Ben and Meg En­gel are en­joy­ing the per­son­alised Yackan­dan­dah home they built with fam­ily in mind.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Anita Mcpher­son photos Marc Bongers

The En­gel fam­ily are en­joy­ing the per­son­alised Yackan­dan­dah home they built with fam­ily in mind.

GOLDEN light floods into the kitchen of Meg and Ben En­gel’s Yackan­dan­dah home. It’s a clear and crisp af­ter­noon and the sun shines di­rectly through gen­er­ous win­dows into what is the heart of the home, where a wood stove sound­lessly em­anates warmth into the space. Where the am­bi­ent warmth comes from is dif­fi­cult to de­tect be­cause it feels like it’s just there, no mat­ter where you stand, as the curved, straw bale walls seem to wrap around you. Meg says the stove was not meant to be the heater - it’s there to cook with and to heat wa­ter - but it holds the heat all day and com­bined with sun­shine, it’s all that’s needed even in the win­ter.

Meg, a speech pathol­o­gist, and Ben, a hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sional and mind­ful­ness in­struc­tor, came to North East Vic­to­ria from Syd­ney in 1999, first bas­ing them­selves in Al­bury be­fore ex­plor­ing and dis­cov­er­ing Yackan­dan­dah where they moved in 2009. And it’s not a cliché to say they fell in love with the place. “It’s felt like home since day one,” said Ben. “We call this our for­ever home in our for­ever town.”

They ini­tially pur­chased the house next door be­fore ren­o­vat­ing and sub­di­vid­ing the prop­erty to make an ideal two and a half acre block where they could build this - their ideal home. Meg said they didn’t want to build a very big house, in­stead choos­ing a com­pact, fam­ily friendly de­sign which would last a life­time.

She said they were also con­scious of the costs in­volved in heat­ing and cool­ing a house full of rooms which were rarely if ever used.

“We wanted a house we could re­ally grow old in and not rat­tle around in­side it,” she said.

“We wanted a house that will go across all stages, and maybe when our kids are teenagers we’ll need a bit more space, but then we’ve got an old dairy on the prop­erty as well if we need it. “I also think it’s good to have to spend time to­gether. “Some­times I think peo­ple have th­ese mas­sive houses and then they don’t re­ally have to in­ter­act with each other, and here we utilise ev­ery space - there is noth­ing un­der­used.” >>

The cou­ple live in the home with 13 year old daugh­ter Arnya and 10 year old son Luka along with two dogs, and a few chooks who help pro­vide mulch and ma­nure for the veg­gie patch and or­chard.

The home may be com­pact but it’s cer­tainly not cramped. A large kitchen flows into the spa­cious main liv­ing area which is min­i­mally dec­o­rated but has every­thing needed to en­joy cud­dling up on the couch in front of a wood fire, which they light for am­bi­ence rather than warmth. A se­cond liv­ing space has a piano and bay win­dows with a seat look­ing out over nat­u­ral grass­land dot­ted with ma­ture gums. There are three bed­rooms and one bath­room all dec­o­rated in a pal­ette of neu­tral tex­tures and earthy tones.

This is a tac­tile home, where the floor has a smooth satin fin­ish, the walls are even but not per­fectly uni­form and they are warm to the touch, and the nat­u­ral tim­ber used in the doors makes a fea­ture of their func­tion­al­ity.

“We didn’t want it to be small and pokey but we also wanted to think about what was nec­es­sary and what we re­ally needed, and I feel like we’ve got every­thing,” said Meg.

“We wanted to keep things in their nat­u­ral state and tone, so the house would have a sense of gen­tle­ness - a refuge or a sanc­tu­ary from a busy day, which is gen­tle on the senses.”

They chose straw bale con­struc­tion for a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing the way it looks, its warmth and the fact it makes the most of a cheap, largely wasted ma­te­rial. The in­cred­i­bly thick walls pro­vide re­mark­able in­su­la­tion qual­i­ties when it comes to heat­ing, cool­ing and noise, and the thick tim­ber in­ter­nal doors fit­ted with dou­ble glazed glass sep­a­rate the liv­ing zone from bed­rooms to en­sure there is no need to tip toe around at night and ev­ery­one can get a good night’s sleep. The home is en­ergy ef­fi­cient and eco­nom­i­cal to run, with no need for cool­ing in sum­mer, the wood stove so far pro­vid­ing all the heat they need as well as hot wa­ter, which is sup­ple­mented by so­lar panels in sum­mer.

“One of the ap­peals of straw bale is you get lots of gen­tle curves and we like the ren­der in its nat­u­ral state like this, where you get dif­fer­ent light bounc­ing off it, un­like very hard, an­gu­lar plas­ter walls,” said Meg.

“And we wanted to build some­thing for the fu­ture where we don’t have to in­vest a lot for the ser­vices we need.”

To say Meg and Ben were hands-on dur­ing the build­ing process is kind of an un­der­state­ment. The pair ac­tu­ally did a lot of the work them­selves, putting the straw bales in the walls, pre­par­ing the ren­der and as­sist­ing with its ap­pli­ca­tion, paint­ing and even stain­ing the con­crete floors. While it was partly about keep­ing costs down it was also about mak­ing a phys­i­cal in­vest­ment into the home they were cre­at­ing for their fam­ily.

“Peo­ple think it’s re­ally cheap to build a straw bale house and the truth is while the straw is cheap, it’s quite la­bor in­ten­sive, so if you need to get some­one else to do it it’s prob­a­bly not any cheaper than a con­ven­tional build,” said Meg.

“And it feels a bit more like our house be­cause we were in­volved in the mak­ing of it,” adds Ben.

The cou­ple pro­vided a de­tailed brief to Soft Loud House Ar­chi­tects which not only cov­ered their tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments, but how they wanted the home to feel. >>

They cited the de­sire to live in a place that felt con­nected to the earth, has a sense of con­ti­nu­ity with the en­vi­ron­ment, re­spected the nat­u­ral land­scape in which it was po­si­tioned and would nur­ture their fam­ily. While a few dif­fer­ent op­tions were con­sid­ered, they set­tled on the de­sign which had more curves. “We loved it from the first look at it,” said Ben. “And we’d seen other work the ar­chi­tect had done be­fore so we knew what we were get­ting.”

The floor plan pro­vides for all the ex­ter­nal walls to largely be curved but it re­mains func­tional, with­out the awk­ward and un­us­able cor­ners a non-con­ven­tional shape can some­times bring.

So­lar pas­sive de­sign is what brings the win­ter light and warmth into the north fac­ing liv­ing area. The ther­mal mass of the sealed slab and a fea­ture re­cy­cled red­brick wall ab­sorb that en­ergy and pro­vide a nec­es­sary coun­ter­point to those wellinsu­lated ex­ter­nal walls.

A curved roof line is de­signed to re­duce the im­pact of the house in the land­scape, blend­ing with the rolling hills and the gen­tle slope of the prop­erty.

The build took around eight or nine months and the cou­ple credit Ovens and King Builders for their ef­fort, ef­fi­ciency and will­ing­ness to ac­com­mo­date own­ers who wanted to be in­volved and build some­thing out­side the square.

“There was never an idle day - there was al­ways some­one on site - and they had great mo­men­tum through­out,” said Meg. “I think they en­joyed do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent too,” adds Ben. “They were re­ally great to work with.” The struc­ture of the build­ing is pre­dom­i­nately tim­ber with the ve­randa posts lo­cally sourced bush poles. There are a va­ri­ety of wall fab­rics in­clud­ing ra­di­ally sawn weath­er­board claddings to the tim­ber framed bay win­dows. The builders say the ex­ten­sive tim­ber skele­ton that sup­ports the roof and frames the walls was chal­leng­ing to con­ceive and con­struct, with the curved de­sign ex­tend­ing to hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal planes, and they are proud of their car­pen­ters who rose to the chal­lenge of cre­at­ing some­thing very fluid in form from rigid, rec­tan­gu­lar tim­ber.

At the end of the home is the cou­ple’s only “in­dul­gence” – a de­tached yoga room and med­i­ta­tion space which is used daily as a re­treat by the fam­ily. The self-con­tained dairy is where the fam­ily lived for the nine months while the house was un­der con­struc­tion and is now used as an of­fice and guest quar­ters.

Meg and Ben make no apol­ogy for cre­at­ing a home which is tai­lored ex­actly to suit them and their fam­ily alone.

“We’ve done things in the past be­cause it would be good for re-sale, but we got to that point where we de­cided to build a home which had all the things we value, rather than think­ing about what other peo­ple would like,” said Meg.

“We wanted a house that we ac­tu­ally lived in – a place where our kids felt com­fort­able be­ing them­selves and do­ing what they want to do.”


COMFORT / Nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and an earthy colour scheme add warmth to bed­rooms and to func­tional liv­ing spa­ces.

IN­SIDE OUT / The home of Meg, Ben, Luka and Arnya (right) makes the most of its nat­u­ral bush­land sur­rounds, vis­i­ble from ev­ery win­dow.

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