The Nature-Inspired Eco House

Well, this is it, guys – hands-down one of the coolest houses I’ve had the honour of featuring on House Nerd!

This is Nature Inspired Eco House. Designed for a tiny 200sqm infill block in the city, this two-storey, solar passive new home is eco-friendly and runs on renewable energy (with no air-con).

Built from a mix of eco-friendly materials and quirky recycled elements (including a wall built from salvaged 1960s and 70s windows and a front door that came from Alan Bond’s demolished Dalkeith mansion), the house has external walls that were made from rammed earth and recycled concrete rubble – waste products that would ordinarily have wound up in landfill. Other walls were built from recycled 1960s bricks. And there are more recycled elements throughout it – from the green bathtub to the 100-year-old Baltic pine floorboards.

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Designed for a tight, subdivided rear infill block in an inner-city location, Nature Inspired Eco House has a green biophylic roof (to purify the air while making the local bees and birds happy) and set with solar photovoltaic panels for energy.

And it is just gorgeous, with an interior palette of white resin floors, plywood cabinets, white tiling, forest green feature accents and loads of indoor plants. It’s cool, homey and individual – friendly, light, eclectic and filled with vintage furniture, plants, art and personality (and one very sweet boxer puppy).

The house is exactly what its owners Tanya McKenna, 28, and Peter Chadwick, 30, who live with their beautiful boxer puppy Henri had in mind when they begin daydreaming about building their own home together – something green, eco-friendly and unique. The home epitomises their backgrounds and interests nicely – Tanya is an environmental consultant; Peter is a trades manager in the building industry and has a talent for handmaking things. Both have a love of houses and a passion for eco-friendly building design.

Peter and Tanya were originally living in North Perth, doing up a 1920s character home that they had purchased in 2011. “It was derelict and deemed uninhabitable by the City of Vincent,” says Tanya.

While they were painstakingly pulling it apart, bringing it back to life and building an extension on it themselves, using lots of recycled materials, they began daydreaming about how much they’d like to actually build a whole new house, using recycled materials and incorporating green features.

They already knew the perfect building designer. Tanya’s sister is my friend and secret girl crush, building designer Carla Karsakis, who runs Perth boutique design and build company Etica Studio. (She only designs some of the coolest houses in Perth, this girl. If you guys have been reading House Nerd for a while, you would have seen my stories on three other incredible homes that she has built. (Etica StudioTwo Apartment House – Ground Floor, and Two Apartment House – Upper Floor).

When Carla started working for herself, Tanya asked her if she’d like to design something for them if they were to purchase a block. “She was absolutely keen and we knew we’d be able to work together to create something extraordinary.”

Inspiration came from the concrete architecture of South America, where Tanya and Peter (as well as Carla and Carla’s husband Ben) spent time travelling while staying in amazing AirBnBs. “We were in awe of the concrete architecture in Sao Paulo in Brazil and throughout Uruguay,” says Tanya.

The inspiration formed the basis for the materiality of Nature Inspired Eco House. “Together with our love of ’60s design, particularly the Scandinavian influence from our time living in Copenhagen, breezeblocks, and fresh, minimal white, we started putting together our ideas for what would be the new house,” reveals Tanya.

“Essentially Peter and I wanted the green roof, a house that incorporated solar passive design, renewable energy, loads of greenery fulfilling my love of biophilic urban design, something with loads of natural light using an abundance of recycled materials that is energy efficient and has as little impact on the environment as possible.”

They always had a clear vision for the interiors. “From the start we definitely had Scandinavian – eclectic – eco in mind,” says Tanya. “Plywood, concrete, white white white, forest green, Baltic pine and retro vintage second hand furnishings, tiled benchtops, plus plants plants plants! Greenery was the key.”

She and Peter wanted to build on a small block close to the city in the North Perth/Mt Lawley/Highgate area. “When we came across this block it struck a cord – leafy streets, a mix of old and new houses, an area with a lot of development potential that was quirky with a sense of community but privacy at the same time,” says Tanya. “We love it.”

I have to admit, when Tanya gave me her street address and told me their house was actually IN the suburb of Perth, my first thought was, “Oh no, I’ll never find parking!” with the dawning horror familiar to anyone else who shares an inability to parallel-park. But I found parking, without any dramas. The block is in a quiet, leafy, tucked-away pocket of the city that I never even knew existed, despite driving all over Perth suburbia to see houses regularly.

I’m not the only one who has overlooked this somewhat forgotten corner of the city, says Tanya. “Most people don’t get it, but there’s actually a residential area called Perth!” she says. “It’s great, very central, leafy, quirky, currently being gentrified, a mix of old and new, walking distance to Northbridge/Highgate and the river, parks, cafes, and down towards the east of town where there’s lots of development happening over the coming years.”

After Peter and Tanya’s offer on the block of land was accepted, the design really came together. “Carla and I started working together, feeding ideas off each other, throwing ideas around and creating mood boards before Carla developed the first floor plan to suit the block,” says Tanya.

I have always been intrigued by people who build a house using recycled and salvaged materials – doors, windows, tiles, floorboards, kitchen cabinets, and so on. How does it work? Do you buy the things first, then design the house around them? Or do you design the house and then find things that fit?

A little bit of both, Carla tells me. For example, she’ll draw the bathroom and have a space for a window. But if they find a beautiful recycled window that is bigger or smaller than the allowed space? Then she’ll tweak the drawings, or some casing might be added to get it to fit neatly. Tanya says after sourcing a lot of the necessary materials, salvaging doors, windows, flooring, lights and glass, they had a basis, and settled on the final floor plan, design and materials. “We got the plans through City of Vincent fairly quickly, a testament to Carla’s work and her justification of the design, and having the neighbours on board,” she says.

Then they had to find the perfect builder – one who was willing firstly to work on a very tight site with limited and tricky access (the house is accessed via a narrow gated path from the street and at the back from a laneway, above) but also one who was open to building with recycled materials. All I know is, they don’t come around that often. There are builders who will flat-out refuse to work with recycled materials.

But after a glowing referral from Furntech Joinery, Carla, Tanya and Peter found him – the humble Terry Creek of Satoa Homes – and now they too speak of him rapturously.
“Terry did a bloody good job!” says Carla.
“He’s very ‘can-do’, very positive, very calm. He was amazing – a big part of it,” Tanya agrees. “Really, this project was a huge collaboration between Carla, Peter, myself and Terry. It wouldn’t have been possible – or as enjoyable – without one of us. We all played a role. Terry has a really fresh, forward-thinking and calm, positive attitude that is so necessary with a project like this. I’d work with him again without any hesitation – we all would. For him, anything is possible, he puts his mind to something and has is strong-willed. He has a great approach – we pinch ourselves sometimes that we came across him! It’s a huge privilege – for Carla, and Pete and I.”

But building with recycled and salvaged materials requires patience. “You’ve got to be very flexible and open if you take that approach – you can’t have a deadline,” says Carla.

The team worked with Peter from Furntech Joinery to create the stunning double-height ‘mosaic wall’ – a beautifully pieced-together amalgamation of vintage windows salvaged from old ’60s and ’70s houses.

Other recycled elements include the breezeblocks in the courtyard garden and to the balustrade, all the windows and doors.And those amazing walls! A nod to the concrete homes, of South America, the home’s external walls are made completely out of recycled concrete rubble, rubble that would ordinarily end up in landfill.But making it a goal to repurpose old materials where they could wasn’t always easy. “The only near-on disaster was the Baltic pine flooring – but we made it work!” says Tanya.Peter says the upstairs floor is now his favourite feature, but agrees it was the biggest challenge. “From early on we knew we wanted to use a recycled pine on the floors, but here in WA it is very hard to find,” he said.
One day Tanya saw an advertisement on Gumtree for some old Baltic pine stored in a warehouse in Osborne Park, conveniently very underpriced and available straight away. “I paid $800 for what I was told was about 60sqm of Baltic pine flooring which had come out of an old town hall in Melbourne,” she says. “The owner was intending to use it but never did, so his wife sold it not realising how much it was worth! We actually stored it at Peter’s parents house in a sea container for a year and a half before we dropped it off on-site for Terry to install.”But when it came to install them, Terry realised that the tongue-and-groove on every single floorboard was split – some pieces were in such bad condition they couldn’t be used. Some people would scream and cry (I would) but Terry and Peter’s patience came to the fore. “Peter was like, ‘We have to make it work. We didn’t want to waste it,” says Tanya. “So Peter and I sorted through each and every piece, cut off rough ends, and spent two weekends in my parents’ warehouse thinning each piece down and using machinery to cut new tongues and grooves! In the end one of Dad’s workers, who is a professional woodworker from England, helped out which was a huge help – Peter repaid him with some electrical works on his own renovation.”
They also had to scramble to find more pine on Gumtree, and called around the salvage yards to find more, eventually finally finding about 20sqm out the back of a place south of Fremantle. “In the end it worked,” laughs Tanya. “We ended up with a floor of varying widths and ages, with some visible old nail holes and wear, sanded and waxed smooth and we absolutely love it.” Doing the upstairs floor ended up taking three weeks alone.

When it comes to being eco-friendly, the house ticks boxes left and right. The house runs on renewable energy, with solar hot water, solar photovoltaic panels for energy, and the green roof on two levels (biophylic roof – renewables and green in one rooftop), and there is no air-conditioning. There is permeable paving in the courtyard and laneway (with seedlings painstakingly planted over hours and hours by hand by Tanya and Peter!) green plants inside and out for air quality, health and wellbeing, and WELS rated toilets and tapware throughout.The home has a solar passive design, the rammed earth/concrete walls contribute to thermal mass and a woodfired heater is used when it’s chilly.
Near the woodfired heater is a portrait of Lewis, Peter and Tanya’s lovely old boxer, a painting that was done for them by Carla. Peter and Tanya rescued Lewis from the pound when he was at the grand old age of 13. Lewis loved visiting the site as they built the new house. Sadly, during the build process, and after having him only a year, Lewis passed away in September. “Carla painted that beautiful picture of him in the living area,” says Tanya. “We had him for 12 months from age 13 – he was with us every day and every night here. A huge part of his soul lives on through our home.”After they had moved into the house, Peter surprised Tanya on her birthday with Henri – a beautiful boxer puppy. “I hid him behind a huge bunch of balloons,” laughs Peter. “He moved the balloons away and I saw this puppy,” says Tanya. “I bawled my eyes out!”
Now Peter and Tanya live in their dream location in their dream home (with their new canine addition to their family). “The house is central and inner-city, but warm, open, unique, creative and visionary, sustainable, designed with the future in mind,” says Tanya. “It’s also adaptable – suited to the modern family with children, or to a couple. We love to entertain and it’s great for entertaining and parties. You have some privacy but are still amongst a vibrant inner city atmosphere. We can walk just about anywhere and we’re close to public transport.”For Tanya, working closely on such a huge project with her sister was a lot of fun. “Carla and I bounce off each other like there is no tomorrow, with everything,” she says. “She has an unimaginable talent and an undying desire to continue creating spaces and places, and shares a very strong sustainability ethic. In fact I think Carla has influenced me a lot in this space. It’s not every day two sisters can work together so closely on something like this. We are both extremely fortunate!” Maya xLove home tours? You can follow me on Instagram @housenerdFacebookTwitterPinterest or Bloglovin for more. If you love this house, you can follow it (and see a diary of the build process) on Tanya’s Instagram @natureinspiredecohouse. You can follow Carla at Etica Studio through her Instagram and Facebook


Author: Maya Anderson

When Maya Anderson was thinking of a name for her homes and design blog, nothing seemed more fitting than House Nerd. Obsessed with everything to do with houses, renovating and interior design, Maya is a features journalist by training with a background in print and a focus on homes and real estate. She has been renovating her 1970s house since forever, loves dogs and can eat her body weight in dumplings.

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