Material beauty

New extension

Dion and Amy Zappacosta’s reno included some interesting material choices, including a raised timber floor rather than a concrete slab, recycled materials and eco-finishes. They describe how they went about it, and the results.

BACK in 2013, our family of four was looking for a new home in Wollongong, NSW. One of our main criteria was that it be on a flat block, as our previous home was a pole house on a very steep block—not great for family living! We were also looking for a house where the kitchen faced the backyard, and the yard itself had the potential to be kid-friendly and accommodate a decent vegie garden and fruit trees.

The house we found wasn’t ideal, but it had potential. A timber-framed weatherboard, around 80 years old, it was showing its age, but still retained some of the charm of its era.

There were lots of problems. It was suffering from some pretty average additions and modifications done in the 60s, including a filled-in section of the western verandah and an unattractive bathroom/laundry fibro extension. The layout and thermal performance of the house wasn’t great, as we found after living in it for 18 months. It was cold and draughty in winter, with only a sliver of winter sun landing on the kitchen bench. The high ceilings and steep pitched roof helped in the summer, but cross-ventilation was non-existent and most evenings were warm and clammy. The bedrooms and living room were a decent size, but the kitchen/dining space was very cramped. We knew we could work with it though.

The advantage of using an architect

From the outset we knew we wanted a bit more space and to improve the layout and remedy some of the dodgy alterations. We had no intention of demolishing the original part of the house, and were looking to improve the kitchen, dining, bathroom and laundry, as well as add some living space. We also wanted to do it in a way that improved the thermal performance of the house and not have to sit at the breakfast table shivering in a dressing gown and slippers!

We talked to architects and draftspeople with a brief of wanting to make sustainable modifications which incorporated passive solar design. The choice to go with Andy Marlow from Envirotecture was easy. We developed a good rapport with him from the first meeting; being aligned in our views on sustainability and the environment was a great reference point for discussing the designs and materials Andy had in mind.

The architectural fees through to start of construction can be daunting at first, but we decided the value of having an architect on board far outweighed this. Andy found ways to include what we wanted on a smaller construction footprint, which reduced our costs significantly. The comfort the finished house provides is also superior to what we could have specified ourselves. The specification schedule and scope of works documents vastly simplified the builder engagement process and the build itself.

Read the full article in ReNew 143.