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Hut House by Melbourne Design Studios

We spoke with Felicity Berstein, co-founder of Melbourne Design Studios, about their latest project, Hut House, a true passive house that effortlessly balances sustainability with modern family living. With a multitude of innovative design features, this home sets a new standard for sustainable living in our inner-city suburbs. Read on to discover why they chose this a-typical block of land for their family home and how they solved its many challenges with an innovative design approach.

Images by Marnie Hawson.

Hut House photographed by Marnie Hawson.

How would you describe your design philosophy at Melbourne Design Studios?

At Melbourne Design Studios, we love architecture, we love people, and we love our planet. This informs our daily interactions and our design approach. We are driven to create beautiful, inspiring, contemporary architecture that resonates and brings joy to the occupants and the wider community. Each project is client-driven, and we pride ourselves on our highly personal, ethical approach and the many strong friendships created along the way.

We also appreciate architecture’s strong responsibility to the environment, and we advocate a green lifestyle. With a strong sustainable focus and in-house expertise, everything we create is Environmentally Sustainable Design. Innovation and technical prowess are key backbones to the success of the firm, and we are inspired to continually learn and evolve but also to share this learning and experience with others.

Hut House photographed by Marnie Hawson.

What was your vision for Hutt House? How did the atypical block shape your design?

We wanted to create a Passivhaus. A fossil-fuel-free, near-net-zero-energy home, that would be aspirational, beautiful, and sustainable. A piece of inspiring contemporary architecture with a timeless, modernist touch. The home sets a positive example for small-scale urban densification, reconnecting a forgotten piece of land with its environment while providing a sustainable oasis for a modern lifestyle in the middle of the inner-urban jungle.

Because of the tight, wedge-shaped site we opted to build boundary to boundary on the southern end of the block, thereby maximizing our north garden opportunities, and following the angled lines. That means there’s barely a straight line in the house, it feels quite dynamic. This geometry also allowed us to have the two top ridges of the Hutt house falling from south to north, mediating between the ten-story apartment neighbor in the south and the
low-scale residential homes around the other side.

Hut House photographed by Marnie Hawson.

Why did you choose to build a passive house?

If you want to build sustainably and are working towards near-net-zero energy and carbon-neutral, I believe a passive house is the best way to achieve these. It’s a long-established building standard, that has a lot of real-life data fed back into the system. We also know the building physics work.

Hut House is a prefab passive house that doesn't require heating or cooling for most of the year, and it’s a luxury but fun home with many aspects of sustainability and regenerative design. We also use it to try out new ideas and technologies and measure data from it, so it really will be an ongoing project in a way.

Hut House photographed by Marnie Hawson.

What sustainable design features have you incorporated into Hutt House?

Everything in this house is based on sustainability, from the biophilic design to active and passive shading, rainwater detention and re-use, materials with low environmental impact, natural Woodfibre insulation, triple-glazed windows, natural finishings and much more. The active systems like rooftop photovoltaic batteries, heat recovery ventilation, and electric heat pumps also help generate and use energy in the most sustainable way possible.

Were you drawn to certain colors and materials?

We love natural colors and materials. There are a lot of wooden surfaces in the house, but to make sure it doesn’t feel dated, we have either whitewashed them or finished them with natural oil or a black stain where they continue from the external charred timber cladding. Handcrafted rugs, leather seats and colorful cushions add warmth and contrast to the dark timber used.

How have you designed your green spaces to compliment Hutt House?

Because it is such a small site, it was important to create distinctive outdoor spaces. There’s a south-facing courtyard with a rainwater garden, supplying cool breezes to the house, and the private roof garden accessed off the master bedroom diagonally above that. The north garden is divided into a series of spaces along the length of the site, a dining area, an urban food garden with a fishpond and a vertical kitchen garden with an aquaponics set up, a pond deck to relax on and play areas for the kids. The green spaces essentially become part of the house, with inside and outside flowing together.

Hut House photographed by Marnie Hawson.

We've spotted our Braid rug in your living room; how did you know it was the right rug for the space?

With its angled lines, a rectangular rug wouldn’t have worked in this space, so we were looking for something with softer lines, and found the Armadillo Braid Rug. It works wonderfully there. It’s such a beautiful texture and pattern, and with its natural colors and materials, it really complements the house so well.

What is your favorite design feature in Hutt House?

One key feature I love is the nets throughout the home, which have allowed us to utilize void spaces without blocking them off. The kids love them to lie in, sit on, read a book, or just hang out. Because they add so much space and a feeling of generosity, it was possible to build a family house on a much smaller footprint, ultimately saving on our carbon footprint. A lot of positive outcomes for some little nets!

Hut House photographed by Marnie Hawson.

Do you have any advice for others wanting to build a sustainable home?

Yes, most importantly, pick the right partners at the start of the job. They are the ones who can then help you bring your vision to life. Pick someone who really understands sustainability and has relevant experience. It’ll be a fun journey if you have the right team on board.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to in 2022? Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

We have a few exciting homes on the drawing board, all designed with sustainability in mind and based on our expertise in the Passivhaus standard. I can’t wait to see them come to life later in the year.

We also hope to inspire many more people with our Hütt 01 Passivhaus and hopefully gain some new followers, who would like something similar. We can see that more and more people recognize the importance of sustainable design, the impact of choosing good materials on your health and wellbeing, and how much better a passive house feels compared to a traditional build. It looks like 2022 is moving in a great direction.

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