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A Dream Off-Grid Retreat

Sustainable Homes

The Elemental House in High Camp, Victoria proves that sustainable home design can be simple, beautiful, as well as financially accessible. This 10m x 10m off-grid home is bush-fire resistant, and designed to embrace the wild winds of the exposed ridge-line, while offering comforting and simple-but-elegant shelter.

Architect Ben Callery shares the process of designing this weekend escape, that aligns sustainability, pragmatism and exceptional beauty.

10th December, 2019

Views from the hilltop perch of the Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Moody tones in the kitchen, with Sukin Kimmy Hogan Hand Wash and Sukin Kimmy Hogan Hand Cream. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The outlook from the living room. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The outlook from the living room. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

What a view from the dining room table! Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The home is a quiet refuge from the dramatic elements. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Details in the living room. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Architectural angles and lines. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The bathroom, with Sukin Super Greens Cleansing Oil and Sukin Super Greens Detoxifying Facial Scrub. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

In the bathroom with Sukin Hydrating Facial Masque and Sukin Kimmy Hogan Hand Wash. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The bedroom. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The home produces and stores its own power, collects rainwater, and treats wastewater on site. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Looking out over the landscape. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Architectural angles and lines. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Lucy Feagins
Tuesday 10th December 2019

The Elemental House wasn’t always envisaged as an off-grid design. The clients originally approached architect Ben Callery with a brief to create a modest weekender on an exposed piece of land in High Camp, an hour outside of Melbourne. Ben explains ‘their budget wasn’t big, but their brief wasn’t either, so they weren’t misaligned.’

The remote site required a home that reflected the rawness and quietness of the location, and Ben proposed a compact 10m x 10m footprint, with one bedroom, one bathroom and one living room. Perched on the exposed ridge-line, the shelter is elegantly simple, comfortable, and designed in response to its surroundings.

As the design developed, it became evident that an off-grid approach not only aligned with the values of the clients, but also presented an economically sensible option. Ben explains that because of the remote location, getting power installed would have been a significant investment, while going completely off-grid with batteries and solar power was of comparable cost – with no ongoing bills. He highlights ‘not having to pay power bills in the future meant it was an economic decision as much as it was an idealistic, environmental decision.’ The home produces and stores its own power, collects rain water, and treats waste water on site.

This pragmatic approach also informed the design in relation to bush-fire resistance, and dealing with the harsh winds. Ben explains ‘we try to always walk the line where we’re not trying to hide the sustainability stuff, but we’re not trying to make it look like an engineered design that’s purely all solar panels and technology.’ The Elemental house balances the aesthetics of design with liveability, long term sustainability, and appreciation of the raw natural beauty of the site.

The material choices reflect the home’s surroundings, and also comply with the highest fire standards. The external timber is spotted gum, which was sustainably harvested, is bush fire-resistant, and will age gently over time. Inside, the spotted gum-lined ceiling and cabinetry will stay ‘forever young’, and offers a warm contrast to the concrete, and black painted oriented strand board. The dark and cosy warmth of home offers a sense of shelter against the extreme environmental conditions.

Ben’s off-grid design not only won over his clients, but also found a fan in builder James, of Keenan Built. When sharing early concepts for the home on social media, Ben posted a 3D render of the home to his Instagram, and James got in touch saying ‘I want to build that house!’ Ben describes ‘he just fell in love with the concept of this off-grid house on a hill in the middle of nowhere.’

The Elemental House shows what can be achieved when you marry environmental principles with creative problem solving and site-responsive architectural design. And we’re not the only fans of this sleek, elegant house-on-a-hill – this exemplary project was also a finalist in the 2019 Sustainability Awards.

Australian skincare company Sukin do everything they can to ensure our environment is protected. From partnering with Reef Aid to ensure the Great Barrier Reef has a future, to fully offsetting their carbon footprint. Discover the world of natural, and read more about their sustainability efforts at the Sukin Journal

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net