Breathe Architecture has proven time and time again that residential designs can be smart and should be sustainable, and that with the right motivation, team and materials, innovative and unique projects can be delivered.

Stonewood, a house located in a tree-lined Melbourne street that had been given heritage status by the local council, is one of the practice’s more outwardly clever designs, not least because of its operable timber ‘block’ cladding façade.

Home to a vibrant, young family who wanted a high-performing dwelling that could be opened up or closed off to suit different functions, Stonewood was originally a dilapidated early twentieth century home that council had at first resisted demolishing. But while the architects recognised that the original building was not worth restoring, they worked to ensure the new build remained site specific and sensitive to its surrounds.

Their main point of reference was a neighbouring bluestone cottage – a point of pride for the street’s heritage – which informed the scale and form of the new two-storey home. Stonewood’s ventilated timber cladding façade was also designed as a modernised alternative to the stretcher-course bluestone, with the Class 1 Victorian sugar gum cladding cut into the same dimensions as the bluestone instead of being laid in planks.

The entire ground floor, north-facing front façade can be opened or closed to provide easy access to the front-garden, which features a timber fence and screens clad in the same sugar gum tiles.

Together with the internal sliding airlocks and windows positioned in every room of the house, this operable façade maximises the benefits of cross ventilation and thermal gain, and allow the house to operate with reduced energy consumption.

Exposed thermal mass preheated by passive solar heat gain is linked with the in-floor hydronic heating to disburse heat to lower slabs that do not receive direct sunlight.

Apart from being used as cladding on the façade, wood is a dominant material within the home. All new timber was sourced from Australian State-managed forests, and class 1 timbers were selected for their robustness and durability; according to the architects they can last over 50 years above ground with no maintenance required.

Recycled timber boards were also used for the flooring, joinery, wall and door linings, as well as for the timber staircase and balustrades.

“Although the project is designed for longevity and durability, future disassembly and reuse was also considered,” says the design team. “Top-nailed floorboards without adhesives ensure that the timbers used can be repurposed.”

To make the most out of Stonewood’s small square meterage, the architects also put into place a system of operable walls and sliding walls which led to highly efficient and reconfigurable spaces. For instance, the music room is separated from the living area by a large sliding timber door that can be left open when not in use. Space usage can therefore double up even though there are only a few rooms.

The music room, created for one of the owners, can be closed off with a sliding timber door. Shelves located behind the door helps to reduce the noise.

Sustainability, as is expected of the practice, was incorporated into the design from the outset. As a result, Stonewood has a garage for bicycles but not cars, reversible ceiling fans but no air conditioning, and high performance, double glazed, low E windows and doors.

A 3kW PV Solar Array has been installed, while a 10,000 litre rainwater tank is plumbed to the toilets, laundry and garden. Water efficient tap ware and sanitary wares have the same level of importance as the LED lighting, an insulated building envelope, and zero and low VOC finishes.












According to Breathe, the selection of long life, locally sourced materials contribute much to the project’s sustainability credentials by minimising the impact of transportation and embodied energy, and tapping into the benefits of enduring maintenance:

“Efficient tap ware and LED lighting will ensure energy conservation and sustained environmental performance, while the use of recycled timbers finished with low and zero VOC finishes improve internal air quality,” they explain.

“The specification of double-glazed low E windows and doors reduce heat loss and maintain internal comfort with minimal energy. Recycled timbers reduce demand on new resources, and create a ‘less is more’ honest and robust aesthetic.” 

Taking an old material – timber – and using it in a new way, Stonewood has succeeded in making a thoughtful contribution to the ongoing narrative of its streetscape, while responding sensitively and sustainably to its historical and environmental context.


Photography by Andrew Wuttke