Live small

An economical floor space and strategically positioned windows and doors make the most of old and new home design principles in this 1930s house.

Live Small Back Deck

Renovators Rachel and Nick, planned to sell their Caulfield home after completing a renovation to improve solar orientation, but soon found themselves so attached to the 1930s brick home with art deco features that they decided to move in.

“We thought we were going to buy it and sell it on,” says Rachel, a designer at Field Design Studio. “We try to incorporate all of the basic passive solar design principles and try to sell them on and prove there’s a market for more sustainable homes, but we ended up staying in this one.”

Live Small LoungeThe standout sustainable feature of the house is the small footprint. “Mybiggest bugbear with most new house builds and renovations is that people tend to build what they want rather than what they need. If you can keep your building envelope small you’re inherently going to build an energy efficient house that’s sustainable.”

The couple increased the building envelope of the house by a mere 55 square metres – which included demolishing the garage and adding the floor space to the house – to include a new kitchen, living room, dining room and laundry. The original part of the house contains three bedrooms, a study and two bathrooms.

Live Small ExteriorLive Small Exterior

While the family admits that downsizing has been an adjustment, Rachel says the couple’s teenage sons Noah and Charlie have learned to make better use of space – although they have claimed the attic storage area as their hangout space. “The modest size of the house hasn’t reduced the liveability of it,” says Rachel. “It’s a fine balance but it can be achieved.”

Rather than adding a period extension, Rachel says the couple instead chose to incorporate deco elements into a modern renovation. Most notably, a curved wall on the north east side of the house maintains existing deco sensibility.

Live Small Dining

“I really embraced the idea that new additions should represent the time that they are built in rather than trying to recreate a period that’s already been,” says Rachel. “I wanted to pay homage to it without recreating a period that’s already been as technology and knowledge have moved on.”

The house is set off the north boundary to access north sun. In summer, shade sails protect the north-facing rear doors and a cavity sliding screen shades west-facing windows. Strategically positioned doors also allow for cross ventilation and access to prevailing winds. Cavity sliding internal doors enable zoning of areas for more efficient heating of living areas.

Live Small Kitchen

All windows and doors are double glazed with a 10mm gap between the glass. To prevent draughts, hinged doors have a maximum of 3mm clearance on each side. The base of inward opening doors are fitted with an RP3 weather strip. The home is fully insulated with R5 batts in the roof and R2.7 batts and house wrap in the external walls. The result? An energy efficient home that boasts a comfortable year round temperature.

As with any renovation, this project created challenges. The house is situated on a long, narrow block so creating access to daylight was tricky. As one of the long sides of the house faces north, Rachel and Nick chose to reduce the width of the property to allow more sunlight into the house.

Live Small Lounge

As an experienced renovator, Rachel says working with builders and other tradespeople who understand the principles of sustainability is key to achieving success. “I have the same bugbear on most jobs and that is that builders are used to building in a certain way and any change creates time issues for builders,” she says. “It’s about encouraging the builder to think differently to perhaps the way they usually build because they may not have the processes in place.”

And Rachel’s advice for wannabe sustainable renovators? “Smaller is better. Maximise north facing glazing. Orientation is really important. Build to your site.” She recommends building what you need rather than what you think you want as expectations of a living in a grand house aren’t often in line with the lived experience.

Text: Angela Tufvesson

Photography: Andrew Wuttke

Prepared with assistance from Green Magazine
Green Magazine logo

A PDF version of this Renovation Profile is available to download below:

Document | PDF | 538KB
Renovation Profile: Live small

Read more Renovation profiles.