Grand Designs Australia: Out of the box


Perched on a street corner in the Melbourne suburb of Elwood, a quaint family home encompasses more than meets the eye

House Melburnian Hideout
Location Elwood, Melbourne
Cost $500,000
Date completed December 2012

When creating a family home, space is of the essence, but when faced with a single-storey brick house with deteriorating outbuildings, you have to get a little crafty. And that’s just what architect and owner David Vernon did, creating a family home that is small on space but big on character.

David set out to build a home for his young family that could bring them all together while catering to their needs in the future as his two kids grow older. “We were keen to move to the area and be close to local shops and schools,” explains David. The renovation also sought to provide an office studio, along with a space designated for the kids. “We work close to our house so for us it was about making a real home we can enjoy at all times.” Spanning an eight-month period, the ambitious build included a generous living and dining space that has the potential to become a main bedroom later down the track, along with three additional bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. But no structural changes were made to the space. “It can potentially be very expensive to make significant changes. We only made a minor change to the laundry by adding a cavity sliding door,” says David.
Timber features heavily throughout the home, but materials varied depending on the “thermal mass, comfort and sustainability”, notes David. “Low-VOC paints, natural oils and waxes were used, with plywood and timber sourced from plantations only,” he says. Low-E double glazing with green concrete was also used to ensure the home’s sustainability. A combination of plywood and mountain ash timber for wall linings and cupboards was employed to create warmth and give the home a welcoming atmosphere.

Given the restricted space of the project, David aimed to make the most of the land.

“We wanted to ensure we maximised the garden and play space for the children,” he says. “The footprint of the building occupies less than 30 per cent of the site, which is just over 450m². Boosting the garden not only provided an outdoor space for the kids to run around in, but also helps to keep the house cool in summer, eliminating the need for air-conditioning in the warmer months. “We wanted a house that breathes. I personally find it disappointing when any new dwelling doesn’t take advantage of the potential to incorporate passive solar design.”

When it comes to environmental considerations, this Elwood home is full of them. With a total floor area of 189m², the living spaces feature north/east-facing windows, allowing plenty of natural light to flood the home. “Narrow louvre windows provide cross-ventilation from cooling sea breezes,” says David. An increase in air flow has been established by a 100mm gap detail with the floor to the first-floor passage as well. “An in-ground 22,500L rain water tank provides water for toilet flushing, the washing machine and garden irrigation,” says David.

Creating a home that works within its natural environment is something that is close to David’s heart. “We were mindful of making the house work with the street and maximising what we’re doing inside and out,” he says. “It’s a social house, we see our friends and neighbours come past every day and it’s a great area to be a part of.”

And David’s advice to budding builders? “Think about maximising the space not in size, but in flexibility and quality. The size of the average Australian house is so big, which means we’re compromising the space between dwellings and our built environment suffers as a result. Having more carefully considered green spaces makes for a more pleasant environment. We need a balance, and that takes good design.”

Making the most of a small space isn’t an easy task, but David has achieved a family home that considers the current and future needs of his family, who now live in a home that proves that good things come in small packages.

Photography by Derek Swalwell