Bringing Nature Indoors //


Supporting a lifestyle where a distinction between inside and outside doesn’t exist and a laid-back feel always wins over anything too polished. Such is the charm of Brisbane architect John Ellway’s own home which captures the essence of Australian living. Terrarium House is conceived as a living vessel that opens up and retracts throughout the year, continuously remoulding itself around Brisbane’s changing climatic conditions.

The home, therefore, becomes an extension of its surroundings – a protected enclave from which its occupants experience their world. Lush greenery is perhaps the most important feature throughout the design. Plants act like ribbons weaving themselves throughout the entire house. Vines spill down a gridded screen at the entrance, completely concealing the front door. Ferns and potted plants are dotted across the home, their soft organic shapes bringing lightness to an otherwise solid, dark scheme. A timber-framed sliding door completely opens to the north, inviting the backyard deep into neighbouring living spaces. The home is designed to be experienced alongside the surrounding environment – the two come as a package deal.


A solid wall to the west protects living spaces on the lower level from the afternoon heat. Fine-textured glass to the east captures the winter morning sun, creating the perfect place to wake up, with skin slowly becoming illuminated by its warm glow. Ellway struck a fine balance between shadow and light, protection and exposure, creating moments of quiet retreat from intense Queensland sun as well as areas that celebrate its warmth. Upstairs the presence of nature continues. The shared bathroom, cloaked in a glistening layer of dark tiles, features a semi-translucent polycarbonate roof. Light spills into the space, shimmering as it slides down the walls.

The first level unfolds in a series of timber-clad bridges that connect the more private living spaces of the home. The chatter emerging from lower living areas float upward. A subtle conversation between private and public space begins. These threshold spaces, although simply points of connection, in our opinion become the star of the design. They recreate the nostalgic experience of navigating through a winding treehouse, injecting a fragile, child-like wonder into the sophisticated design. Much of the home’s detail is inspired by layers of personal memories. Childhood experiences and Ellway’s much more recent trips to Malaysia and Singapore are all distilled within the home. The materials, layout, and planting all reminiscent of moments in life – making the project all the more special.