Straw bale is an aesthetic, environmentally friendly, alternate way to build your home. Using what was — until recently — merely a waste product of the grain industry, this method is now becoming popular with a number of builders focussed on the construction of earth buildings.
As much a piece of art as a building, straw bale houses are given form by the builder who sculpts the materials of straw and clay to create a thing of beauty. What is also interesting is with experience, you too can become involved in the construction of your own home using this method if you so desire.
Straw is the stubble left after the seed head of a crop like wheat, rice, oats, rye, flax or barley has been removed. It has been used in construction ever since man started cultivating such crops and was originally used in tied bundles held in a reinforced frame — generally timber — to make a wall (grass and sugar cane waste are also other possibilities for bales). These walls were then rendered on both sides with cob (clay, straw and water mixed together). The first straw bale building constructed was thought to be in the US in about 1860. It was a simple construction that did not have rendered walls and was eventually eaten by cows grazing on the building.
Demolition by farm animal aside, one of the main downsides to constructing straw bale is that it is overall labour intensive to erect when compared to conventional construction techniques. That said, the building of straw bale walls is much less labour intensive than using other materials such as concrete block, brick, adobe or stone, and requires considerably less skill.
There are a couple of main ways you can construct a straw bale home. One is the stacking of bales to form walls with a bonding system similar to building a brick wall — there have been buildings of up to three storeys constructed using this method. The more popular technique is the post and beam or external frame method. This is where the straw bales are used as infill between the supporting structure or the second skin of a building, with a cavity between the external wall and internal straw bale wall.
If you live in a bushfire-prone area and you are required to comply with the new Australian bushfire code, it will be necessary that the external face of the building is a fully rendered wall. The most environmentally friendly method of rendering is the use of cob and this would be applied to both external and internal surfaces of the straw bale walls. Another alternative is a mix of cement and lime render, which is applied over chicken mesh fixed to the walls. In both cases, the walls are then sealed and painted when dry. When using the cement and lime render, you could add oxide colour straight to the mix — thus saving the need to paint the surface. A spray-on render is also obtainable.
Availability of straw bales is seasonal and depending on where you live in the southern hemisphere, the season will be from October to January. It can be important to find out when bales are being made in your local area, so you do not end up paying the additional costs of transporting bales from further away. It is also advisable to find a dependable supplier who, not only makes a well-compressed bale, but is also able to provide undercover storage to keep the bales from getting wet.
Keeping the bales dry at all stages of construction, up until the walls are rendered, cannot be emphasised enough. There is no point making your job harder than it already is by having wet straw, which can lead to deterioration and fungal growth in the straw bales. And the question of whether you will have a problem with rats and termites can be best answered by saying that if your preparation and diligence to detail is carried out during construction, these pests will be no worse than any other building constructed from more conventional materials.
Straw bales provide you with a great degree of flexibility in your design, allowing you to sculpt and add details, while letting your creative side go wild. Bale building is forgiving, encourages individual creativity and leads to final structures that are climatically adapted and energy-efficient. Many straw bale homes have that soft, comfortable feel about them providing a great connection with the earth — something that other homes can sometimes lack. But they also are a style of building able to accommodate all the mod-cons of a modern life.
Like any building it is the attention to detail that will get you a great result. If you are not good with fine detailing, you would be better off to engage a qualified builder with experience in straw bale construction who can work with you to achieve the budget and result you want. Having a set of plans designed and drawn by a professional who understands, and has worked with, the material before is important to getting a building you will love and call home.
A well-detailed set of plans that clearly shows all the details of constructing a straw bale building will also make your passage to approval through your local council much easier. Your local council may have a resistance to construction methods they are not familiar with, so it is important to ensure they clearly understand what you want to construct, leaving no room for ambiguities that could stop them approving your plans. Showing pictures of other straw bale buildings that are local, but not necessarily in the council’s jurisdiction, can go a long way to help with your approval.
Ultimately, a straw bale house will be different — it will be warm, comfortable, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and a home that will last for a hundred years or more. For the owner-builder this is one material that allows them to be intimately involved in the construction of their home. With some basic training and professional advice, you should be able to raise a cost-effective structure that will have your blood, sweat and tears built into the finished product.
By Ian Cleland
From Grand Designs Australia magazine Vol. 2 No. 1
Top 7 black bathrooms. From all-over black to modern monochrome, these dark bathrooms are sure to set the mood.
Designer Sam Robinson has won multiple awards for this bathroom including Australian Bathroom Designer of the Year. With an impressive feature wall that harks back to Renaissance period sculpture and the clever use of mirrors and lighting, this bathroom is truly timeless. Designer: Sam Robinson for Royston Wilson, roystonwilson.com.au
WE LOVE: The Renaissance inspired mosaic.
2. Tigers Eye
A unique interpretation on the dark bathroom, this design uses strong ochre and golden brown tones. Caesarstone Concetto Red Tigers Eye natural stone is utilised in the vanity top and feature wall, adding a bold and masculine touch to the bathroom design. This contrasts with the beautiful Spotted Gum timber features of the bathroom. Designer: Lee Hardcastle for Enigma Interiors, enigmainteriors.com.au
WE LOVE: The luxurious gold leaf basins.
This classic yet modern take on a bathroom by Ultimate Kitchens uses a striking monochrome colour scheme. A suspended vanity and mirrored cabinets creating a look that is both sophisticated and distinctive. Designer: Jeff Richardson for Ultimate Kitchens, ultimatekitchens.com.au
WE LOVE: The stylish contrast between the white mosaic feature wall and the black floor tiles.
This bathroom designed by Outside Square uses minimalist ideas to create a functional and family-friendly bathroom. Working within a small space this innovative design has allowed for a spacious and timeless bathroom that doesn’t compromise on storage and is perfect for the whole family. Designer: Angela Gianakis for Outside Square, outsidesquare.com.au
WE LOVE: The extra-large tiles on the walls. Minimising grout lines creates the illusion of more space!
With a monochromatic theme, this decadent bathroom design by TRENDS kitchen + bathroom uses a balance of light and dark. Featuring, black wall tiles and white floor tiles this bathroom has a sleek finish that is not too dark and not too light. Designer: TRENDS kitchen + bathroom, trendsdesign.com.au
WE LOVE: The futuristic feature mosaic tiling in the shower.
6. Art Deco
Capturing the era of the Great Gatsby, this art deco themed bathroom design is glamorous and bold. The glossy finish and acid-washed marble floor tiles are standout features of this bathroom. Marble, chrome and granite highlight the black and white colour scheme. Designer: Schots Home Emporium, schots.com.au
WE LOVE: The tone and texture of the acid-washed marble floor tiles.
This dark bathroom design with mocha toned porcelain tiles and grey marble uses a neutral palette to create a luxury hotel style. Incorporating organic and elegant features within this bathroom make it a relaxing retreat. Designer: Pierre for Gasparre Tiles with Sydney Bathroom Renovations and Cass Brothers, gasparretiles.com.au
WE LOVE: The warm tone of the mocha porcelain tiles
By Olivia Whenman
Towel rail trend alert! — stay toasty and warm this winter with our picks of hot-right-now heated towel rails.
1. Towel warmer radiator
2. Futuristic towel rail
Taking inspiration from the planet of the same name, the Saturn towel rail from H2O Heating is contemporary and classic at the same time. Almost a throwback to the futuristic designs of the 1960s, Saturn will leave a lasting impression. h2oheating.com.au
3. Hydronic towel rail
Manufactured by some of Europe’s leaders in hydronic heating products, H2O Heating offers a range of classic and contemporary heated towel rails. The simple and straight or softer, curved rails are available in a subtle white or stylish chrome finish. h2oheating.com.au
4. Hidden heat
This built-in modular heated towel rail from Vola is as functional as it is sleek . The company stuck with its trademark design formula as all technical parts of the T39 are hidden behind the wall. Designed as a flexible system of bars the can be combined in number and location, the T39 is the perfect design solution. vola.com
5. Hybrid towel rail
Using leading technology, Avenir’s Hybrid towel rail is at the forefront of style and innovation. With optimal heating of the entire surface area, the Hybrid’s pre-polished sheets of 304-grade No. 8 stainless steel do not suffer from corrosion. avenir.com.au
From Home Designs magazine Vol. 16 No.1
Designer and sustainability expert Ian Cleland shares his thoughts on various methods of saving water at home.
The human body is about two-thirds water, the brain itself up to 85 per cent water. So H2O is indeed a necessity for staying alive.
In Australia, water consumption per capita has been falling; it’s currently at 920 kilolitres per capita per year. This figure is for all consumption, including agriculture, industry and individuals. At an individual level in Australia, it varies state to state from 170 litres to 200 litres per day.
In Australia, we see it as a right to have clean water. Yet 884 million people globally don’t have clean water to drink and 99 per cent of deaths worldwide are due to water-borne diseases.
To many of us who live in the city, having access to clean water is something we take for granted. If you live in a rural area, though, you will have a greater appreciation of the scarcity of water if you have to provide your own catchment and storage for your water needs.
Until recently, it was illegal to have storage for your own water supply in the city and even now it’s deemed not appropriate for drinking water. This seems strange, given that all those rural people are dependent on tank water for all their needs, including drinking water.
Then there’s the issue of recycling waste water. Generally, this is carried out by centralised sewerage treatment plants that clean the water to a point where it can be delivered back into a river system or an ocean outfall.
For most of us, then, the processes of supplying clean water and disposing of waste water are not our responsibility. It’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.
The other side of the equation
As mentioned, many rural people have to provide their own solutions for capture and storage of clean water and disposal/recycling of waste water.
The situation is now starting to change in our cities, however, as people want to secure some of their own water supply, be it by capturing rain from the roofs of their homes or, to a lesser extent, by recycling grey water, which is generally all waste water except that from toilets — known as black water.
Black water is disposed of into the centrally controlled sewerage system, or into an on-site sewerage system where connections to a centrally controlled system are not available.
So what are our options for water storage and ways to recycle grey water in our own backyards?
If we are to supply clean, safe water to our own homes we must be able to remove the pollutants deposited on our roofs that come down with the first rains that fall. Most of these pollutants, such as dirt build-up and leaf litter, can be removed by a first-flush device. This has to be supplemented with further filtration on entry to the tank to stop leaf litter and small animals being washed live or dead into the water tank. As a final precaution, you could provide an additional filter on the outlet if the water is going to be used for drinking.
Personally, I would rather not go down the path of adding chemicals to water. Even though it is an option, it requires somebody who is qualified to maintain the system. Even then, the quality of the water must be checked on a regular basis for peace of mind.
There are numerous storage systems that vary in size and types of material used in their construction. You also need to consider whether your storage tank will be located above or below ground.
In cities, because of restrictions on block sizes, there may be limitations on how much water you can store. If you are building a new home or adding an extension, you could use the space under your slab for a modular storage tank. These can be used for water capture and recycled storm or grey water.
One thing we can all do before we start determining whether we should recycle water is look at ways to conserve water, whether by installing devices that reduce water pressure, choosing appliances and fittings that are more water-efficient, taking shorter showers or creating water-wise landscaping and growing drought-tolerant plants.
As a rule, water utilities won’t approve the recycling of black water, so grey water from bathrooms, laundries and kitchens will be all that can be recycled. When recycling grey water, you will also need to consider the solvents and detergents you use and be careful not to flush into the system any fats, oils, paints, bleach or other inorganic materials, as they will affect the processing of the grey water.
If you would like to create a water feature that also treats your grey water, you can construct a reed bed. This will do the job of a natural wetland and should work very successfully. A reed bed can be designed and sized to suit the inflow from the grey-water system. Like swimming pools, these systems can be maintained by an external contractor.
A safe, reliable water source, whether supplied or recycled, is important in all our lives. Water is a scarce resource in a country such as Australia — the driest inhabited continent on Earth.
1. GRAF underground water tank. Standard sized are 2500 litres to 6500 litres — distributed in Australia by Reece Plumbing, reece.com.au
2. Reed bed newly installed for a single household blackwater system at Bullaburra Blue Mountains by Root Zone Australia, rootzone.com.au
3. Coast & Country Tanks 3000-litre in Colorbond Pale Eucalypt, coastandcountrywatertanks.com.au
By Ian Cleland
From Grand Designs Australia magazine Vol. 2 No. 2
With playful aesthetics and sophisticated materials, designer Christel Hadiwibawa produces designs that educate, inform, and enhance the lifestyle of the user.
With an architect father and her brother a graphic designer, Christel Hadiwibawa was surrounded by creativity from an early age. Enthusiastic and passionate about the design industry, Christel’s life has been one of exploration and experimentation, living off the adrenalin of new ideas and concepts. Christel studied industrial technology at high school and then majored in wood and furniture at the Australian National University School of Art in Canberra. It was here, under the strict direction of her university lecturer, that Christel learnt to challenge her thought process, develop her hand-making skills, and find her own design vernacular.
A year after graduating with first-class honours in 2009, Christel set up her first studio in Sydney, ready to take on the world. Christel’s designs consider every element of their function, aesthetic, and impact on the environment. As a girl who loves the outdoors, she is always considering sustainability in her design process. “In my earlier projects there was a strong emphasis on materials and environmental considerations within sustainability. This past year I have been looking more into the social aspects of sustainability … understanding demographics, culture, lifestyles, and exploring how objects, furniture, and spaces impact the way we react and behave.”
A quote from furniture designer Ray Eames is how Christel explains her design philosophy: “What works is better than what looks good. The looks good can change, but what works, works.” Christel claims it’s her honesty that has resulted in a collection of products that educate, inform, and enhance the lifestyle of the user, ultimately causing them to fall in love with the product. “I try to be honest about everything” she says. For more information, visit christelh.com
1. The P2 chair has evolved from the P1, with changes to its size and shape for greater comfort and support.
2. Christel’s designs may look simplistic, but they are playful in their aesthetic and sophisticated in their design and function.
3. The P1 chair is the most popular of Christel’s designs.?
4. The Tilt comes in a stool or coffee table and is available in black, chrome, red, or blue.
5. The Trey lamps use traditional and modern techniques to represent the narrowing gap between eastern and western influences. They are also available in different colours for different seasons.
6. Christel Hadiwibawa.
By Karsha Green
From Luxury Home Designs magazine Vol. 15 No. 6
Today’s kitchen is the hub of the household with cooking, dining and chill-out zones integrating to create relaxed spaces to connect with family and friends
The kitchen is being reinvented as the second living room and creating a seamless flow between the two areas is more important than ever. We’re starting to see people choose interesting furniture pieces for their kitchen rather than worrying about the practicality of the traditional work triangle.
Handle-free units and high-gloss cabinetry in open-plan kitchens integrate well with adjacent rooms and counter tops with different thicknesses inject a dynamic designer look into the kitchen. This is a modern take on the island bench with preparation and eating areas being more clearly defined.
Devices such as roller shutters remain popular for hiding appliances, however many consumers are now tending toward deep drawers for storing these items, keeping bench tops clear and kitchen clutter to a minimum.
Beautifully in touch with its natural surroundings, this camp-style home showcases how innovation, sustainability and comfort can work harmoniously together.
Being at one with nature is no easy feat, especially for a sturdy family home. But Kooroork House 2 is no ordinary home and it challenges the boundaries of architecture and interior design on many levels. It is the second home designed and built in a series of three located within the Box-Ironbark forest, which sits just outside Bendigo in central Victoria.
The theory behind the build is a very interesting one. The architect and his young family are the inhabitants of the home and it was built shortly after a five year stint spent studying and working in Brisbane. Planned initially as a home that simply fulfilled the need for an affordable shelter for the family, it soon developed into an intriguing design with a very unique concept.
“Kooroork House 2 was an attempt at ‘making camp’,” explains Lucas Hodgens, homeowner and architect of the house. “It was a concept explored in Brisbane with a fellow architect and mentor, and is an activity enjoyed on this site several times by myself and my wife in our youth. It explores the possibilities of minimal shelter in an area notorious for its hot summers and cold winters, a task more complex than in temperate Brisbane.”
The integral foundation to the concept of “making camp” is the idea of a central living space, which is the social area for cooking, gathering around a fire and experiencing nature — all the things you would expect from a relaxing camp setting. This house achieves such a concept through positioning all the other rooms, or quarters as Lucas refers to them, around this centralised space. These areas are a series of four rooms that function as “an escape from the elements, a place for sleep, solitude and protection”, explains Lucas.
Building a home based on an outdoor camping lifestyle doesn’t come without its challenges. The brief took into consideration the cost-effective aspect of the design as well as the need for a home that would provide the family with a beautiful space in which they could grow and be comfortable with the natural surroundings. In order to achieve this, Lucas needed to reduce excess floor space and create a connection with the environment, without compromising the family’s comfort levels too much. This has been accomplished through reducing wasted space wherever possible. There are no long distances between rooms or long corridors that cut sections of the house off from other sections. Instead, interaction between spaces and rooms is encouraged through the plan. “It encourages the family’s socialisation away from the television, yet offers escape for privacy,” Lucas says. The design also undoubtedly enables the family to connect further with their natural surroundings too.
The home is also a living, breathing entity of its own. Lucas and his family encourage it to grow and adapt with time and change. “The quarters located near the entry become semi-public as an office and a family room, whereas the other quarters to the rear become sleeping areas,” explains Lucas. “As the family grows, these quarters adapt and change, this house will not be extended, rather amended to ensure the minimal square metres can accommodate the growing family.”
While the architect had not initially intended for the home to be an environmentally friendly construction, its connection to the surroundings, paired with a key understanding of the core values of architecture, have enabled it to rely on sustainable means. There are passive controls for heating and cooling the home and there are no mechanically run systems in place that help to maintain the space. This area of Victoria can wield harsh winters, yet the home relies entirely on solar heating via well-oriented panels and thermal mass. The choice of dark cladding on the exterior also helps with collecting heat.
The house seems to offer so much more than a simple design. It suggests a philosophy for living, connectivity to nature and the earth, while also tapping in to the concept of innovation, which makes us as human beings so unique. Although it set out simply to be an affordable and comfortable home, it has fulfilled and also exceeded its brief, creating a sustainable, cost-effective, modern, innovative, and above all, liveable home for this young family.
By Alexandra Longstaff
Photography by Glenn Hester Photography and Lucas Hodgens
From Grand Designs Australia magazine Vol. 2 No. 1