoat,” he says.
“The thing about this house is it looks very pristine and very clean, but you can walk through bare-footed, with sand everywhere, it’s really hardcore in that sense.”
Heavy wood is a consistent feature throughout the home, with dark heavy beams above and interesting wooden pieces carefully placed throughout the home. Using a collection of unusual furnishings sourced from his client’s extensive travels through India, he was able to neutralise the sterility of white with earthy, heavy tones.
“It is very eclectic, and I really arranged the furniture in an architectural way as well, looking at texture and contrast. I didn’t want any pieces competing through the house. I like the fact that most of the furniture and the Indian pieces are very heavy so they contrasted really nicely against the white floors and white walls.”
Slabs of charcoal granite also caught Balagna’s eye when sorting through the shipping crate of Indian treasures and raw materials, which he turned into a floating island for the ultra mod, single wall kitchen.
“I thought that granite was unique and I like the idea of having granite in the kitchen versus marble, because granite is actually really strong and really hard,” he says.
Balagna decided to situate the kitchen in what he calls the “heart” of the home.
“I always think, especially in a weekend place, that the kitchen is really the heart of the house, it’s the hub,” he says.
“If you look at the floor plan, it’s actually in the centre of the plan, the centre of the circulation, it’s really the heart of the whole house.” Project manager and builder Trent McDowell of McDowell Homes, says, “The only remaining part of the original fishing shack that remains is the vibe; the extensively renovated beach house, with white minimalist interior, frameless glass and moving walls, is dynamic.”