Buried in the hinterland of New South Wales’ Northern Rivers is the village of Federal, where you can enjoy life away from the hustle and bustle of town. It’s also where architect Sam Zaher lives, in a mid-century modern bungalow he designed himself.
With an emphasis on linearity and simplicity, it’s very pleasing to the eye, and in a beautiful spot.
Sam says it was important for him to get away from the city.
“We were looking at moving up from the city to the country, and actually rented an old house out here for quite a few years before we built,” he says. “Every architect’s dream is to design their own home and I finally got the chance to do it. To see it on the block is highly satisfying, it’s like childbirth.
“I grew up in the 60s so this reminds me of my childhood and lots of happy memories.”
Called ‘Yarraga Cottage’, don’t be surprised if you see the natural ‘lawnmowers’ at work on the grounds – a grazing herd of alpacas! It’s all about the connection between the home and the outside world, and all its plants and animals.
“We started with two that grew up on the property, and now there’s ten,” Sam says. “It’s almost like you’re in a zoo or on an animal safari!”
“We tried to work around the trees… we had to shift the house away from the original site to preserve some roots… but the way I look at it, it’s a garden sculpture, it’s like artwork in the garden.”
Sam loves entrances, and his own personal doorway is beautiful. Blackened timber slats form a sturdy entrance, providing a visually arresting contrast to the vertical lines of the home’s facade. The handles are old water pipes, dug up from the ground and carefully repurposed. It all combines to create a very welcoming picture, enhanced by the warm glow spilling out around the edges.
“We used to have a 100-year-old bale on site, unfortunately we had to demolish it because it was too old to keep, but we recycled the old timber and made the front doors out of it,” Sam explains. “All these rusty pipes… they used to be water pipes that look galvanised because they’ve been in the ground for so long.”
The idea was inspired by an office in The Rocks, where a stone wall was bisected by a glass facade. He says the look influenced him to try something similar, with a front door surrounded by glass and stone to look like a free standing object.
The interior of the home is completely private, with a hint of an eastern influence, and completely opening up to the view.
“The architecture that I grew up with was all white,” Sam says. “I basically describe this place as a black and white house, but I didn’t want to go for a black interior so we used warm dark timber. This way we bring texture and warmth into it.”
The landscape plays a big part in the house’s architecture too. In the media room, much of the joinery was sourced locally – from a native blue Quandong tree in the home’s garden!
The native timber reappears in the dining room as well, as a gorgeously unique dining table.
“It’s got these nice grains to it, I like these black knots,” Sam says. “They were filled with black resin, which ties into the kitchen and the colour scheme.”
There’s a lot of dark elements in the bedrooms and bathrooms as well – something Sam says is typical of an architect.
“We love black, it’s very reflective,” he says. “It’s masculine, it’s dark, it’s sleek, it doesn’t go out of fashion. I love it.”
There are multiple entertaining areas in the home – perfect for a family with children. The fireplace in the living room is perfect for chilly winter nights, with sound-blocking doors between the two rooms for some solitude.
“You want your own taste and personality in a house, and there’s been no compromise, I’ve just done what I like,” Sam says. “What worked really well is the two entertaining areas, you’ve got the adults room and the living room, so my son can be watching television and I can close the doors and not hear a thing!”
Yarraga Cottage is a culmination of Sam’s years of experience, and a love letter to every project he’s ever worked on. It’s his forever home, where he and his family can grow up and grow old.
“Every house you design for a client, you feel a little envious,” he says. “You think, it’s a beautiful home – I want to live here! So to finally have one yourself is good. If nothing drastically changes I’ll be here for a long time.”