Grand Designs Australia TV House: Coburg

Grand Designs Australia TV House: Coburg

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Nothing was going to stop these two designers creating their dream home — not break-ins, not a global pandemic, not even a house fire.

The dream: to create a Passivhaus on a piece of forgotten land in the middle of Melbourne’s urban jungle. If this wasn’t going to be hard enough, Felicity and Marc, homeowners and architects, had every obstacle thrown in their way. Having to deal with devastating break-ins, a global pandemic, and a shocking fire that destroyed most of the nearly-finished home, it was the support and love of friends, family, suppliers and trades that “brought this beauty back to life”.

“The house of our dreams was meant to set a new benchmark in homes, contributing to a better world while achieving the highest living experience,” say homeowners Felicity and Marc. “A high-performance Passivhaus that doesn’t require heating or cooling. A contemporary living experience that combines playful adventure with luxury living and high levels of sustainability. A family home that is meant to be an inspiration.”

Coburg House is a four-bedroom family home with two living spaces, three bathrooms, a roof garden, garage, and a backyard with fishpond, aquaponics and a treehouse. The home is a beautiful combination of functional playfulness with highly sustainable building techniques and materials that have been used in fun and innovative ways. Built from recycled bricks that Felicity and Marc collected and cleaned themselves, along with playful elements like the Oxley hanging nets, a living green wall and cubby-holes between the kids’ rooms, every element of Coburg House aims to create a building that is “good for the planet but also good for the people living in it”.

Passivhaus is a German certification that stands for “thermally super-efficient homes that can hold the internal temperature without heating and mostly without cooling”. From triple-glazed windows, CLT structural panels and 140mm wood-fibre insulation to the highly efficient Zehnder HRV (heat recovery ventilation) unit, the Coburg House has a Near Net Zero Energy rating. With the addition of Australian-made Tindo solar panels with Sonnen batteries, it will eventually be an energy-positive home. But creating this type of house is no simple feat; very specific and detailed planning and coordination were required by all involved.

When Coburg House was almost complete, a devastating fire, ignited by a heat gun, tore through the home. While Felicity and Marc watched their dream go up in flames, the crew watched all their hard work get destroyed too. However, this tight-knit team saw the fire as merely a setback, banding together to get this innovative home completed.

“While a standard Australian home is unsafe after minutes and will completely burn down in around one hour, our home withstood the flames for nearly 24 hours,” reveal Felicity and Marc. “While the house was heavily damaged by fire and water, the structure has been safe at all times as the wood-fibre insulation slowed down the burning process so much that the structure was only touched marginally in two very small areas. The fire has been very emotional for us and seeing the aftermath was extremely hard. But we are grateful that with the help of so many wonderful people, we could turn this dramatic event into a happy ending.”

Supplier and friend Paarhammer Windows was one such business that stepped up to repair and remake windows and doors that had previously taken months for the original international manufacturer to deliver. Home by Hütt, Eckersley Garden Architecture, G-Lux, Viz Built and Zinclad are others that Felicity and Marc felt deserved special mention. The result is a Passivhaus that “cuts a wonderful balance between creating a nurturing and relaxing aura while offering a joyful, luxurious lifestyle at the highest level. It’s a combination of functional playfulness, healthy and environmental choices, lasting quality with luxurious lifestyle choices that create a new way of living.”

This article originally appeared in Grand Designs Magazine #10.4