I designed and built MY OWN FARMHOUSE
On a mission to make, paint and recycle anything they could, Melbournians Alicia and Ian created a stunning home on a budget.
“I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN PULLED
towards living in the country, even though I grew up in Melbourne’s north-east suburbs. My husband, Ian, who I met when we were 16, felt the same. His family are dairy farmers up in Shepparton, so he was used to the idea but, for me, country life was more of a dream. However, with a view to making money, we bought our first house in suburban Melbourne.
Three years later, after several miscarriages, we decided to make our dream of life in the country a reality sooner rather than later. We spent about two years looking for the right piece of land and were lucky enough to find this eight-hectare block just outside of Melbourne before it went onto the market. There was nothing on the land at all – it had been used to farm cattle. So we sold our city home and moved in with my parents.
PLANNING OUR HOME
Although I trained in psychology and accounting, I’d always liked designing houses and had already drawn up two floor plans before we found this land. But in order to build either of my designs, I had to do a lot of research on kit homes. I always thought kit homes would be granny flats or really ugly houses, but I researched about 15 providers in Australia and America until I found Kitome (www.kitome.com.au). They were the only ones who would custom-build to my design.
So I downloaded floorplan software and looked through display homes to get ideas. I wanted it to look expensive (even though it wasn’t expensive to build) and I wanted a big homestead, so I measured out every room by foot to see if it was big enough. I know every measurement in the house off by heart! I even picked the degrees the gables would slope down at on the verandah so they’d fit into the landscape. Then I gave the kit home company all my plans and my inspiration for how our home was going to look.
I soon realised the only way to build the house and save money was to become an owner-builder. So we completed that course, and I lodged the building applications and permits, which took three months to process.
When we started the build we were both working full-time, and we were also undergoing IVF. On day one of the dig I was 12 weeks pregnant with our daughter Bonnie! Being an electrician Ian could do all the wiring, which was great for our budget, while I was project manager – for each trade I got five quotes, subcontracted them and had them booked in back to back. And every night after work we were on site with the tradies. Then when I was seven months pregnant we built and installed the Ikea kitchen and laundry ourselves, to save money.
We managed to turn the house over in four months – a house this size would usually take a lot longer – and moved in a couple of months before I was due to give birth. Then we painted the outside of the house with friends and family. But that was a little too much – I became ill and spent a week in hospital before the birth. Decorating the interiors didn’t really start until I’d returned to work when Bonnie was seven months old and had saved some funds. And it’s a continual process!
FINDING MY STYLE
I’d say my style is ‘farmhouse, with an eclectic spin’, but it is based mainly on budget. I’ll get ideas and inspiration from window shopping, then challenge myself to find it cheaper or make it. For example, we gave our bedroom a lovely traditional homestead feel by installing wooden panels from Bunnings around the whole room.
When I have a vision I’ll visit my favourite clearance stores, eBay or Gumtree to find items I can work with. I also like finding free pieces on the side of the road – it’s become a bit of a hobby – and friends and family let me know when they spot stuff. Then I’ll use gift vouchers to buy decor items from discount stores and make them fit in.
Country life can be hard and at times isolating. One night in the middle of winter Bonnie stopped breathing. She was 11 days old. It took 55 minutes for the ambulance to arrive – after that Ian and I learned CPR.
We did consider moving but in the end building this house gave me a career change and enabled me to spend more time with Bonnie. I used to be an accountant, but I’m now a project manager for a building company, and I’m also helping relatives build their houses. After Bonnie was born, I said I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life. Designing and building houses is my passion.”
“My decorating style is farmhouse, with an eclectic spin, but it is based mainly on budget.”
Alicia painted the house exterior in the same colour as the interior. Room for a crowd The covered verandah is perfect for large family gatherings, which are common at Alicia’s home.
Look of wood
Flooring throughout the house is a laminate, bought from a hardware store. Vintagestyle enamel cooker.
Old becomes new
The $40 table from a charity store was sanded back, its top varnished and legs painted.