Design workshop: A family home to last

Melbourne residents Tamara and Aidan are looking to give their Fairfield home a more functional layout, make it more comfortable year-round, better suit their lifestyle and allow them to stay there for the long-term. Architect Steffen Welsch gives them some advice.

We present an excerpt below; read Steffen’s full design response with floor plans in Sanctuary 30.

With two young children, plus their dog and several chickens, Tamara and Aidan like their neighbourhood and they also really like their neighbours. “We want the finished house to be our long-term house; it is a perfect location for primary, secondary and university schooling for the children,” Tamara says. “It is close to shops and transport so as we get older we will still be connected to the community.”

But to make it work into the future, the couple feel they need an extra bedroom and bathroom and a much more functional kitchen. The kitchen is important as Tamara and Aidan like having family and friends over. “In our previous house, we had a large kitchen and often had people over for meals,” she says. “Often family and friends would just drop by and we’d invite them to stay for a meal, but in this house the kitchen is so small there is only enough space for one person to prepare meals and then any guests usually spend the time squashed in the corner or go into the lounge and become disconnected with the person in the kitchen.”

The couple don’t want the renovation to encroach on their front and backyards and so are considering a second storey. “We want to keep the front yard for our vegies and the backyard for the animals and our children to play in.”

They also like the existing layout of the bedrooms so thought the second storey would house the kitchen and living area.

Steffen’s response

Tamara and Aidan have a great attitude to renovating their home. They see their home as a focal point, a retreat as well as communal hub for friends and family, and they want to keep using their land sensibly. Their sense of community and neighbourhood belonging is also clear in their consideration of the impact they could have on their neighbours, and how any subsequent development might impact on their own home.

Their existing house has some shortcomings in addition to those already highlighted. In particular, it lacks:

  • An articulated relationship to the block
  • Convenient access to both the front and backyards
  • Adequate storage
  • Natural light
  • Flexibility
  • Functional wet areas
  • Clear and functional zoning

A successful sustainable home design should encourage what we would call active sustainability. Living in your home should minimise resource use, maximise energy and water efficiency and help protect the environment through practices that utilise your land in respectful ways.

In this case it meant analysing how Tamara and Aidan use their home and their land, how sunlight access and air movement could be utilised for a passive solar design, how future developments next door might affect the energy efficiency and amenity; asking “how can we future proof their home?”

Going up versus going out

Tamara and Aidan are considering a second storey so as not to encroach on their outdoor space. Two-storey houses have a few advantages and disadvantages. A smaller overall building footprint means their house would have a larger backyard and garden, and more room for stormwater retention on site. Two-storey houses are also often more energy-efficient because they have a smaller external surface area. Living areas upstairs can also reduce heating and cooling needs as warm air rises to heat them while keeping downstairs bedroom areas comfortable.

Yet there are some disadvantages, including the likely greater expense. Upstairs living areas also compromise direct access to outside, and can make access for elderly people more difficult. A second storey also often creates overlooking issues with neighbours and can mean privacy screens are needed, limiting views. A second storey not placed appropriately can also overshadow adjoining buildings, potentially reducing their solar access and energy efficiency.

A single-storey design reduces the open space, creates a bigger footprint and it may require more energy to heat and cool due to greater external surface area. However, a single storey home can be more space efficient since it needs less circulation. It would also better connect living spaces to the land and encourage the informal lifestyle that Tamara and Aiden enjoy. Therefore, we have proposed a space-efficient solar passive, single-storey dwelling for a neighbourhood-friendly, relaxed indoor/outdoor home with optimum solar access.

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