It can be a bit of a risk for any designer, especially an architect, to propose something different than what the client initially asked for, but Ben Callery took that risk when he came back to his client for the Elemental House in High Camp, just one hour north of Melbourne. “We went to ben with a hand-drawn sketch of a design for a modest weekend retreat to be built high on a hill in country Victoria,” relates Callery’s clients, Sue and Jim. “After listening to our dreams for the house and visiting the site, Ben came back with a suggestion for a completely different design—one which suited the site and the rugged conditions far better.”
That design was a low-impact retreat set on an exposed ridgeline. The house is completely off-grid, producing and storing its own power as well as collecting rainwater and treating its own waste on-site. Given its location, the house had to be solidly built. It’s exposed to some of the worst that Australia can dish out—category N3 winds, bushfire attack level of BAL-29, and the hot summer sun. To address some of those issues, Callery designed the home with deeper eaves for more shade and for shelter from the rain. Because of the strength of the winds, the eaves had to be thickened up, which also gives the home a sense of solidity. Callery opted for natural materials for the construction. Spotted Gum, harvested sustainably, was used for the external timber for its bushfire resistant quality. The same wood was used for the interior walls and for the cabinets. Concrete was used for structural elements as well as the benchtops and the hearth. The concrete also creates a thermal mass to help keep the home comfortable. The interior colors are kept simple, being done in the Spotted Bum and the grey of the concrete with white and black accents throughout. The house measures 10m by 10m, which includes one bedroom, one bathroom, and a living room. The living space includes a simple kitchen. This is a sturdy little home built to stand up to the harshest environment while still being comfortable and inviting.