Category Build

REBUILDING – Creating a small and sustainable home as a female owner-builder


One owner-builder’s story of creating a small sustainable home for herself using her experience and love of permaculture.

Megan Cooke spent 17 years building her dream home and permaculture garden with her husband-at-the-time. Then they separated, and she had to leave it all behind. She took everything she’d learned in the first build, and in her many years as a horticulturist, and started again.

She has now built a solar-passive rammed-earth studio home, with a vintage caravan called Frankie for her teenage daughter, on a smart block inland from the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

‘When I met my ex-husband it was our dream to build an earth house with permaculture gardens. For 17 years I had put my heart and soul into building the three-bedroom, one-bathroom home with ensuite, plus a studio downstairs that I rented out as an Airbnb and taught my permaculture workshops from.

HOME MADE – A sustainable home for intergenerational living


Nestled in the rolling hills of New South Wales’ far south coast stands a solar-passive place that’s home to a family reaping the benefits of intergenerational living.

Home to Honey and Stu and their two kids Ocean (nine) and Forest (four), as well as Honey’s mum Leonie, this home has been purpose built to support the family’s needs and lifestyle.

Seven years ago, not long after the birth of their first child, Honey and Stu started asking the big questions about where they wanted to live long-term. So, with Leonie, they left their home in Far North Queensland, where Honey and Stu both grew up and, with Leonie, headed south.

‘We were realising that as temperatures started increasing with global warming, Far North Queensland was going to be too hot to live,’ Honey says. ‘We specifically moved because we wanted to live somewhere that could handle an increase in temperature.

HEARTWOOD REST – built from locally sourced and reclaimed materials


These owner builders set out to blend open- plan communal living with soft edges, natural materials and exquisite attention to detail.

After living in a tiny house for four years, Adam and Sian’s dream of strawbale home started to take shape in 2017 when they purchased half an acre of land on Gadubanud country, in Deans Marsh, Victoria. A north-facing township block with a gentle fall to the north, it was a blank canvas of pastureland, apart from five mature fruit trees. Importantly though, it boasted high-clay soil which they were able to use in the construction of their home.

With experience in construction specialising in natural building, Adam designed the house with a commitment to make it as sustainably as possible. Now, six years on, the result is a 227 m2 single-level, solar-passive designed building with a star rating of 7.9.

FOREVER HOME – Local and recycled


This diminutive Castlemaine home was a passion project by retirees with a bold dream to live comfortably, without debt and to use as many natural and recycled materials as they could.

At the ages of 66 and 62 respectively, Fay and Terry White decided the best thing they could do after four decades of marriage was self-build a home together. Planning began in 2011, the first sod was turned in June 2016 and the house was completed by February 2019.

Moving from the nearby central Victorian town of Maryborough, they bought their 784 m2 south-sloping block in Castlemaine with a narrow north-facing street view. Having lived in draughty, leaky houses for most of their lives, the goals for their forever home were it needed to be airtight, comfortable, inexpensive and simple to operate, while reflecting their core values of being natural, handmade and collaborative.

COASTAL RENEWAL – A considered renovation that turned a run-down shack into a family home.


A considered renovation and clever retrofitting turned a small dilapidated house on Wathaurong country into a rustic, coastal retreat for this creative young family.

When Harriet Birrell (otherwise known as Natural Harry) and husband Fraser West needed somewhere to live, they felt overwhelmed by the price of buying close to family on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.

‘We had a very small budget,’ explains Harriet. But when the option arose to renovate a small, run-down house on land owned by relatives, the couple jumped at the opportunity. At 40 m2, ‘It’s not technically a tiny home, as it’s not mobile and cannot fit in a trailer, but it’s small nonetheless’. By utilising their own skills and labour and incorporating upcycled and reclaimed materials, the couple made the house liveable within six months, creating a compact but well-considered space, full of light and closely connected with the outdoors.

THE NEW PLENTY – Meet the house designer championing the notion of ‘enoughness’.


As overconsumption continues to drive the climate crisis, one Tasmanian building designer is quietly trumpeting the idea that less is actually more.

Jane Hilliard is on a mission to claw back the overconsumption rampant in the building industry. Swimming against the metaphorical tide that promotes ever- expanding McMansion-style developments, Jane champions the concept of ‘enoughness’ in her professional life and in her everyday life, too.

In Jane’s own words, enoughness is about ‘working out what you need to be happy and healthy, without taking more than your fair share.’ And when our homes are created with this in mind, the positive impacts radiate.

Jane is the founder and head designer at Designful. Based in nipaluna/Hobart in Tasmania, Designful creates beautiful, humble homes and small buildings for those who want to focus on mindful design. Dotted across urban and rural landscapes, the builds sit in harmony with their surrounding landscapes.

Sustainable Renovation: When Less Is More


This character-filled farmhouse located in southern lutruwita/Tasmania was sustainably renovated to improve circulation and connectivity with the seasons, animals and productive garden space.

When Helen and Ronnie approached Jane Hilliard of Homeful by Designful to renovate their run-down farmhouse, they explained that they were tired of the dark interior, lack of circulation and sense of disconnection from the outside world. Helen and Ronnie’s choice of building designer was not happenstance, for Jane is well known in Tasmania for her ground-breaking approach to building design and commitment to rethinking the way the industry approaches both design and construction.

Jane believes the key to sustainability lies in a deep understanding of the needs and values of the client, balanced against the client’s own understanding of ‘what is enough’ for them. By tailoring the design process in this way, Jane believes we can minimise costs for the client, while also refraining from excessive and wasteful use of resources. The end result for Helen and Ronnie was a beautifully considered renovation which enhanced the vibrancy of their life, while also meeting their budgetary and sustainability goals.

Passive House: Huon Hemp Haus


The earthy Huon Hemp Haus in southern lutruwita/Tasmania was designed to be energy efficient, sustainable and to stay warm over the long chilly winters.

The popularity of passive-solar hemp homes is booming in Tasmania, where residents are drawn to hemp’s warmth and its ability to continue to sequester carbon after the build is complete. It’s becoming so popular that in tiny Police Point in far southern Tasmania, with a population of just 82, there are now three hemp homes.

One, the Huon Hemp Haus, belongs to Rebecca Scott, a self-described climate refugee who moved from Victoria to Tasmania two and a half years ago. She’d already built her own off-grid straw-bale home in central Victoria in 2012, which she loved, but she felt the need to move to cooler climes.

Energy Efficient: Moving With The Times


This Blue Mountains home was designed to integrate seamlessly with the outdoors and to hold a comfortable temperature all year round without the need for air conditioning.

Tim and Madelyn, with their daughter Frankie, were ready to move away from city living, so bought a property in the Blue Mountains in 2017. The 1800 m2 block slopes east- west, with high surrounding hedges, creating a secluded private oasis.

The original house was demolished, with minimal disturbance to the land, as it was beyond economical repair. All masonry products, timber, steel and plaster was separated and sent to separate recycling facilities. A new 300 m2 energy-efficient home was built. The design follows the slope of the land, split over three levels.

Building Materials: Natural Selection


Whether you’re planning a new build or renovating your existing house, there are lots of natural materials to ensure an efficient, beautiful and healthy home.

When deciding which natural building material is best suited to your needs, there are things you need to consider. Local availability, the cost of materials compared to your budget and what thermal properties you need it to achieve. The ease of construction is something you also need to take into account, and some people may also be swayed by a particular product’s embodied energy, which is the total energy consumed by the processes of extracting, processing and delivering building materials to the site.