News Home & Design 100-Year-Old House Transformed Into Low-Carbon Home for Architect A cramped structure is revamped into an eco-friendly family home. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Published December 15, 2021 04:00PM EST Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Anthony Richardson Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive When it comes to designing and building sustainable homes, sometimes the best (and greenest) way forward is to refurbish an existing structure. So when it came time for Australian architect Ben Callery to design an environmentally friendly home for his growing family, he and his wife Brigitte chose to purchase a fixer-upper from a friend's father, with the intention of retrofitting the existing front rooms, while adding and transforming the rear of the house and property into a cozy, secluded "nest" that would welcome in the sun and outdoor breezes. Located in Northcote, a quiet inner suburb of Australia's second-largest city, Melbourne, the original house was a rabbit's warren of dark, tired rooms, leading to an oversized garage and various lean-tos in the rear yard that served as laundry and bathroom. Anthony Richardson Over the following year, Callery, along with family and friends, worked on renovating the property, adding a timber-clad addition in the back, while revamping the three front rooms to be more thermally sound. Anthony Richardson By reorienting one of the rooms as a lounge, Callery was able to insert a new bathroom and laundry room in the middle of the house, while the other two front rooms function as two bedrooms. Anthony Richardson The rear half of the house is laid out in an open plan concept, which includes the typical components of a kitchen, dining, and living room. Anthony Richardson However, to strengthen that all-important connection to the outdoors, the kitchen has been placed at the very rear of the house, which features large, glazed patio doors that fold completely to open up to the wood-slatted terrace and generous backyard. Anthony Richardson Says Callery: "We challenged conventional room arrangements to create ways of living that allow for greater connections between family members, and connection with the external environment." Anthony Richardson "The ubiquitous linear Living/Dining/Kitchen layout was turned sideways and elongated. The kitchen, where most time is spent, occupies the back of the house, adjacent to the back doors, connecting it with the backyard. The back yard then opens onto the wide grass lane adjacent effectively doubling its size, and connecting with shared communal open space." Anthony Richardson In addition, to heighten that sense of airiness, the rear addition features an open double-height space that has been carefully oriented to maximize solar gain and natural cross-ventilation. Anthony Richardson Above this airy space is a home office space that wrapped in timber slats, giving the impression that it is a floating nest of sorts overlooking the main common areas. It's the perfect place for Callery to work, or for his two young daughters to do their homework. Says Callery: "The north-east facing double-height void provides dramatic sun and treetop views to that kitchen, dining and sitting nook. The void connects the ground floor living rooms with the first floor bedrooms and the floating loft-study. Perched in the treetops, this is a place of selective seclusion where one can seek recluse, but still be connected with family life below." Besides the careful planning of the interior spaces, the design deliberately makes good use of recycled wood. Victorian ash flooring from the existing house was salvaged and transformed into a new vanity unit. Old wooden beams from Callery's old neighbors' home were reused. Any timber that wasn't recycled was locally sourced from mills that offered low-wastage techniques, like radially sawn hardwoods, as well as "seconds" from the reject pile. As Callery explains: "We rigorously sourced renewable resources including recycled, re-milled, salvaged and radially sawn timbers. Dedicated to being as low-carbon as possible, we challenged accepted norms of sustainable design, eschewing use of concrete for thermal mass because of its high embodied energy. Instead we opted for a lightweight timber structure, well oriented and heavily insulated (with batts made of recycled glass) creating a thermally efficient, low embodied energy building." As this project shows, there's more than one way to build a greener home, and sometimes, that might mean adapting an older structure—and all the pre-existing embodied energy and embodied carbon it entails—that is already there. To see more, visit Ben Callery Architects, or check out these other projects by the firm: an off-grid, wildfire-resistant home or this culturally sensitive and eco-minded renovation of a heritage home.