Sustainable Homes

A Sustainable Family Home Designed On The ‘Smallest Footprint Possible’

When See Design Studio co-founders and landscape architects Joel Barker and Hannah Pannell started building their dream home, it was only right they would design it around their dream garden.

Their vision was to create a sustainable, modest home inspired by rural architecture, on the ‘smallest footprint possible’, to make way for a productive suburban garden that the couple describe as ‘West Australian Mediterranean’.

The resulting oasis known as Valley House combines a corrugated steel build and passive design principles to create a warm family home, with an impressive NatHERS rating of 9.3 out of 10!

Christina Karras

Valley House is a newly built property in near Fremantle, Perth.

See Design Studio co-founders and landscape architects Joel Barker and Hannah Pannell outside their home.

The couple prioritised space for the garden in their build.

‘We both grew up in the country and love the distinctly Australian aesthetic of corrugated tin sheds in the landscape,’ Hannah says of the inspiration behind their house.

The lush surrounds features four productive garden beds, which are currently growing heirloom carrots, beetroots, spring onions, chives, leeks, silverbeet, rocket, mizuna, lettuce, pak choy and peas.

The living spaces open up onto a deck shaded by seasonal lush greenery from two grape vines.

‘We have used a palette that we characterise as “Mediterranean West Australian” which uses a mix of water wise exotic and local endemic species.’

Native grasses and silver toned succulents such as Kalanchoe ‘silver spoons’ and delicate native Grevilleas (spider flower), Westringias, and Dichondras, Westringia fruticosa (coastal rosemary) and Helichrysum petiolare (liquorice plant).

The warm cabinetry was all custom made using low-voc, birch plywood.

The deck was made from sustainably sourced local timber, and connects all the internal spaces to the garden.

‘Whilst the footprint is small, our high vaulted ceiling and constant visual connection to the garden make this house feel very spacious,’ Hannah explains.

A view into the grassy gardens from the living room.

Burnished concrete floors feature throughout the home.

One of the cosy bedrooms.

Christina Karras
22nd of August 2023
Architectural Documentation

Sean Gorman

Landscape Architect
Landscape Installation

White Gum Valley, WA/Whadjuk Noongar Boodja Country

Every part of Valley House’s 110 square metres has been put to good use, thanks to the careful and efficient planning of the owners.

See Design Studio co-founders and landscape architects Joel Barker and Hannah Pannell bought the property in 2018, when it was nothing more than an empty block of land with limestone rubble boundary walls and four mature native trees.

It was the perfect place where they could personally design their dream home and accompanying gardens. They enlisted the help of Sean Gorman for the project’s architectural documentation and builder Interstruct.

‘The vision was to maximise the garden by creating the most efficient floor plan and site plan possible, whilst still creating a spacious feeling family home,’ Hannah says.

Having both grown up in country Western Australia, the couple say they love the rural character and ‘distinctly Australian aesthetic of corrugated tin sheds’, which they decided to emulate in their own build. Their timber frame is clad in zincalume steel, chosen for its raw appearance in addition to its thermal properties — as sustainability was another key part of the project.

‘We are also passionate about solar passive design and wanted to put these principles into practice,’ Hannah explains.

Living areas are oriented to the north to make the most of winter sunlight, while large, double-glazed windows help heat the burnished concrete slab. But during summer months, a northern eve provides protection from the sun and windows are opened to catch Fremantle’s cooling sea breeze.

‘The walls and ceiling are highly insulated, which retains winter warmth and keeps out the heat in summer. The house is a comfortable temperature all year around, we don’t have much use for the heater!’

Designing a home with the ‘smallest footprint possible’ also helped the project achieve its 9.3-star energy efficient rating. Inside, natural materials of plywood and green accents enhance the warm interiors connection to the outdoors. And they even decided to forgo a standalone laundry in order to give most of the land over to their garden.

Lush greenery and grape vines also provide shade over an outdoor deck made from locally sourced timber, as the climate-appropriate plantings envelop the house. Hannah and Joel used a mix of native grasses and ‘water-wise’ exotic plants to create a palette they call ‘Mediterranean West Australian’.

It features local endemic plantings, but also references their suburb’s ‘rich heritage of productive Italian and Greek gardens’ with flourishing vegetable patches and Mediterranean flowering plants. Recycled red brick and the property’s existing limestone rubble now features in the surrounding landscaping.

‘A hedge of local Grevillea olivacea feels at home along-side a row of productive olive trees,’ she adds.

‘It has been really rewarding to design the house and garden together as connected spaces. Often a garden is added as an after thought. We love being out in the garden with kids, sitting on the deck, finding caterpillars or digging in the veggie garden!’

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