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Grand Designs Australia

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The fifth series of Grand Designs Australia follows the journeys and incredible stories of inspiring Australians, who are each determined to carve their own niche by building their own home. Architect Peter Maddison is once again in the hosting seat, as he covers diverse projects up and down the country.

Episode 10 – Faraday Aussie Bush, Victoria

Before Matt McLelland’s wife Anne died six years ago, they’d been looking for a rural property to build on – a place to call home for them and for their four adult children to come to visit. So when Matt stumbled across 40 acres in central Victoria with spectacular views to Mt Alexander’s granite hill side, he knew he’d found the spot.
He had the land – but the house had to fit. Crucial in the design, was accommodating Anne’s wishes in creating a pavilion style home inspired by the aesthetic of the rural Australian shearing shed….which means featuring the most important element intrinsic to the style – the portal frame.
It’s a straightforward build….or that’s what Matt thinks. A timber frame clad in corrugated iron – his very own interpretation of the Aussie shed. But this is land loaded with granite and no one is quite sure what’s beneath the surface. That’s no deterrent for 70 year old Matt who reckons it’s a job he can manage…with a bit of help that is, in the form of his builder nephew Mike.
But Mike is used to fast paced city construction sites, not Matt’s laid back, no frills approach – and when Matt’s cronies arrive to help in times of crisis, the collective inexperience makes for a work site like no other!
This is exposed and tough country and when extreme weather effectively drenches the site, the clean up takes on mammoth proportions. It may be a simple design but just getting it out of the granite packed ground swallows up so much time and energy – and for a team of essentially 2, one being a novice, this is a build where humour is as important as hardware.
Building a home is no easy task but for a 70 year old flying solo, putting down roots for the generations to come, presents its own set of challenges, especially when Mike is working to the beat of a different drum!
Budget pressures, weather issues and shifting schedules have little impact on the laconic easy going Matt who takes it all in his stride.
The thing is…..at this rate, will it ever get finished?


Last week: Episode 9 – Pipers Creek Strawbale – VIC

Like many people, Dean and Sherill Lamb yearn for a simpler existence, for them and their three children. But unlike most people, they’re actually going to try and make it happen. They’ve already sold their successful fruit shop in Pipers Creek, north of Melbourne and are now trying to sell their house. All in the pursuit of total self sufficiency.
Designing a four pavilion structure themselves, they plan to minimise their carbon footprint whilst building it. Interested in natural building options, they’ve settled on one with excellent environmental properties and perfect credentials for Australian conditions. A house made of straw.
Straw bale walls will be complemented by rammed earth flooring, something that Ian thinks will better channel the earth’s energy. Every element will utilise natural alternatives wherever possible which means no man made board or regular paints. All their windows and doors will be recycled and a mini wind turbine will provide all their power.
To help bring it in for the tiny $350,000 budget, Dean and Sherrill will be doing all this themselves. They’ve absolutely no experience, but at least they won’t be alone. Dean plans to run straw bale house building classes with his own home as every student’s project!
With a finish time of a year it could be that Dean and Sherrill have found the perfect balance in pursuit of treading more gently on the planet and living a more sustainable existence. It could be. But it’s not.
A well intentioned goal as it might be, but it is unfortunately, unrealistic. Focus soon turns to merely keeping their dream afloat.
When you lack experience, man power and money….. the inevitable response is to compromise. The question is, by how much?


Milly Bradshaw has lived with her two children, in the Brisbane valley of Brookfield for 6 years before she met Andrew Wilson. In time it became the base for their blended family, with the added bonus that it was perfect for their shared dream of eventually running a small farm with livestock.

They had already started buying cattle, but with the old run down weather board cottage well past its used by date and bulging at the seams, it was clear they need a new proper operational base – a modern farmhouse.

The brief to their architect was simple. A home that not only makes the very best of its location, but is truly unique. In short, as different as possible from the traditional ranch style and Queenslander neighbours.

And their architect certainly delivered. Telescopic in shape, angular and modern, it will rise from one storey to three and culminate in a two storey high glazed portal that will frame the master bedroom. Projecting out of the landscape and clad in natural materials like Spotted Gum boards and with a base made of natural stone, it is certainly a contemporary take on rural living.

The experts have delivered an extraordinary design. Now it’s time for the amateurs to build it.

Andrew does have skills; it’s just that they are in plumbing. But undeterred, he sets out with his right hand man Hamish, an accomplished carpenter, to bring this dynamic form to life.

Milly, an academic, will provide advice that is, well, academic…something that won’t be wasted because this design needs an intellectual approach. The problem is, she’ll be busy working so won’t be there for the key decisions.

This extraordinary new building has the potential to be life changing – something that Andrew and Milly can claim as their own. But the scope of the project is breath-taking. Even the architect admits this is no easy build.

It’s supposed to be the next step in their lives together – but as Andrew becomes swamped in a quagmire of decision making and a clear shortfall of skills, the danger is that now it might have the exact opposite effect.

Episode 7 – Williamstown Blue Stone Cottage – VIC

When Jason Bretell and Jennifer Pancari first set eyes on a dilapidated old bluestone cottage in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Williamstown, it was love at first sight. The 150 year old derelict structure was left almost frozen in time with decaying tools, utensils, and other remnants amongst the ruins – bits and pieces Jason and Jen hope to salvage as they bring the cottage back to life.
Their grand plan is to restore the tiny four roomed cottage and add a two storey contemporary townhouse on the back…a modern, edgy, industrial style structure that will contrast sharply to the heritage bluestone frontage.
Sounds romantic…but the reality is far from that. Storm water damage to the original footings means that the whole front wall will have to be deconstructed and rebuilt. Finding the right stonemasons with the skills to dismantle the cottage one rock at a time, numbering each in the process and then reassembling again block by block, is a feat in itself.
It seems this cottage is not moving willingly into the 21st century. More grief when the original roof just won’t match with its new counterpart…another unexpected hiccup that threatens to impact on their fixed price contract.
While they’re happy to observe construction from a distance, they’re hands on when it comes to selecting materials and finishes. And with no architect and tight finances, Jen talks on designing the kitchen and bathroom. That’s in between starting anew job.
Jason and Jen are spreading themselves mighty thin to see their project through. With a wedding planned mid build, a stubborn old crumbling cottage and the pressure to finish in 12 months, can they find the balance between the old and the new and salvage this little piece of history?


After years working abroad, Sarah and English born husband Alistair Brodie-Fraser decided to relocate back to Sarah’s home town of Toowoomba in Queensland. This time the move will be permanent – close to Sarah’s extended family. But with Sarah’s father being German, her mother Scottish and Alistair’s connection with the UK, memories of Europe were bound to have some influence in the design of their new house.
Their plan is for something that oozes heritage….. a classic English farmhouse that could be plucked from rural England and dropped onto their one acre sloping block in sunny Queensland. What they want is $2.4 million of grandeur from another place and time.
From the steep pitched tiled roof and traditional European interiors, to wood block herringbone flooring, Sarah and Alistair are committed to making everything as authentic as possible….with a touch of fantasy.
For Sarah no English farmhouse is complete without the romance of a traditional library with mezzanine
wrap around gallery and spiral stair.

It’s dreaming that’s led to a scale you just don’t see in domestic architecture….because this is a very big house – 900 square metres on a precipitous site that that needs 100 deeply set piers buried under 50 truckloads of concrete, just to get the land horizontal. Then there’s the enormous retaining walls….. cut from the local sandstone quarry that will ensure this huge house stays exactly where it should.

It’s a massive venture that will take more than a part time interest to get it done. Bravely Alistair is up for the job, throwing in his full time work to self manage the project. But this is a task of epic proportions that would challenge even the most experienced Project Manager. What’s even more impressive is that there is no architect. Instead all the paperwork is merely an interpretation made from Alistair and Sarah’s original sketches.
But as the house fills out, the demands on Alistair intensify as quick decision making becomes a daily pressure. It’s a level of work that’s bound to have repercussions on the build….and on Alistair.

Episode 5 – Water Tank House, Port Melbourne Victoria

Some people have the ability to see beyond the function of an object – to see it as a work of art and it’s that premise that’s driven Melbourne doctors, Ian Kronborg and Ann Howard, to create a home like no other. Their plan is to build a 3 storey house clad entirely with water tanks – massive 2 metre high ‘H’ shaped black plastic beasts that will form the skin of their new house.
It’s more than aesthetics though….as the 30 odd tanks it’ll take to cover the house will hold over 50,000 litres of water – enough for all their water needs for a lifetime, including the rooftop garden. Plus Ian has plans for living green walls with vertical gardens and hanging foliage that will, in years to come, drape the exterior.
It’s a design that’s bound to get the neighbours talking, in a suburb brimming with tiny traditional weatherboard single fronted worker’s cottages…that is, IF they can get the project started. After 2 years chasing planning approval, then losing their builder who went broke, Ian and Ann thought the worst was over, but bureaucracy tackles them yet again – this time with a power pole the council deems too close to the house.
So begins the battle of the power lines – to go underground or to stay in the air? It’s a costly add to the mix that has Ian and Ann snookered…and delayed once more.
It’s enough for most to pull the pin but Ian and Ann push on, each with their own individualistic views of what this house will be. While Ian is focused on the sustainable qualities and operations of the water tank concept, Ann has a more romantic bent of creating a light filled environment reminiscent of an Italian villa.
Who knows how these two ideals will meet…..but one thing IS for sure….No-one can pre-empt the impact of a convoy of trucks stacked with massive water tanks, as the neighbourhood comes to a standstill. The builders are equally as stymied as lifting and maneuvering these voluptuous shapes into place comes with no instructions.

It’s a game of invention and ingenuity for a $1.8 million investment in what’s essentially an experiment…and with nothing to compare it to, the question is, will it work?


After 30 years as a civil engineer, Joe Cato has built more roads than the Romans. But a few years ago he and wife Maura made the active decision to slow everything down – to sell their successful construction business, and spend more time with their three children. It was a decision partly driven by chance find of a house and land at Foxground, near Kiama on the NSW South Coast…. 80 acres that included their very own rainforest. The only problem was, Joe discovered that slowing down wasn’t really for him, and it didn’t take long for them to hatch a plan to turn Foxground into their permanent home. So with a strong agenda to tread as lightly on the planet as possible, they choose to live completely off grid and to build out of a material known for its low embodied energy and natural ability to preserve heat – Rammed Earth.

Joes 30 years of experience can only prepare him for so much. With only a 2 day course in rammed earth construction under his belt, he’s setting out to teach wife Maura how to help him build their new home from the ground up, by hand. But it’s only as they embark on the process they realise the complexities of the challenge ahead. Refining the mix right for the rammed earth so that it doesn’t collapse is only the beginning. As their journey progresses it dawns on them that there may be one fundamental problem with their entire design. That one of this rammed earths greatest merits, its ability to store heat, might now turn into their biggest issue. It might end up sucking heat OUT of the house making it completely inefficient. And with 80 rammed earth panels in a solar powered, south facing house – that’s a very real concern.


Why would an architect at the pinnacle of her career and creative powers ditch the drafting desk, don steel cap boots and take up a blowtorch? Because for Ariane Prevost, that’s exactly the antidote to a lifetime of designing houses for other people – 102 in fact. With three adult children Ariane and husband Neil are ready to downsize – but Neil needs a little arm twisting. Wrenching him out of their existing house won’t be that easy. They’ve been living in it for just a year… but Ariane has found the ideal block – just 400 square meters in the conservative suburb of Claremont. Here she’s got big plans for a new house….…only no one quite knows what those plans are…including Neil. What Neil does know, is that Ariane will be taking on a trilogy of tasks: architect, client and builder, so with no one to answer to but herself, her plan is to make it up as she goes along.

There is only one self imposed rule but it’s a big one – the budget must not exceed $500,000. But how do you do that when your plans are non-existent and the temptation to indulge your imagination is limitless? Ariane is determined to find a way to build her little hand made treasure – and that takes skill, creativity and grit. There is no directing from the side lines in this project. Ariane is a force to be reckoned with – on site very morning at 5am, making breakfast for her co-builders, on the tools with all the trades and designing as she goes. But beneath the freewheeling attitude Ariane has a serious mandate: to create a home that will blur the lines between inside and out with seamless living and outdoor areas, flexible sleeping quarters and a multi-use rooftop space.

Her methods are as unconventional as many of her materials, from 6 metre high jetty piles scavenged from a jetty, to patterned brickwork made up on the fly – this is a house like no other.
Ariane’s quirks are peppered throughout this house…but no one is quite prepared for her folly – the origami showpiece that sits on top. In true Ariane form, it’s not a concept that exists on paper, just in a rudimentary handmade cardboard model. The end result is bound to have the neighbours divided.

Episode 2 – Mount Eliza, Victoria

Georgina Knightley has been drawing and designing homes since she was a child, but she’s never got around to building anything. Until now.
Together with Husband Phillip she knows that time is of the essence. Their two girls Isobel and Charlotte are in the middle of high school, so if she is ever going to create a true family hub then she has to act fast.
So they buy the perfect block, high up in Mount Eliza with sweeping views across the entire bay. Now all they need to do is build Georgina’s latest creation. A slick, lightweight, modernist design with a schedule focused on one key ingredient – Speed.
Builders have told her it will take 18 months. Georgina is thinking more like 6.
Firstly, she’s not going to bother getting planning permission. Instead, by leaving just one wall standing when they demolish the existing house, this will be classed as a renovation and NOT a new building. And secondly, she and Phillip plan to manage every last element, including the sourcing and importing of as most of the key building materials themselves. From China.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, how about everything? When the one wall that was supposed to be left standing from the old house gets demolished, it’s the start of downhill spiral. Redesigns, angry neighbours, grueling council meetings, quitting builders and not to mention total confusion in China. All against the backdrop of a looming Global Financial Crisis threatening to cripple their once thriving business.
In what becomes the longest delay ever witnessed on Grand Designs Australia, how can Georgina and Phillip muster the financial and emotional will to keep going in the face of total adversity?


What do you do when your riverside home and its entire contents are washed away in a devastating flood, leaving you in near financial ruin?
In Todd and Di Miller’s case, you hold on tight and embark on the boldest and cheapest build with your own hands, in the quickest possible time.
This feisty and resourceful couple decide to trial a whole new way of building, starting with 10, then 20, then 31 steel shipping containers that carpenter Todd, plans to crane into their suburban block, then somehow weld into a flood proof family home – all for just $400,000.
The ever enthusiastic Todd reckons it can be done in a mere 16 weeks…after all, he’s built many times before. But even with his skills and meticulous planning, this ambitious project is completely untried…as Todd wrestles with engineering and then slicing open these massive metal boxes in an effort to create something habitable.
Juggling up to 6 massive trucks at once, each loaded with shipping containers, brings the neighbourhood to a standstill as Todd directs each into its final resting place. Most would never consider taking on such a mammoth job, but Todd’s resilience and dogged determination is something to behold. He’s a man on a mission to get this thing built as the first 10 containers, the entire first level, arrive onsite and are placed in just four hours.
Ironically it’s the one thing that drove him to take on the container house concept in the first place, that’s his biggest adversary. Fierce weather threatens progress, not just once but several times. A string of downpours each more destructive than the last, turns the site to sludge, destroys all the materials on site rendering them useless and drenching all their belongings stored at a neighbour’s home nearby.
But the biggest hit comes in the form of a storm that almost brings Todd undone…along with the entire build.
But with no permanent home, two young children, a business on hold and a bank balance that is all ebb and no flow, Todd is in way over his head…as he struggles to make this project float.