When vet Matt decided to make a tree change and move to the Dandenong Ranges, he knew choosing the right location was crucial.
“It’s one of those areas where you really want someone with local knowledge to help you with where you buy, because there are good blocks and bad blocks,” he explained.
When he came across a 1.4ha site within walking distance of Olinda and Sassafras, he jumped at the chance to buy it, despite the fact the property was looking pretty unloved.
“The house and land had been let go, but the block itself was fantastic,” he said. “Two-thirds of it was really flat, and the house was set back from the road, so it was really private. I realised I’d found a good one.”
Matt moved into the rundown house, but soon came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth renovating.
“I wanted a home that was energy efficient and involved thermal mass, as well as engaging with the gorgeous views outside,” he said. “So I decided it was going to be more practical to knock it down and start again.”
Matt and his new partner, Leanne, engaged Bent Architecture’s Paul Porjazoski to help them realise their new dream home. The architect had already worked with Matt on the renovation of his former home in Malvern East.
“A really critical part of their brief was to minimise site disturbance and avoid the removal of the existing trees,” Mr Porjazoski said. “So in order to do that, we had to use the footprint of the original house.”
The result was a long and narrow house, stretching from east to west to capture northern light, and with windows on opposite sides to make the most of cooling summer breezes.
“Like all our projects, the house embraces the sun and uses passive-solar-design techniques to ensure the home is comfortable and efficient year round,” he said.
A polished-concrete floor soaks up the winter sun that flows through large north-facing windows. And 60 solar panels on the roof mean the house is not just comfortable, but low energy.
Matt and Leanne estimate their annual power bill will be about $400.
Mr Porjazoski said the split-level design allowed the home to hug the natural slope of the land, with the added benefit of creating living spaces that were connected, but still had their own sense of space.
“It’s a great alternative to the common open-plan design, which can feel cavernous,” he said.
A single-angled, mid-century-style roof caps the home, sloping in the opposite direction to the land. This means the living areas enjoy taller ceiling heights.
The simplicity of the roof also reduces the build-up of leaf litter on the site, which has a mid-level bushfire risk. To satisfy its Bushfire Attack Level rating of BAL-29, the home is built on a solid platform of concrete and Timbercrete blockwork.
“This isn’t your typical blockwork, but a lightweight, sustainable building block fabricated with recycled-timber content,” Mr Porjazoski said. “You can basically colour it how you like so you get a really beautiful and unique quality to it.”
Locally-produced ironbark, with its natural fire-resistant qualities, is also used for external cladding and helps the home blend into its bushy surrounds.
Inside, more blockwork and local hardwood create a robust yet calming interior.
“Connecting materials from inside to outside is a common approach of ours and helps to break down the barrier from inside to out,” Mr Porjazoski said.
A lovely detail is the leadlight glass in some of the kitchen cabinetry and a wall in the living area.
“We commissioned the glass from a leadlight maker to tie in with a much-loved vintage cabinet of Leanne’s,” Mr Porjazoski said. “It brings an element of decoration into what is otherwise a modern and contemporary space.”
Matt and Leanne — who share the space with one of Leanne’s three grown-up children, plus two dogs and two cats — couldn’t be happier with their energy-efficient house.
“It performs really well,” Matt said. “The other morning it was 4C outside, but inside, it was 17C without any heating, which is just amazing.
“Our cats, in particular, have loved the house since the very first day. If you’re a cat household and you have the opportunity to create heated floors, do it because they will love every second of it.”