From farmhouse to green house

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By Jo Breen.

The minute you are welcomed into Lisa and Stephen’s home, you want to stay forever.

This 100-year-old farmhouse has been transformed into a classy, truly liveable family home that is equally at ease tucked away on 4ha in Northern Victoria as it would be in the Hamptons of Long Island.

In fact, there’s a hint of the Hamptons style to this cleverly planned and executed renovation which has been sealed with an in-ground pool and beach-style cabana, bright open living spaces and design elements that have been sympathetically merged into the original genesis of the house.

There’s a strong sense that everything just works in this hidden little gem. Nothing competes for your attention, yet there is so much to take in, nicely parcelled into 20sq of efficient living space for a busy family of six.

But the calm, relaxed and easy atmosphere is very much a product of design – passive green design. Lisa, who works in the family business, specialises in home and community sustainability projects. It’s not until Lisa and Steve explain the extent to which they have adhered to the philosophies that are the basis of Lisa’s work, that you understand these two are the unsung heroes of this striking renovation.

While the end result is easy living, the journey has been a little more of a hard slog.

Lisa and Steve first fell in love with the potential of the 13sq weatherboard the minute they rounded the long country driveway, having searched for a home they could work with and renovate to passive and green principles.

“The house was sound structurally which was important, but it was all wrong. It faced the wrong way, it was dark, with a west-facing front and no northerly aspect,” Lisa says.

“But the garden was amazing, and we knew it was for us.”

What followed was 18 months of intense planning and research before Steve and Lisa, who were owner builders for the project, secured the services of local builder Leigh Huggard to start the renovation, and reshape the orientation of the home towards the north.

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Lisa and Steve made the most of the solid slab that acts as a thermal mass for heating and cooling in their living area by laying tiles over the top, and they installed 1kW of PV solar panels for solar electricity, and a solar hot water service. They maximised cross-ventilation, with strategically placed double-glazed windows and French doors, and the only conventional heating and cooling in the home is a split-system unit that is supported by ceiling fans.

The 3.6m ceilings were dropped in part to 3m, “so the house doesn’t have to work as hard”, but the original pressed tin ceiling in the kitchen has been retained, as has the old fireplace that has melded the old with the new.

“I think we’ve been sympathetic to the old girl,” Lisa says. “Tarting her up into a contemporary home wouldn’t have cut it. We didn’t want a big house with all that energy consumption, and the final floor plan is 20q. We added about 10sq including the alfresco area. It’s only as big a it needs to be.”

Taking into account their four children, Bodhi 12, Charlee 11, Xan 10 and Jedda 3, you may be forgiven for wondering how everything fits, yet there are wide open spaces and cosy nooks for privacy rubbing up against each other with ease.

Steve worked on a lot of the renovation himself, after hours and on weekends, tackling everything from painting and fencing to roofing and insulating the home. “We lived in a bit of a jumble for a while; we even cooked eggs in the bathroom at one stage,” he says.

The couple used all local tradesmen and had nothing but praise for their cabinetmaker Leigh Morris of MBM Designs, Kyabram, who bought into the vision, and produced solutions for ensuring the new kitchen cabinetry worked flush with the uneven original floorboards.

Steve and Lisa were industrious in using recycled and existing house materials where possible – the pool cabana is the remodelled veranda that used to sit on the north of the house.

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Both say going owner builder for a project like this is not for the faint-hearted, but the money saved allowed them to pay for the in-ground pool – a big decision for Lisa. “I wrestled with the pool, because I know they are inefficient beasts, but it was a lifestyle choice for the kids and their friends,” she says. “We do have solar heating for the pool, but because even then you need a pump that guzzles energy, we don’t use it much. We are just very diligent with the pool blanket that traps heat and prevents evaporation.”

A 100,000 litre rainwater tank is one of the home’s clever green features, while Lisa’s imported windmill, purely for looks, towers over the tank ensuring the authenticity of the old farmhouse is maintained.

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Steve pays a lot of attention the rambling garden around the home, but credits the previous owners with its beauty. An east-west-facing pergola shrouded in deciduous grapevine provides shade in the hot months, and new eaves over the north-facing windows protect the home in summer while still allowing sunlight to penetrate in winter.

The combined result is a stunning family home that pays its dues to energy efficiency without compromising on style.

A note from Lisa: We have now sold this home because we are moving onto our next project – building a sustainable off-grid home from scratch, eek! Hopefully our new home will bring us as much joy as this one has. You can follow the journey on the Booken Blend Facebook or Instagram pages.

5 thoughts on “From farmhouse to green house

  1. Hi Lisa,
    We are currently looking for a country property, grew up in Elmore and after way too many years in the city are returning homish. Can I asked price range or what agent do we go through

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