Home magazine: Can you tell us about your family and background?
Jackie Dargaville: We are a retired couple with seven grown children between us and a growing number of grandchildren (twelve of them!). We both grew up in the city, Richard in Hobart and I in Melbourne. I especially felt a strong attraction to rural life. In the 1980s, I lived with my young family on a farm near Fish Creek for ten years. Later, when I met and married Richard, we had a series of hobby farms, which we retreated to on the weekends, until we decided to retire to Fish Creek. The last farm we owned was a certified biodynamic beef cattle farm near our current premises. When farming became more of a chore than a hobby, we bought an acre of land to build a house on.
Houses: Why did you decide to hire an architect?
jackie: There was never any doubt that we would hire an architect. We have an architect, an interior designer, a graphic designer and two builders in the family – so we fully understand the benefits of using professionals. No matter how much flair you may think you have, it is no substitute for the skills and experience an architect has. You would never assume you have the skills of a lawyer, for example, and take on your own legal work, so I’m surprised that people often shy away from hiring an architect.
Houses: How did you discover Edition Office (formerly Room 11 Architects)?
jackie: We had seen a house on the cover of a magazine designed by Room 11 Architects in Tasmania. We looked up Room 11’s website and found the ethos of the practice appealing. When we bought our land we regretted the fact that room 11 was located in Hobart as we thought the distance might make the process difficult. My daughter-in-law encouraged me to get in touch anyway. She said, “You never know, maybe they have an office in Melbourne.” I called and it turned out they had just opened an office in Fitzroy. During the design and build process, room 11 team members working on our project left the practice to form Edition Office [and took our project with them]. We didn’t feel that change at all, mainly because we were dealing with the same people everywhere.
Houses: How did you prepare for your first meeting with the architect? Did you already do some research on what you were looking for?
jackie: We had done extensive research, especially on energy efficient and passive solar design. We looked at websites and magazines of various architects and went on open house tours. We knew we wanted a beautifully designed and sustainable home.
We wanted to strive for a closed system on our small farm, minimizing external input in terms of energy, food, water and keeping all waste on site. We wanted to produce much of our own food, as we have done for several years, grow fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for eggs and meat, and run a handful of sheep for lawn mowing and meat. We planted a woodland plot when we first bought the block, aiming to provide our own firewood for heating and cooking. The house had to complement these activities and be a healthy home. We wanted to use some recycled components and products with low VOC emissions.
We took some very strange handwritten plans with us to our first meeting. The architects, Aaron and Kim, had great respect for these outlandish ideas, but now have a laugh with us!
House: What was your assignment?
jackie: Our goal was to build an energy efficient, warm, light and stylish house. An early influence was Harry Seidler’s Rose Seidler House in Sydney. We loved the 1950s modernist style.
Framing the Wilsons Promontory and Corner Inlet views was a clear priority. Dealing with the dilemma of the southeast view, while maximizing the Northern Lights, is a challenge for anyone building a home in this area. This dilemma was magically solved by the architects.
An important part of the brief was the idea of ”stretching” the house to accommodate our large extended family. We wanted a compact three-bedroom house that could be stretched to sleep fourteen. This has been achieved through rooms that serve more than one purpose. For example, we have a study with a folding queen-size bed that has been incorporated into the joinery.
A separate kitchen – contrary to the trend towards an open plan living and kitchen area – was important to us. The kitchen was to become the warm heart of the house, with a wood-burning stove, table and chairs and plenty of space for both of us to work without tripping over each other. The wood burning stove was to be used for cooking, heating and hot water, solar powered if needed. We wanted to have the heating in zones for those times when parts of the house were not in use.
We wanted a single-storey house that would allow us, if possible, to stay at home into old age. We needed wheelchair-friendly doors and bathrooms and the option of carer housing. We wanted a low-maintenance exterior and loved the idea of courtyards to provide shelter – outdoor retreats that could filter light into the house. Old European courtyards we saw on our travels served as inspiration for this.
Houses: Often the builder is an integral part of a successful project. Did you have a lot of involvement in the progress on site?
jackie: The end product speaks for itself in terms of the quality of the build. We lived nearby and had to be on the block almost daily to monitor the chooks so we could keep an eye on the progress. This turned out to be a positive thing, allowing us to resolve issues in a timely manner.
Houses: What advice would you give to someone considering hiring an architect? And would you hire an architect again?
jackie: We strongly recommend that you hire an architect. Any additional costs will be forgotten in the long run and the result will be much better. Choose your architect carefully, as the relationship is surprisingly intimate and trust is important. We would definitely hire an architect again if we had the strength to do it from scratch (probably not!).
Read the review of Fish Creek House here.