Covered head to foot in ivory shingles and concealed to the street it lives on, Garden House is nestled amongst an oasis of greenery that ensures you second guess whether or not you’re in inner-city Melbourne. Designed by Austin Maynard Architects – who say it is their most sustainable house they’ve ever created – Garden House is a family home that doesn’t have the massive, often vacant spaces modern elementary abodes possess.
Garden House keeps its cards close to its chest, with the entry accessed via a pedestrian laneway. What lies beyond is a house designed for a family of five with the ability to easily entertain guests both inside and outside, with an expertly crafted garden that was consciously taken care of by Austin Maynard. As the architects put it, the trees that occupy the space were heavily considered in the design process to remain in line with the owner’s brief, which asked for much of the existing garden to be saved throughout design and construction.
“Garden House is not simply built around the trees, but, in places, suspended - hovering above ground to protect tree root zones.
“Working around the trees resulted in a re-thinking of the typical circulation path. Quite often when designing there is one main path through the home and everything branching off it. At Garden House there is a more complex type of circulation borne out of saving trees. Without a defined circulation spine, the garden becomes the reference and orientation point.”
The owners of Garden House came to Austin Maynard with a specific idea in mind. Wanting a long term family home that had the ability to be altered over time, sustainability was of utmost importance. What lay on the block previously was an aged single-fronted cottage that had a 1980s extension tacked onto the back, that took advantage of the garden it was entrenched within. The owners say the Melbourne-based practice was a logical choice.
“It had to be an architect who was creative and could think outside the usual ‘square house’ box. We found most architects were very similar in their designs, but with Austin Maynard Architects, each house was very different, with its own personality - you could tell the homes had been specifically tailored to the owners. Our brief was for a really super modern house, in every sense but still really warm, and that’s what we have."
The house is divided up into four ‘elements’ – the office, kitchen/living, dining and kids area – that appear as separate dwellings. Mirrored glass corridors and bridges seamlessly connect the four spaces, with the glass reflecting the garden outside. The garage and workshop face the street, with a small multi-purpose space positioned behind and the home office directly above it. The open plan hybrid living, kitchen and dining area are immediately positioned past the entryway, and open out to the garden. Reflecting many modern designs where children and parents have dedicated and separated spaces, the main bedroom is at the opposite end of the first floor to the children’s rooms and also contains an ‘open balcony’ lounge area and ensuite. The children’s space consists of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a TV room and a climbing net.
Timber and brick walls, concrete surfaces as well as a fully integrated kitchen are interior highlights. While the garden is very much the focal point of the house, guests can easily be entertained inside. Cream coloured walls in the living room add a point of contrast, allowing for a touch of elegance in a house comprising various rugged interiors. The staircase that connects the ground and first floor is an interesting point of focus, with brick stairs ascending up the ground floor, while the corner stair and remaining stairs that lead to the first floor made of timber.
Austin Maynard was challenged by the fact that the brief demanded a family home large enough to house all the occupants comfortably, but also had to make it look like it wasn’t a large home. The simple, quasi-cottage look of the front ensures this is achieved, as well as the sectioning of the four main elements. Multiple courtyards and the garden, peppered with a fire pit, outdoor table, sunny lawn and heated pool, make for quite the outdoor area in which a family can grow in a space that will struggle to ever be dull.
With sustainability high on the priority list, Austin Maynard has left no stone unturned. Garden House is powered by a 26kwh Tesla battery and produces 100kwh a day, compared to the average Australian house that produces 20kwh a day. A clear example that government stances on renewable energy do not necessarily dictate the power grid, Garden House is effectively a sustainable power station that pushes excess electricity back into the grid. The owners made a conscious decision to power the house through the means of solar energy, and are now reaping the benefits.
“We’re easily generating way more than what we're using,” they say. The family was able to keep the lights on during a thunderstorm in August that caused a blackout across Melbourne. With the issues of climate change throwing unpredictable weather patterns our way, solar power ensures appliances stay on irrespective of what’s going on outside.
Garden House utilises recycled bricks and double thickness wall insulation, underfloor insulation and an insulated concrete slab which all ensure for comfortable temperatures all year round. The house has a heat recovery ventilation system that constantly brings in fresh, filtered air at the same temperature of the interior of the house. The house is fully automated, with blinds, lights and HVAC able to be controlled from anywhere. A 15,000 litre water tank is stored underneath the slab in the garage, with much of the water used to irrigate gardens and toilets.
Thoughtful towards the garden that the house derives its name from, Garden House incorporates the qualities of a family home with the guidance of Austin Maynard Architects, that have ensured the house contains many twists and turns and places to explore for parents, children and visitors. Sustainably outstanding and environmentally aware, the house is a flagbearer for inner city houses that can give back to the power grid and the ecosystem around it.