Smaller housing is finding its way to the countryside
Advertisement

Smaller housing is finding its way to the countryside

Deep in the Victorian countryside lies a small family home, innovative not only in its design but as an example of how a collaborative local regulatory environment permitted architect Chris Gilbert and his client, brother and sculptor Ben Gilbert, to use their combined skill set to build Ben and his young family a home.

Unusual, too, was the brothers' wish to make use of locally sourced building waste product.

A combination of folding and sliding screens allows the deck to function virtually year-round as an extension to the living space.

A combination of folding and sliding screens allows the deck to function virtually year-round as an extension to the living space.

Photo: Benjamin Hosking

With a site that had once housed both a goldmine and sawmill, they saw the inclusion of materials that referenced this industrial heritage as being integral to the project.

"Being part of a narrative – where the price had already been paid – was an important concept to us," is how Gilbert explained the construction of perimeter walls from 207 one-tonne blocks of waste concrete.

The kitchen alcove is lined using red stringybark, which contrasts both visually and texturally with the brass cladding of the cupboard doors.

The kitchen alcove is lined using red stringybark, which contrasts both visually and texturally with the brass cladding of the cupboard doors.

Photo: Benjamin Hosking
Advertisement

"Each was made with a different purpose in mind – a bridge, a footpath, a home, and each has different layers of colour and texture. In a way, they echo the sedimentary layers exposed from the workings of the goldmine."

The monumental nature of these outsized building blocks could be the dominating element of the design. But it is their eloquent contrast with the delicately slatted, rough-sawn macrocarpa screens that clad much of the front of the home that takes it beyond the merely unusual.

When closed, the sliding screens shelter the outdoor living area while still allowing light in and occupants to enjoy the outlook through the slats.

When closed, the sliding screens shelter the outdoor living area while still allowing light in and occupants to enjoy the outlook through the slats.

Photo: Benjamin Hosking

Because the verandah operates as year-round living space, the enclosed dwelling to its rear measures no more than 88 square metres, a cost-effective use of both budget and resources.

Sheltered by the verandah and its moveable screens, this core needed only light containment.

An oversized glazed sliding wall, which retracts to allow both spaces to operate as one large informal living, socialising and eating area, fulfils this function.

The small, grassy garden that leads from the bedroom is sheltered on two sides by the concrete block wall and connects to the verandah and the enclosed space behind it.

The small, grassy garden that leads from the bedroom is sheltered on two sides by the concrete block wall and connects to the verandah and the enclosed space behind it.

Photo: Benjamin Hosking

The lightweight nature of these inner and outer northerly elements, which can open simultaneously to embrace the view across the water-filled quarry, is counterbalanced by a south-facing rear largely recessed into a sheltering hillside.

The sole bedroom on the other hand, is dramatically exposed. East-facing, and with the whole outer facade taking the form of a glazed pivoting door, it opens onto a small, grassy courtyard.

The living space is heated by a substantial wood burner. Red stringybark glows on the walls and ceiling, and brass-lined storage alcoves glint like little jewel boxes.

Solar energy provides year-round electricity, while water collected off the roof is stored in tanks buried underground in the raised area to the rear.

Solar energy provides year-round electricity, while water collected off the roof is stored in tanks buried underground in the raised area to the rear.

Photo: Benjamin Hosking

Although it hasn't been milled onsite, both the macrocarpa and the red stringybark are locally sourced. Overall, the structure in some ways defies convention, but it does not try to reinvent the wheel. What it does do, says Chris Gilbert, is provide that most precious structure of all, "a bridge between brothers".

Edited extract from Small House Living Australia by Catherine Foster (Viking), out now.

Most Viewed in Lifestyle

Loading

Morning & Afternoon Newsletter

Delivered Mon–Fri.

By signing up you accept our privacy policy and conditions of use