A Modern Marvel Home: From its exquisite old church doors to the owner-laid parquetry flooring and dramatic feature wall, each was cleverly sourced, recycled and used in a way that gave a rustic charm.
Nestled deep in the Toolangi State Forest, this contemporary take on the 17th-century Jacobian New England saltbox is a modern marvel. From its exquisite old church doors to the owner-laid parquetry flooring and dramatic feature wall, each was cleverly sourced, recycled and used in a way that gave a rustic charm to what is an automated, high-tech and almost bullet-proof home.
As homeowners Chris and Tabitha’s 120-acre bushland block was rated BAL 40, the highest a home can have, they needed to literally think outside the square when it came to designing and constructing their two-storey dream house.
“The land was completely forested with native vegetation,” says Tabitha. “We had owned the property since 2000 and had lived locally in a small, timber, one-bedroom,
old weatherboard cottage. The location [of our home] on the block minimises the defendable space required for bushfire protection and hence we needed to do tree and vegetation clearance.”
Along with the clearing of trees directly around the home, Chris and Tabitha took steps in sourcing building materials that could withstand the extreme heat and flames of a bushfire. By using insulated core foam (ICF) concrete external walls, a high-pitched ASKIN roofing system with integrated insulation and a high-tech sprinkler system that can be accessed remotely, they gave their home the best chance to stand against a bushfire.
“The [roof’s foam core] actually goes out itself,” says Peter Maddison, host of Grand Designs Australia, when testing the roof with a flame torch. “It just goes to dust. [The foam core] is not even hot in there now. It’s cooled off really quickly.”
Although the home’s design was far from the owners’ initial idea of the mud and straw homestead they had dreamt about 15 years prior, Tabitha was still able to turn the grand, contemporary structure into a warm and inviting space for her family of five.
“We wanted something low maintenance, family friendly, generational and sustainable as well as bushfire-resilient,” says Tabitha. “Toolangi, which means ‘tall trees’ in Taungurung language, is home to the tallest flowering plant in the world, the mountain ash, and the house had to be scaled properly to sit comfortably in the landscape.”
By using a natural palette including red mud, local stone, iron and gabion cages, the external facade blends neatly into its old-growth forest surroundings. Each of the materials was chosen to age and gain patina with time to reduce maintenance and give it a lived-in feel.
Inside, the house comes alive with much-loved trinkets and unique finds hidden throughout. From the scattered glass and mirror inlaid into the polished concrete floor to the dramatic timber feature wall, every detail was laid with love and precision.
“[The interior has a] neutral palette, with highly carved antique timber furniture and upholstery to make its own statement,” says Tabitha. “I hunted second-hand materials such as handmade, rough-cut, hand-glazed tiles for the kitchen splashback; Australian hardwood parquetry flooring pieces, lovingly restored by me; and reclaimed brushbox flooring to use as wall panelling.”
Moving through the home, there are delightful details in surprising places, each with its own story to tell. “I love the raw and authentic use of materials and the exposure of the surfaces ‘unfinished’,” says Tabitha. “The tiles from the splashback in the kitchen belonged to a lady who chipped them off the hearth at her grandmother’s house prior to it being demolished. She then carried them around for 30 years intending to use them, but then was downsizing and sold them to me!”
Using his skills as an electrician, Chris wired up the home to be as efficient and eco-friendly as possible, with home automation and solar panels on the shed connecting to 24 large batteries for the energy to be stored and used when needed. This also means Chris can delay-start a power point to make the most efficient use of the off-grid power system. This energy also controls the heating and water filtration of the home.
“At the end of the day, this is what I do,” says Chris. “I’m an electrician, just with
a big imagination.”
Being an owner-build, the home didn’t come without significant challenges. Financial delays became a major setback, pushing the build’s timeline two-and-a-half years beyond the initial 12-month timeline. The couple also welcomed their third child during the process.
“The team were amazing — they worked so well together,” says Tabitha. “The only issue we had was with the bank as they did not understand our custom build, which did not fit into the boxes of the usual stages for building and construction and the release of funds. The design also changed twice during the planning process and we had to apply for an internal change to add an extra bedroom as we found out I was pregnant with our third child!”
Due to the financial delays, the couple had to sell their renovated cottage to release much-needed funds into their grand project. This meant they had to live in a large shed at a friend’s place for 10 months, with all five of them sharing one bedroom.
“We did not have an enormous budget. This shows that any regular family can achieve what we did with commitment and resolve,” say Chris and Tabitha. “It wasn’t easy but it was so worth it. We are very content and are now working towards living a self-sufficient lifestyle growing our own food, caring for our bush block and its rare and endangered inhabitants, and teaching our children the grassroot things that matter.”
This article originally appeared in Grand Designs #10.3