How Furniture Makers Al + Imo Built Their Sustainable Home — From Scratch!

When Al and Imogen Roberts found themselves priced out of Torquay’s real estate market, they decided to buy a block of land and build their sustainable dream home.

Al is a carpenter turned furniture maker, and Imo is a designer with a background in digital marketing. Together they run a custom furniture business, but they’d never tackled a renovation — let alone a new build — and it’s taken them almost three years to create their beautiful, timber-lined, and all-electric family home from the ground up.

In the new episode of our podcast TDF Talks, we spoke to the couple about the challenges of their DIY project (called The Good Day House!) and all the hidden costs that come with a new build.

Listen to the episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts now!

Christina Karras

Nikole Ramsay

Editorial Styling

Annie Portelli

Inside Al and Imo’s cosy Torquay family home!

The husband-and-wife duo engaged Sheriff Builders who helped them with the logistics of the new build.

It was designed to be a functional ’empty shell’ that Al and Imo could fit-out with their own custom timber furniture and joinery.

Using Al’s skills as a former carpenter, they knew covering the house with timber would make it ‘feel like a warm hug’!

A rocking chair is one of Imo’s favourite place to relax and look at their home — which is nearing completion!

Al and Imo with their daughters, Goldie and Daisy.

The family’s knick knacks make it even more personal.

‘Our kitchen at the moment has no drawers, no cupboards, it’s just boxes. Our bedroom joinery is just carcasses. Our deck is a frame — so there’s still much that needs to be done, but we just want to do it properly,’ Imo says.

The family have also been sharing their journey online, in hopes of inspiring others along the way!

Christina Karras

Nikole Ramsay

Editorial Styling

Annie Portelli

20th of October 2023

Al and Imogen Roberts (best known on Instagram as Al and Imo) say if they knew how much building their dream home was really going to cost, they might not have been brave enough to do it.

The husband-and-wife team started their custom furniture business from a Melbourne share-house before moving to Victoria’s surf coast years ago, which is part of what sent them on the journey to building a brand-new family home in Torquay.

They bought the land in a sustainable new development, called Salt Estate — where all homes are powered by solar, and must be built with a range of mandatory environmental requirements — in 2020 and have been working on The Good Day House project ever since.

‘It felt like a very Grand Designs experience, where I’m pregnant and we’re trying to just come up with money left and centre. But now we live in this beautiful home, and I wouldn’t do it any differently,’ Imogen told Lucy Feagins on TDF Talks. Find some of the best bits from their episode below!

Why they chose to build over renovate

Beyond Al’s carpentry work, the couple had never renovated a home before. But the idea behind their dream build came after they struggled to find a right fixer-upper in Torquay within their budget.

‘We floated the idea of buying land and getting a builder on board to build a house, but it was whether or not the banks would finance that,’ Al says. They discovered a construction loan — that allows you to draw down the loan in instalments as the build progresses — meant they could continue renting where they already lived, while embarking on the new build.

The HomeBuilders Grant was another incentive, and it helped that their block of land was ‘reasonably cheap’, leaving them with (what they thought) was a ‘doable’ budget for the build.

The importance of finding a good builder

Al and Imo engaged Sheriff Constructions at the recommendation of some of their friends who’d worked for the local custom builders. They had a great relationship from the start, and Imogen says this was crucial to the project.

‘When the cost of materials started to skyrocket, the builder was great in being super transparent and [asked us] how we could get the project over the line’, Imogen says. That’s when they decided Al would take on all the carpentry, leaving the builder’s in-house teams to handle the design, project manage the build, oversee other trades, and pour the slab.

Their vision for the design

The couple wanted a fairly simple build, which they explained to builders as ‘an empty shell’ that they could personalise and fit out with their own joinery and furniture. ‘That’s the dream for a furniture maker to be able to design and do all that stuff ourselves,’ Imo adds.

They also drew inspiration from Al’s parents house with a beautiful pitched roof that was designed by Breathe Architecture. Their resulting home features a similar shape and functional, open floorplan, complete with warm timber floors, cladding and details throughout. ‘It’s a carpenter’s house — you can see carpentry everywhere,’ Al notes.

The sustainable features they love

One of Imo’s favourite parts about the home is how the sustainable features like double-glazed windows and enhanced insulation means the home is one of the most comfortable she’s ever lived in. Despite intially wanting a gas cooktop, Al quickly came to appreciate the induction cooktop and the ease of the all-electric appliances. Getting solar installed is their next ‘big project’, and after feeling overwhelmed when trying to find the right provider, Imo says they decided to outsource this to a sustainability consultant who’ll help them tackle it once they’ve saved up a bit more money.

The costs you need to know before embarking on a build

The couple admit they might have been a ‘bit too blasé’ about the project’s budget, but they’ve been uncompromising about doing ‘it right the first time’ — which is why the build has taken a while to complete, and they know it will be worth it. Their advice for anyone going into a new build is to be prepared to spend more money than you expect. The slab alone cost them about $50,000, and elements like landscaping, fencing, and decking weren’t factored into their original contract.

‘If you do a reno, it’s a liveable house most of the time,’ Al adds. ‘Whereas if you’re building from scratch and you’re doing it in a strange way, like we did, there’s going to be a lot of things that the builder’s not got in the contract that you are going to have to just find the money to do.’

Listen to the full episode with Al and Imo below, or find TDF Talks on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!

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