The ideal unwind
A prefabricated, modular design was found to be the most practical way for a Melbourne couple to build 130 kilometres away on a Central Victorian bush block.
When Karrena Bethke and Alkinos Alkinos bought their 20-acre block in Clydesdale, northwest of Melbourne, it was with building an escape from their busy weekday life in the city firmly in mind. “My favourite thing about it is the peace and quiet,” Karrena explains. “I love it, you always feel like you’re surrounded by nature.” Before choosing prefabricated construction, the couple first investigated the option of having a local architect oversee the onsite build of a modest house. But due to the rural location they discovered it would cost twice as much as an equivalent-sized prefab dwelling, and instead engaged designer Bill McCorkell of Archiblox, a Melbourne sustainable architectural company specialising in prefabricated modular design.
Designed to blend in with the surrounding environment, the timber-clad structure sits on a hill boasting 270-degree views of the serene bushland setting. The finished getaway consists of the main house aligned east-west to maximise north sun to all rooms, and a smaller guesthouse off to the west, partly sheltering the main structure from the harsh afternoon sun. The decision to make the guest ‘pod’ separate was to allow visitors to “set their own timetable” and allow family to spend time together “without driving each other crazy,” Karrena tells us.
The house and pod are both lightweight structures designed to be transportable. To compensate for the lack of thermal mass, the building is well sealed and the walls, ceilings and floors are filled with insulation. Clydesdale’s climate can see temperatures soar to over 40 degrees in summer and drop to below zero in the colder months, and as this house is primarily a weekender, the lack of thermal mass also has the benefit of making the internal temperature easy to control. The long narrow form with openable windows on both sides allows for effective cross ventilation cooling in summer, and a small Nectre fireplace is all it takes to keep the 7 Star energy rated house cosy and warm.
The absence of eaves was a specific design choice, to avoid impeding the view of the sky from inside. “That’s something we just don’t get in the city,” says Karrena. “From the bedroom you have the most amazing view of the stars at night.” Bill explains that the heat regulation that eaves would have provided was easy to make up for with double-glazed windows that open to provide cross ventilation for cooling, and the strategic use of an external shade umbrella and interior window coverings.
Inside, the small house feels spacious with its minimalist design and full-height views to the outside. The all-electric house is almost completely self-sufficient: 5kW of solar panels supplies the home’s electricity needs – including running the outdoor spa – and rainwater is collected in tanks onsite and plumbed throughout the house. Sewage is also treated on the property; the waste is directed away from the house into two reed beds.
At just 88 square metres, this modular getaway was small enough to be delivered on two trucks, the house on one and the guesthouse on the other, and the project was completed in less than three weeks of onsite work. The owners love their new country home and they and Bill credit the relatively problem-free build to the prefabrication of the modules in Archiblox’s workshop. “Prefab creates an opportunity for the clients to be involved in the whole process,” says Bill.
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