Room to breathe
Rather than building to the boundaries of their block, this couple created a home with a whisper-small footprint, leaving them plenty of outdoor space.
You have a block of land and want to build a beautiful house on it. But how much of that land should the house take up? Three-quarters? Half ? A quarter? Even less, if you’re Penni Sutton and Peter Jongen. They took a modest plot and built an even more modest house on just a fifth of their overall land. Why would they do that? Partly to show it can be done.
The couple, who live in Albany on the coast of Western Australia, owned a 1969 house on a traditional quarter-acre block. After subdividing, they ended up with a 450 square metre plot – and built upon it a two-storey home with a footprint of just 90 square metres. What was left was enough surrounding land to provide external living space and an edible garden where they now grow vegetables, fruit trees, perennial herbs and edible flowers.
Architect Jongen and interior designer Sutton designed and built the home themselves. Concerned by the challenges of climate change and potential energy and water shortages, their goal in small design was to explore concepts of how much is 'enough': How many rooms do we really need to be happy? How much should a home really cost? And how much should we push our natural resources?
“From the project’s inception, we’ve sought to use it as an example of just how productive we can be with land, without getting into a war of sustainability versus cost or – even worse – lifestyle sacrifice,” says Jongen. “This is a house and land package that uses the ideals of sustainability to enhance lifestyle without complicating it.”
The overall area of the home, across the two levels, is just over 170 square metres, but parts of it are multi-use to keep its footprint low. The upstairs hallway, for example, is also a library, while other areas are intentionally small, like the narrow bathroom, which is situated between two bedrooms with sliding doors on either side.
“The bathroom is a very successful space: small, efficient and highly usable for its purpose,” says Sutton. “We call it our ‘London Tube’ room because it’s long and narrow; the tiling is even inspired by the UK’s underground stations.”
Lightweight materials and clever design
Sutton describes the home, which took 12 months to build, as “a really great place to live – light, airy, comfortable, interesting and easy”. And thanks to clever design and lightweight materials, it achieves the two goals she and Jongen set out to accomplish: cost-effectiveness and sustainability.
“We could have built it using heavier methods, but the cost would have gone up and the sustainability of construction gone down, because of the increased amount of embodied energy,” Jongen explains.
“Also, using locally produced materials in a lightweight construction has reduced the house’s carbon footprint.”
The cost-effective and sustainable building practices incorporated into the home are numerous and include: cladding and fibre-cement batten trimming, reverse brick veneer, passive solar design and cross-ventilation.
Sustainable home that brings people together
Jongen and Sutton created their home with a two-adult, two-child family in mind – and they are delighted with the result.
“It’s not a large home and was never meant to be large,” says Sutton.
“However, it is a spacious, comfortable, communal home that encourages people to interact.
“The built environment should allow the opportunity to bring people together, not isolate them in the many individual rooms that so many project-home owners seem to think they must have. Seriously, who needs four separate living areas? It’s just not sustainable.”
Words Nigel Bartlett
Photography Penni Sutton
Albany, WA, project
Architect and builder: Peter Jongen, 22point4 Architecture (website under construction).
Interior designer: Penni Sutton, 22point4 Architecture.
This is an abbreviated version of an article that first appeared in Light Home magazine, Autumn 2012. Read the full article, Room to Breathe, including full specs, floor plans & costs, at www.lighthome.com.au/magazine