Building on a Sloping Site

For this article we have classed a sloping site as a minimum 3.0m fall from front to back over a typical 500-700m2 residential site. A lower slope can usually be managed via retaining walls so that a simple site cut achieved.

For residential sites with 3.0m or more fall across the site, the slope becomes the key design consideration that the buildings design will respond to. Levelling the site either becomes very costly or highly impractical, so the slope must be incorporated in an aesthetically pleasing and architecturally responsive manner.

When designing a home on a sloping sites there are 7 key design drivers or considerations.



Sloping sites typically have a view, which should be the main focus of the design, and key spaces will be prioritised with the view. The rooms that typically take precedence are generally outdoor and indoor living, master bedrooms and suites, though any preference can be achieved with the right design team. For secondary bedrooms, a view is nice to have, but can often be attained by clever layout or alignment near the boundary, looking past the key spaces.



Access from below can come in under the house at basement level; typically, this access arrangement is at the front (when considering views) and the remainder of the house can focus on the views. Access from above would generally mean the access is at the rear of the site (when considering views), so you can have a high-level garage at the rear, with outlook to the front of the site. Where a site has access from a side road running parallel with the slope, the access point can be anywhere along the site.

Terraced Forms

Most residential code setbacks and height limits will require terraced forms – or a stepped building – down the site, rather than a large site cut. A terraced form enables a flowing building to cascade down the site, and clever planning can enable easy access from central living spaces to the more private spaces.



Generally, some amount of site cut will be required, at the minimum a pile type retention system should a stilt style home be desired or required. With access from below, the logical approach is to have the garage and entry off the street, and cut back into the site. Typically, a cut will be deep enough to allow a retention/retaining type situation, whereby the cut retains half a level below ground, and half a level above ground is filled. For steeper sites this may be a full level of each.

Vertical Movement

Depending on the slope, it may be that the home is spread over 3 or more levels. Where slopes are so significant that there may be a level change of 5 or more meters, internal access becomes a key consideration. Stairs may be broken up into 2 or 3 different flights in different positions to best suit the flow of the home and feel less arduous. In homes of 3 or more levels, a lift becomes more of a necessity then a luxury. With the possibility of a master bedroom or living area at the top of the site, and the garage at the bottom (or vice versa), the thought of climbing 3 or 4 flights of stairs when you forgot your wallet, phone or kids school bag multiple times a day becomes an inevitability.


Outdoor living

On a front accessed site, it is typical that outdoor living spaces will be facing the view and in balcony or terrace form. This will generally give the ability to have a ground level lawn or garden to the rear. On rear accessed sites, typically the outdoor living spaces will be balconies or terraces to the front, with the ability to have a lawn or garden area to the front, at the bottom of the site. Side accessed sites may enable both front and rear garden areas, as well as balcony or terraced outdoor living spaces facing the view.


Light to underground spaces

Where some spaces may be completely below ground, clever ways to bring in natural light need to be considered. A stair with skylight, light court, or perhaps pushing out an external wall toward the boundary and adding a window may provide the solution. Alternatively, it’s possible a cave like feeling is preferred, such as for a theatre, wine store or the like. Subterranian spaces are ideal in this instance.

Yes, a sloping site will be more expensive to build on than a flat site; however, smart planning and early design considerations of key aspects will ensure the best construction processes to minimise cost, and the best design decisions to maximise the benefits afforded by the site.


When the design takes all considerations – from landscaping, to lighting, to maximising the views – into account, a sloping site can stop feeling like a challenge and more like an asset. Creative problem solving can make a home more unique and remarkable, especially in the hands of experienced architects. With our extensive experience with sloping sites, we have seen difficult pieces of land carved into truly marvellous homes.


If you have a building project with a sloping site and would like some guidance on how best to maximise it’s potential, Thextonsmith is ready to help, with years of experience at our disposal. Get in touch today for a no-obligation chat via email, phone, or social media.


Peruse examples of our architectural work through the link below.

Luxury Architecture: The Key Considerations

Through our work on several high-end homes, Thextonsmith has developed a distinct design philosophy on the what brings true comfort and atmosphere to a space. Whether it is the details that can never be skimped on or the broader architectural challenges that must be faced head on, our architectural game plan means that no house is left lacking.

Below are the four key design considerations that face high-end projects.


1. Site Selection

Finding the right site and correctly positioning a home can make a tremendous impact on the realised potential of a home. When our clients are seeking sites, we outline the key aspects that enable the best outcomes and longevity.

One aspect is to find a site with views or an outlook that cannot be built out. This can be a site directly fronting to parkland, the beach, a river, a harbour, city skyline, or other gorgeous scenery. Sites on an incline can have an advantage here, with outlook out and over houses below.

Once a suitable site is selected, maximising that site’s potential is the next step. Anticipating how an area may develop and allowing for future neighbouring development in the design will ensure a better result over time. Generally, this means focusing on outlook to the front, and minimising outlook to the sides and rear, where neighbouring buildings may be located.


If a view is not desired or possible, as may be the case when a client is purchasing a site in a very built-up and highly desirable suburb, other factors come into play when choosing a site. For example, privacy, proximity to local facilities, distance from main roads, mews or laneway access, north-facing, among many other considerations. Remember, in extremely built-up areas, opportunities can come in surprising places. For instance, a corner site might sound unappealing, but if you’re permitted to build several stories high, this can provide the potential for great views, and a low likelihood of being built out.


2. Basements

Anywhere your land costs are high and limited land sizes outweigh basement construction costs, it makes sense to dig down. Depending on the proposed use, a simple basement car park can cost approximately $1700/m2, far less than the cost of using valuable land to for parking. Additionally, sloping sites are an obvious scenario where semi-basements can prove very successful.

When excavating, a decent floor-to-floor height is necessary to enable various uses of the space. We suggest 3.0m floor to floor as a minimum for residential applications, ideally 3.5m.

In addition to car parking, games rooms, bars, home gyms and cinemas are ideal spaces for a basement where light is limited and cannot be brought in. Where a light court can be utilised, any room type can be positioned in the basement.

It helps to think creatively – for example, we have had properties where a swimming pool is adjacent to a basement space, separated by a glass window, allowing light to permeate through the pool into the basement.


3. Space

Space is a luxury. It’s not necessarily about having an abundance of space (after all, who wants to have to call or text family members in your own house?); it’s about having well designed and functional spaces that enhance movement, comfort and entertaining. The extra 500mm that enables ease of movement past a dining table without having to shuffle chairs. Being able to cross a living area without stepping around occupants. Hosting that birthday or event and being able to accommodate the full guestlist comfortably.

Space is key, and it is effective and functional use of said space that is paramount.

Often clever design and use of space can enable areas to ‘borrow’ space from one another, for example having a passage open to living areas instead of walled off, or having a living area open out to an outside space. A good solution is having a larger space broken into various smaller spaces. This is typically done with living, dining and kitchen, but can also include a library, study and/or games area. These areas can be set up as their own space, while also being able to be brought together for events.


4. Natural Materials

Natural materials provide a visual and textural element that is hard to replicate, as well as a natural timelessness and quality to the products as they age. Natural products also tend to give off less harmful chemicals as they settle, resulting in a healthier home.

Using natural materials such as quality stone, wood and other supplies can create a luxury escape or hotel-type feel. In today’s fast-paced 24/7 world, more homes are trending towards creating a luxurious private sanctuary in the master bedroom, ensuite and retreat spaces.

While these products do generally attract a higher price tag, the aesthetic results add immense value to your home. Also remember that these finishes often last longer and age better than synthetic materials, which may have future implications.

True quality cannot be cheated. There are no half measures that can be taken when creating your dream home, especially one that will last and stand the test of time, and we believe that all the points above must be seriously considered.

These items are important to consider when undertaking a luxury residential project. At Thextonsmith, we can help guide you through the entire process from choosing a site to selecting finishes and project handover. Get in touch today for a no-obligation chat.


Peruse examples of our architectural work through the link below.

Architect or volume home builder?

When to use an architect vs a volume home builder? Great question.

It’s no secret that a bespoke house is typically more expensive than a generic volume-built home. Yes, volume-built homes are a great option for some sites and homeowners, and we absolutely support their role in our Australian housing supply chain; however, not all situations benefit from this approach.

So, the question is, how and when do you choose between an architect-designed custom home and a volume home build?

Below are six situations where an architect would provide significant advantages over a volume home builder.

1. When you have a sloping or challenging site
The moment a sloping site cannot be cut and levelled at an affordable rate, a volume home build will become less financially beneficial.

Further, volume-built designs are not site-specific: they are by nature generic, which may mean valuable opportunities are missed, particularly on smaller sloping sites where the house design needs to work extra hard.

2. When you want a customised design or have specific requirements
Any time specific needs and requirements demand a custom design, a volume home design will always be left wanting. While minor tweaks and changes are often accommodated by volume home builders, significant alterations come at a substantial cost, while also not completely addressing the requirements like an architect-designed custom home would.

3. When you have views or other site benefits you want to maximise
The nature of volume build designs is that they have a one-size-fits-many approach. The designs do not consider site-specific opportunities. When there are specific site features or views to capture, an architect-designed home is the best option. Being able to thoroughly understand and appreciate the opportunities presented by the site, the architect will be able to develop a design that responds to these and utilises them to their fullest. For example, a sloping site leading down to a stunning countryside or water view that requires careful consideration will achieve superior results from a custom design.

4. When you have a constrained site with physical restrictions or overlays
As with site opportunities, when site constraints are present, an architect is able to understand these and design a considered response. Owners are often surprised at what can be achieved on their awkward or seemingly limited site, when the design is approached by a creative architect. It is often the most constrained sites that result in the most interesting and exciting home designs.

5. When a planning permit is required
Typically, volume home builders would shy away from sites requiring a planning permit, simply due to the unknowns of the process, and the additional costs and uncertainty. It is in these scenarios where architects are invaluable. With thorough knowledge of the planning permit process, an architect can provide guidance through this requirement, with which home-owners often have no experience.

6. When you want to build your dream home
When a client has a specific design intent or is looking to create their dream home, it is best achieved in collaboration with an architect. Whenever a home is intended to be lived in for a long period of time, it is always worth the investment. The architect will design your home with your design ideas, desires and dreams at the forefront, to create the perfect home just for you.

Building a new home offers a unique opportunity – a blank slate for you to fill with the design elements you love. With volume home designs, only a set number of facades and design options are available. If none of these choices provide the look you want, you may end up dissatisfied with the result. Long term, this can lead to regret and either expensive rectification works or moving on from the home earlier than you intended. Any money saved during the initial build will quickly disappear!

Because an Architect designs a house to suit you – and not the other way around – you will end up with a home you are much happier with for many years to come.

Thinking about a custom home build? Get in touch with the team at Thextonsmith for a no-obligation consultation to discuss your ideas and we can help you get started on your journey. We’re approachable, knowledgeable and passionate about what we do. We will provide excellent value to your home build project with a custom home design incorporating your dreams and desires to suit your site – and your lifestyle – perfectly.

Peruse examples of our architectural work through the link below.


Completed! A bright and airy 40-bed Aged Care addition

Here’s a video of our recently completed project, a new 40 bed addition to an existing Aged Care facility. The bright and airy 2-storey design takes advantage of park vistas to the west, improving quality of life for the residents.

See more of this project here.



Thexton Smith opens Gippsland Studio

Thexton Smith is excited to announce we are broadening our reach into regional Victoria with a new satellite architecture and interiors studio in Sale, Gippsland. This central spot is the perfect location for the growing regional centres of Sale, Traralgon and Bairnsdale, and will allow us to service the entire Gippsland region.

The new Sale Studio will be closely supported by and connected to the Melbourne Studio in Collingwood. Our vision for the Sale Studio is to grow into a multi-disciplinary studio catering to the unique needs of our Gippsland clients, while providing a core of healthcare, residential and commercial architectural services.

Thexton Smith will be the only architecture firm with a significant presence east of Traralgon that has commercial capability for projects in the $20-100m range. Thexton Smith is also on the Construction Supplier Register up to $50m, enabling us to work on Victorian Government projects.

Our expansion means we can deliver the high-quality architectural services our clients love, to even more of our beautiful state.

If you’d like to know more about the architecture and design services we offer in the Gippsland area, get in touch on

Sale House - Thexton Smith Gippsland

Planning Permit Granted – Aged Care Architecture

Thexton Smith is excited to announce we have just obtained another planning permit for one of our fantastic clients. Consisting of a ground level reception, café, gym, hydrotherapy pool and level 1 medical centre in an existing Aged Care facility, this inviting architectural project will give a fresh face to the existing building, and provide residents with additional amenity and activities to keep them active and healthy. Congratulations to our client on this achievement, we look forward to the next steps of the project.