A courtyard can be sectioned off or opened up thanks to the track system
A courtyard can be sectioned off or opened up thanks to the track system

Grand Designs Australia: Yackandandah Sawmill house


Two brothers fuse their creativity to produce a home that cracks convention

House Yackandandah Sawmill House
Location Yackandandah, Victoria
Date commenced August 2012
Date completed November 2014
Cost $250,000

Colour Palette: At one with the natural landscape, the look is all about timber, stone and metal. Gorgeous steel beams and the glitter of the metal in the kitchen offset the sandstone, timber and greenery. Blue highlights in the furnishings provide a hint of sky

When it comes to talented genes, some families just get lucky. In this case, brothers Chris and Ben Gilbert hit the jackpot when it came to creating a home that refused to quit. Sculptor sibling Ben secured a 100-year-old ex-goldmine and sawmill that was also used as a tip, proving one man’s trash is another man’s treasure — or new house, in this case.

Originally just using his studio on the property, Ben persuaded the council to approve a caretaker’s house nearby. “Legally, it’s a caretaker’s residence as it sits on industrial land near my sculpture

Get on with it and understand there’s a lineage to building materials based on what’s easy for a human to lift. In this age of machines, we find ourselves able to question that lineage...
studio,” says Ben. “It took some fancy footwork to get planning permission and, oddly, correspondence with the government of Qatar, but that’s a long story …” Given the green light to commence the project, architect Chris took a 12-month sabbatical to design the home — but the cantilevered property was created without plans, much to the dismay of GDA’s Peter Maddison.
With a tiny 100m² to work with, the brief revolved around creating a one-bedroom residence that was sustainable and left a small footprint. A strong relationship with the natural surrounding environment was also critical, given the property cantilevers over the edge of an old dam.

Walls constructed of gargantuan recycled concrete blocks were a big risk that luckily paid off — but achieving perfection wasn’t the goal for this build.

The interior of the property is clad with milled local timber from fallen trees that succumbed to a storm in 2005, which nature-lover Ben was hesitant to use. The huge tracks that carry the moving aspects of the home really play up its uniqueness. Completely handmade by the brothers, the house contains a one-tonne, 9-metre-long motor-driven door, a 14-metre operable veranda, a roof that opens and a 4 x 3m manual pivot on the east side. “We made all the mechanical systems from scratch,” says Ben. “The big moving doors, veranda and external screen allow the building to respond to the environment. They are like huge branches our ancestors could sweep from the cave entrance. Making big things move on a small building is the real gem.”

Like all families, dynamics constantly change, especially when there’s no concrete plan set in place. “Being brothers with different approaches to design was mostly an excellent adventure, but it was testing for both parties,” admits Ben. “I still struggle to love the box gutter for the headaches it caused, and I know the building would have been less expensive if it hadn’t had a good dose of Chris’ unbending idealism.”

As there were basically no plans to follow, changes were imminent for this free-flowing build. “We cut out a central structural column to achieve the 9-metre-span northern view after a discussion with our engineer,” says Ben. “It really improves the machine feel and focus of the building, and Chris loves near-impractical structures.” Taking on the responsibility of handcrafting everything from furniture to tracks and even bathroom basins meant time was definitely an obstacle as things had to be redone at least once. “It is a clear example of what you can do with a load of waste concrete. This could have been less expensive with more planning and experience, but the process we used discovered something — anyone can build.”

As one of three rural and unusual projects featured on Grand Designs Australia TV, the Yackandandah Sawmill House definitely fits the brief. Now occupied by Ben, his partner and their infant son, the house brims with a unique character that embodies the vision, sweat and hard work of two brothers.

For more information
Chris Gilbert Archier

Photography by Emma Cross