A problem shared…

External cladding is reclaimed Australian hardwood, all windows are reused from friends’ discards. The enclosed deck has two recycled timber custom-made barn doors, spaced for light and breezes.

As part of Sanctuary’s Lesson Learnt series, we revisit this house 4 years on in Sanctuary 46

Peter and Teresa’s family home, a careful composition of old and new in a series of pavilions, will continue to evolve with their growing family and changing lifestyle.

When Peter McArdle and Teresa Wuersching designed their new home at Currumbin Ecovillage, they knew they wanted a model which would allow staged construction. A mix of prefab and traditional on-site building with reclaimed materials, found over time, made sense. A collection of pavilions meant they could, “build what we want, when we want it”, says Peter, “and minimise site disturbance”.

Designed as a cohousing set-up, or for the pavilions to change function as the children grow up, there is a main living pavilion, a future parents’ retreat, which is currently their home office, and a guest pavilion which they currently rent out.

“First, we targeted items that are relatively easy to find, like carport framing and deck framing, then visually high value items which you touch and feel to add character and history, then high eco-value items,” to reduce embodied energy and environmental impact, such as reused cabinetry and aluminium and timber windows and doors.

The Ecovillage’s Village Design Code specifies 20 to 25 per cent recycled content. “We wanted to strike a balance where the recycled elements are visible, and to set these off against a plain and simple ‘new’ backdrop,” Peter says. Clear-finished recycled vj cladding on the southern wall of the guest pavilion, hardwood framing, reused doors and windows are set against clean lines of low-maintenance fibro and corrugated steel. Window and door boxes of reclaimed hardwood are gradually being added to better protect the openings from summer sun and rain.

The kitchen is a compilation of a couple of different but closely matched kitchens from an old unit complex where owners are progressively upgrading. Peter advises that reusing kitchens can be tricky due to potential water damage, difficulty in sourcing parts for leaky taps, and fitting old units to new layouts. This kitchen was designed based on what they could source.

Peter and Teresa addressed the challenge of incorporating reused doors and windows and other materials with a “regular [design] grid into which the [irregular] recycled elements sit.” This gave them freedom to pick and choose and refine details as they went along. This disciplined grid also made efficient use of structural and cladding materials, helping control costs.

In the garden, which continues to evolve, black and white roof tiles, salvaged from a re-roofed house nearby, are stacked as raised garden edges and serve as features and paving. Ungrouted, they can be easily rearranged. Recycled breezeblocks form a durable privacy screen between the main home and secondary dwelling whilst maintaining airflow.

Internally, secondhand kitchens were installed. Secondhand pendant lights were bought for one dollar on eBay and other elements sourced from demolition yards and online. Floor tiles in the ensuite are a mosaic of random samples, and the furniture is mostly secondhand. While saving materials costs, there was a significant labour cost in reusing old elements, but Peter says they saw great value in this. “We’d rather support the electrician or chippie or plumber locally and use recycled than pay more for new everything”.

The reused external hardwood window bays were sourced by the builder and left rough and unfinished. Doors for the pavilions were sourced from a variety of renovations, demolitions and recycle yards. “We were happy to play with an assortment of doors with this house which made sourcing the doors more fun than trying to make sure every door matched,” laughs Peter.

“If you have the time and skills the financial savings can be enormous, and the whole process can be one of creative fun, but it’s not necessarily a cheap option,” says Oliver. “Do it if you love the look or idea or want to reduce landfill and embodied energy.”

– Op shops and garage sales are handy for light fittings, door knobs and smaller items
– Demolition yards and online are often the most cost-effective options
– Befriending a builder, particularly during demolition, can reap rewards
– Be patient and keep looking
– Host parties – feed friends while they clean bricks, pull out nails or paint
– Pick a builder who’s used to using salvaged materials – they’ll often have existing contacts and sources.

“We find eBay a good source of inspiration – it’s like a lucky dip so long as you are patient,” says Peter. “Also let friends and neighbours and family know you are looking – it’s amazing how many people have a window or door or spare furniture in the garage or know someone else who’s renovating.”

PTMA architecture
Phil Treby
Currumbin Ecovillage, Currumbin Valley QLD
170 sqm over two households
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