Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Bucking the Trend: why we ditched the Parents v Kids Zone

Once upon a time, or so we are led to believe, designing the Australian family home was as easy as assembling a Vegemite and cheese sandwich. It was just a case of putting together the tried and true basics, again and again, because everybody likes it.

You knew you needed a kitchen and laundry, a dining room, a lounge room, a bathroom (yes, just one) and a few bedrooms, usually three. When you walked through the front door into the hallway (vestibules hadn't been invented in Australia yet), the order of layout was generally lounge on one side, Mum and Dad's room on the other, then the kitchen and bathroom opposing each other, then the assortment of kid's bedrooms, and with the laundry hanging off the back of the house. The toilet was always next to the laundry, not in the bathroom (only American sitcoms had this, which is when I finally understood why they called going to the toilet, going to the 'bathroom').

There were some variations, but essentially this was the quintessential Aussie Family Home. On a 1/4 acre block. If in doubt, refresh your memory by watching a movie which demonstrates this clearly: The Castle. Okay, I forgot about the poolroom (they were obviously rich).

Ah, utopian times.

Now, as time-passengers of the twenty-first century teenies, we accept that house plans must be dissected, masticated, ruminated upon and finally examined for a spark of joy or alternative facts. We must have a plebiscite and present our prospective plan to complete strangers on social media for their edification and blessing.

Or, you can get liberated and do what's right for you and not worry about everyone else.

Liberated is how we felt when we made a radical change to our house design. We had spent several months on it, and it felt okay......except for the bedrooms. It literally kept me up at night. I worried about not hearing our kids when they had nightmares or a tummy bug, and the thought of them calling and crying while we slumbered obliviously was the clincher. 

Our initial plan followed the current design default with the kids bedrooms and the master bedroom at opposite ends of the house. We stepped it out, and discovered that it would take about 35 steps from our bed to our son's. If that doesn't sound like much, try walking it in the dark at 2am down a hall, through several doorways, past the couch, kitchen table and most likely through a pile of schoolbags and toys. Now three times. Now every night.

Not so easy, huh?

I knew we had to have a conversation with our builder and they weren't going to like it because it meant starting the plan from scratch, after almost 12 months of planning.

The fact is, our kids are still relatively young at 6 and 9. It's complicated by the fact that our son has a disability which means he needs help nearly every night, usually several times. No matter how much we thought about it, the modern bias for a kids zone and parents zone wasn't going to fit our family. We bit the bullet and had the tough conversation with our designer.

So we decided to not the take the advice of those who told us teenagers need their space and privacy. That we needed our own space and privacy. That when our kids have parties we would want to get as far away as possible.

My husband and I agreed that we want our kids to know we're not far away. We want them to be able to call out if they need us, to be able to pass their bedroom each morning and ask how they slept, you're late for school, I love you. Life is short and you're a dead a long time.

And, just quietly, there's nothing wrong with your kids knowing that there's the teeniest chance Mum or Dad might spring them doing something that perhaps they shouldn't be doing - after all, this is how most of us were brought up, right? And we turned out okay.....right?

So there isn't a 'kids zone' in our house design. There isn't a 'parents retreat', either. I suppose the whole thing is one big Family Zone. A family home, even.

If need be, the kids can escape to a rumpus room, the lounge room or living room. There's lots of space outside and they will have their own bedrooms. In times of extreme teen angst, there are even doors on those bedrooms.

It's hard for many Aussies to understand, but there are people out there who don't like Vegemite and cheese sandwiches. It must be the cheese, I dunno. But it's true.

So it stands to reason that all house designs don't fit all families. The standard book of house designs that most builders show you doesn't contain a design that works the way you need it to. It's okay to want or need something else, and to ask how a house plan can work better for you. Don't be afraid to challenge your builder to think outside the box. It might just be one of the most liberating thing you do.

That, and truly loving a Vegemite and cheese sandwich. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Give and take: the top 3 building constraints to our build (so far)


On Monday we begin Week 7 of our house build. This week and the next few are going to be big because the frames will be delivered this week and everything will become three dimensional at last - yippee!
As much as possible, we've tried to select an exterior style which fits our love of classic Australian farmhouses. When I say 'as much as possible' I mean that there are constraints that we've had to work within.

The top 3 building constraints to our build (so far)

1. 6 star Energy Efficiency Performance requirement

Ideally, I would have loved to have been renovating an old farmhouse, which would have meant we could keep heritage features and wouldn't be held as tightly to the energy star rating required for new buildings in Victoria. However, we were unable to find the amount of land we wanted in a zone close enough to our town and amenities to avoid spending a lot of time driving.

The 6 star rating works on a points system where different energy-saving applications have a star value. These star values add up until finally you get to the required minimum value of 6 stars which is necessary for your building permit to be approved.

For us, this meant reducing the amount of glass facing north, applying double-glazing, reducing the amount of verandah overhanging the north side of the house, including high-rated insulation in the external walls and ceiling, and orientating the house more closely to due north, which changed our view slightly.

2. Building on land with restrictive covenants

The land we bought is great - it's a good size at 7 acres, ideal location, great view - but it does have a covenant, meaning there are restrictions on some of the materials we can use to build our house and also where on our land we can build it.

Being a lover of old Aussie homes, I'm quite partial to a rusty old tin roof. Used in Australia since the 1840's, it's been widely used country-wide and is now part of the architectural narrative. The image of a plain corrugated roof was part of how I imagined our new house, so I was pretty disappointed to discover this was a no-no in our covenant. Understandably, modern corrugated steel is highly reflective and can be very visually intrusive for neighbours and flying craft, so we chose the Colorbond colour Shale Grey, which is still very pale but still carries the tin roof vibe that we wanted.

Another major concession that we had to make was the cladding. Initially, we were all for a house which looked like a traditional weatherboard house, and we'd chosen to clad the whole house in Scyon Linea, a modern composite product which is resistant to rot and termites, making it a better alternative to the timber weatherboards of yore.

Again, it was a bit of a blow to learn that our house needed to be clad by the majority in a masonry product. So in the spirit of trying to channel a bit more of a vintage look, we decided to clad just the front aspect of the house in Scyon and the rest in recycled red bricks from building demolitions around the state. These bricks are only lightly cleaned and will still bear the patina of past buildings, bringing the lived-in look that we were trying to achieve. It's a different approach which isn't for everyone but we're confident it's going to look pretty cute.

3. Money doesn't grow on trees

Lastly, and I'm know you're all nodding with me here: spendoolies. Yep, there's never enough cash to go around when you're looking at how much it costs to build. We've had to make decisions all the way through on where we would spend a little more (and have had no choice in spending more - hello double-glazing!) and where we would choose more frugally.

But more about where we splashed out and reigned it in another time.

Let's get those frames up!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Love your town: Sunday markets (and staying cool)


Summer is in full swing here in Wodonga and we're currently having a burst of 40c-plus weather. Despite the heat, most of the landscape is still relatively green due to recent rain so everything is looking pretty idyllic (until you step out into the sun and get crispy-fried). Apologies to those in the northern hemisphere who are hunkered down in a record-cold winter - pretty soon we will be fed-up with the relentless heat and be feeling snow-envy, I'm sure!

It got me thinking that I've been tagging posts here and on social media with #sunnynortheast and #wodonga, but I haven't really explained the virtues of living in this part of the world. I've decided to make an effort to dedicate some posts to why living in the north-east of Victoria, Australia, is pretty darned good. It's also a reason to get to know my community better myself, being a relative new-comer to this regional city.

This morning I decided to get the kids organised and make our first visit to the local On The Border Community Market in Wodonga, which has only been running for a few months. This is no mean feat when the forecast is about 40c. The only way to tackle days like this is to expend your energy early and get home early.

After bribing treating the kids to a café breakfast we wandered around the market, which currently runs first Sundays monthly at Junction Square in the heart of Wodonga. The crowd was modest given the school holidays and the heat, with most people melting into the shade with cold drinks where they could.

The market occupies a new community space created where the old Wodonga train station was located. The rail heritage is maintained by the conversion of the station buildings into bars and cafes and the use of overhead gantries and rail-like paving.

The market itself is dominated by craft stalls, selling candles, woodwork, soaps and lots of baby and kids gifts and clothes. One stall which caught my eye was Tiny Warrior Design, selling sophisticated baby and kids items sourced from by Australian makers, some of them local. It's moments like these when you wish you had a baby to buy for!

So we made it home a little after 10am when the temperature had risen to 40c. The kids are now parked in the lounge watching a movie in the cool, with the dogs having sneaked in to find a cool spot as well. The only noise in the neighbourhood is the drone of evaporative air conditioners. The activity will begin around 6.30pm when the temperature begins to dip and people can get out for a walk and the neighbourhood kids will get out on their bikes until bedtime.

It's not a bad life. Not bad at all.