Grand Designs Australia: Tree House


Give me a home among the gum trees …

Eco-obsession is a notion that fuels some of the greatest and grandest creations. And for diehard conservationists Nigel and Nina Eberhardt, it was only natural the design of their Turners Beach home in Tasmania revolved around a prized gum tree.

Securing the last remaining block of land at the end of a cul-de-sac, draftsman Nigel took his original idea of a home nestled in the trees and turned it into a more realistic design that still crowned the environment king. Just 135 square metres in size, the house comprises two interconnecting pods clad in Zincalume and spotted gum that are lifted out of the ground by piers that straddle the gum tree in the middle. One pod is home to three bedrooms and a bathroom, with the other containing the living quarters.

Beginning the build in July 2014 with ‘youthful optimism’, roadblocks were present from the start, with the entire site covered in tree roots, which Nigel was keen to protect. Naming hand excavation as the only option, the digging process for the piers was slow, but resulted in the demise of just one root, which was great news for tree-lover Nigel.

In four short weeks, the framing was up; physical proof of a fusion between native bushland and dwelling. Next, the $16,000 sliding glass door was installed to Nigel’s delight. “This was probably the most exciting day on the site,” says Nigel. “The cost of the door was 6 per cent of our build.” Arguably the project’s biggest splurge, the door’s hefty 250 kilogram weight combined with root interference caused it to sag, resulting in the builders having to create a pier hole, fill it with concrete and brick it up to establish the necessary support for the door to slide with ease.

By December, progress grounded to a halt thanks to six-week material delays and a tight budget that left no room for error. With morale on the decline and frustrations mounting, “the result is a fully fledged blowout,” says Peter Maddison. “But at least the tree is doing OK.” Just weeks later, the Zincalume arrived on-site and the skylight installed, with the focus shifting to the finer details.

With fears the project would look like a tinfoil house, there was a sigh of relief when the spotted gum arrived to counterbalance the Zincalume. “I’ve had
a lot of doubt with the Zincalume, but seeing it with the spotted gum, it looks amazing,” says Nigel. “It’s got a natural imperfection about it.”

Fast-forward to September 2015 and the project really makes a statement with its timber fence and shady surrounds. Dubbed an “unexpected delight” by Peter, a calming atmosphere is immediately felt when you step inside.

Blonde timber, textural furnishings and a pastel palette evoke a Scandi-Australian feel, establishing a relaxed tone. Thanks to the abundance of natural light and the presence of generous windows and skylights in every room, this small house is big in heart, and a reflection of Nina and Nigel’s dedication to producing a home that doesn’t take, but gives back to the environment.

“This place is what I call a cost-defined creation, a building that forces the designer to be frugal on every front; clever with materials and finishes and stays within the boundaries,” says Peter. “This is testament to what is achievable with vision, patience and a minimal budget. There should be more homes like this, those are not limited by lack, but inspired by it.”

Originally from magaine, Volume 5 Issue 3
Written by Annabelle Cloros
Photography by Rhiannon Slatter