HOMEOWNERS Scott and Leanne knew their renovation would focus on environmental sustainability.
But when they discovered a family connection to their newly purchased Yarraville cottage, the homeâs history became important, too.
The couple bought the 1890 house, on a tight 200sq m block, at auction in 2014. They really wanted to live in the Yarraville area, so were content to sacrifice space and quality.
âIt was pretty shocking,â Scott said of the original structure. âThe only toilet was in the backyard and that was probably the most structurally sound part of the house.â
The couple began stripping back the layers, working on the house every weekend. It was about that time they learned Scottâs grandmotherâs carer for the past 20 years was born and raised in the house.
âWe had a great tie to the house and as we renovated and started pulling things down, weâd find old trinkets, like marbles and old coins, and we could ask about their story,â Scott recalled.
On a tight budget and willing to do a lot of the work themselves, the pair found building designers who were happy to work within those constraints, as well as incorporate their environmental performance must-haves.
âWe had some pretty specific things we wanted to do, like reusing the bricks and having a âgreenâ roof,â Scott said. âThen there was also the story of the house and what that meant to the previous owners.â
Altereco Design proved to be the right firm for the job and embraced the renovationâs environmental focus.
âWe saw an opportunity that seldom presents itself,â said Altereco Design lead designer James Goodlet.
âWe thrived at the opportunity of reusing and repurposing what was already there.â
This included bluestone from the original carriageway, which was reused for paving; and red-brick paving, which was reborn as internal and external walls.
The new internal brick wall and the polished-concrete floors absorb winter sun and heat the home passively and are just two of the many eco-smart features in this home.
Solar power, recyclable carpet, energy-efficient appliances, double-glazed highlight windows and eaves on all north-facing windows are some of the others, not to mention the Cosentino reconstituted-stone benchtops made of mostly recycled material.
Then there is the âgreenâ roof â a roof garden reached by a ladder that features native and other waterwise plants.
James described the garden as a âfeat of engineeringâ that needed to provide for soil, water proofing, irrigation and drainage.
For the homeowners, the opportunity for a green space was too good to pass up, especially considering their small block had little garden area.
Scott said the gardenâs main cost was ensuring it was structurally sound, but putting in the garden was still a lot more cost effective than buying a bigger block.
âWe saw it as a cheap way to get some green outdoor space, but it also minimises stormwater run-off because the roof can hold quite a bit of water,â he explained.
He added the rooftop garden provided internal insulation and cooling, attracted biodiversity, such as birds and lizards, and was a lovely relaxation spot.
âWe can go up there and have a drink. For our location, it is pretty secluded and we donât look into anything, which is quite nice,â he said.
While the couple gained a beautiful eco-friendly renovation, they also gained something else â a passion for sustainable living, plus their own consultancy, called Melbourne Vernacular.
The business helps people who are renovating, building or have an existing home improve their homeâs performance, liveability and running costs.
âThrough our renovation journey, we realised that there is a significant gap in peopleâs knowledge about their homes,â said Scott, whose house is regularly featured in open-house events to showcase sustainability.
âA familyâs home is no doubt the single-largest investment that anyone will make, but people purchase without much understanding of what makes a home perform well.â
Postscript with homeowner Scott
What do people comment on the most when they first visit?
They comment on the design aesthetics: the recycled internal brick wall, timber features or the natural light. That reassures us that we have achieved our goal, which was to build an incredibly high-performing, sustainable house that doesnât look or feel like one.
The view from your kitchen window?
Our vegie patch. We have built a waterwise âno digâ garden bed that produces yummy lettuce, carrots, onions, peas, beets, celery, eggplants and herbs.
Your favourite spot in the house?
Definitely the âgreenâ roof. We have picnics there with our baby girl, even in the middle of winter. This is possible because of the unobstructed views to the north allowing low-lying winter sun to dapple the grassy area. Your average inner-city backyard would be shaded by fence lines and neighbouring buildings at this time of year.
Most sentimental item?
A set of paintings we made of a trip we took to New York when we first met. They speak to our personalities and the immense amount of fun we have together.
Best budget buy?
Amazon Alexa. These smart home speakers can be purchased for under $100 but have a huge range of really useful features. We can use ours to turn on and off lights, fans and even our heating.
Yarravilleâs best-kept secret?
The Hop Nation Brewery, which is technically in Footscray, but is only a two-minute walk from Yarraville Gardens, so I am claiming it. The craft brewer is located in a beautiful 1880s factory with exposed-brick walls and three-storey cathedral ceilings.
What does home mean to you?
For us, a home is more than just a physical place that we shape to our own lives and style. A home, when well designed, is itself a strong shaper of lives. Our home promotes walking, gardening, shopping locally, using public transport and community facilities, less food wastage, close relationships with neighbours and a lifestyle consistent with a fossil-fuel-free future.
Check it out
The Melbourne Vernacular house is one of 21 homes that will be open to the public as part of 2018âs Open House Melbourne Weekend (July 28-29). You can view the house on July 29 during one of three tours. Each tour will include a presentation and Q&A with Melbourne Vernacular on sustainable design. Bookings required ($5 booking fee). See www.openhousemelbourne.org. The house will also be open to the public for other tours later in the year. For details, see Melbourne Vernacularâs website below.