Meetings with David are always exciting and informative. This was no exception. After brain storming a variety of floor plans, David had a concept that he felt was ready to be shared. We settled in with a cool drink and some nibblies to find out how things are shaping up.
Walking through the house
You approach the house from the south-eastern corner, along the driveway. Cars are parked in the car ports which are extensions of the roof line on the eastern and southern sides – one for the Nissan LEAF and one for the Golf Diesel. The carports are back from the main entrance so you don’t feel hemmed in. After opening the front door, you enter an air lock room – a smallish space where you can hang a coat, store a wet umbrella or take off your muddy shoes. The air lock prevents a rush of air coming into or out of the home and helps to maintain a constant temperature in the living space.
Opening the second door allows you to see the light-filled living space. Your eye will be drawn towards the centre where the open plan kitchen is located. A thermal mass wall made from timbercrete serves as the spine for supporting benches, a walk-in pantry, space for the fridge, etc. The limestone colour of the wall will be complemented by feature timberwork. Opposite this wall, and over towards the large double-glazed glass doors overlooking the garden, is the kitchen bench + sink. Glancing to the right, you’ll see an area separated from the central space by panels of frosted glass. That’s the study. Flowing on from the study is the lounge area where the TV lives, along with some comfortable chairs and a small couch. Along the wall, you can see a built in bench that is covered with comfortable cushions that double as a bed for any children who might be staying overnight. It’s an idea that Libby discovered in Sanctuary magazine, a place that’s fast becoming our go-to location for sustainable living ideas.
The dining room table is placed near the large glass doors so that guests can enjoy the views into the garden. The wall behind the kitchen and dining area isn’t a straight dividing line. It contains a small alcove with a hidden door, leading to the master bedroom and ensuite. The second bedroom and bathroom are tucked away on the south side of the house, accessible via a door leading from the kitchen.
If you want the full tour of the rest of the house, you can open another air lock door and walk down a short corridor to the laundry located on the southwestern corner. Providing doors on the spaces leading off the central area means we can control air flows, depending on what we are trying to achieve with the internal temperature.
To blur the edges between the interior and exterior, there are curves in walls and a range of window shapes to bring in light or provide a frame to see the outside. The walls and windows will look thicker than what you would expect to see. David is keen to explore the outer boundaries of double glazing by using windows with a 19 mm gap between the panes of glass. Apparently, this arrangement approaches the performance of triple glazing but at a reduced cost. The thicker windows will sit comfortably in the well insulated walls.
Standing outside, looking in
Although we haven’t made any firm decisions about the wall cladding, there are some ideas which are taking shape.
Firstly, the walls that take the most punishment from the sun will be clad in materials which will age gracefully and require minimal maintenance. There are lots of materials that will fit this design brief, including weatherboards from Radial Timber Sales. The picture gives an idea how these weatherboards can be used to add character to a wall, as well as blending with other cladding materials.
After experimenting with bridge timbers for the fence at the house we just sold, David is keen to see if he can incorporate a few ‘statement timbers’ in the northern wall. These would be structural timbers from an old bridge that divided the wall into sections, providing symmetry and adding their history to the story of our house.
We’d like to ensure our neighbours benefit from the externals as well. On the western side, a vertical green wall on the side of the house would be a splash of vegetation that softens the wall and changes with the seasons.
Thinking about a smart house
David and I are keen to push towards an off-grid power system for the house, making best use of the roof space and available sunlight to see how far we can go. From the preliminary work I’ve done so far, it looks feasible as there are lots of options popping up and clever people using available technology to do inventive things.
Speaking of smart ideas, it seems we are entering an age of smart homes that can monitor and control various systems to achieve a good balance between comfortable internal temperatures and use of available heating/cooling devices. An article in Sanctuary magazine mentions the Building Control Management System (BCMS) used in a home in Melbourne. David is a bit wary of a house turning into a big brother, but the idea of a ‘brain’ learning how best to maintain living conditions in a sustainable way intrigues me. Fingers crossed we never get to the situation where the brain decides that the humans living there are causing the house to use too much energy. “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
Downsizing – bit harder than it looks!
During our design review, it became apparent that we still had a way to go with embracing the downsizing concept.
Offloading items in preparation for selling the house was actually the ‘low hanging fruit’ in this exercise. As David pointed out,why have stuff taking up space in a downsized home when you have to ask how often are those things going to be used. A couple of examples immediately surfaced. Do we need a 3 seat settee in the lounge area when most of the time it’s just the two of us, sitting in lounge chairs? Would a 2 seat be a suitable compromise for guests? Do we need to have a sideboard taking up valuable real estate in the dining area. Do we need the sideboard’s contents? Could the essential items be placed in a built-in storage space?
We have further to travel along this downsizing path. It’s not about squashing what you have in a family home into a smaller home. We need to make sensible decisions about our needs for a downsized lifestyle. Armed with that knowledge, we can guide David towards creating a design that provides us with a comfortable living space.