A refreshing take on reducing urban sprawl

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Located in the backyard of a traditional Queenslander in the inner Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba sits gardenhouse created by REFRESH*DESIGN

We chat with designer Monika Obrist about the gardenhouse concept as a sustainable alternative to the urban sprawl. Take a look inside ahead of the Sheo Design home tour on 22 September.   

Completed in 2015, the Woolloongabba gardenhouse is home to a couple (and their cat and dog) who rent the property from owner Wesley who lives in the front house.

At a compact 79sqm, it’s been cleverly designed with main bedroom, bathroom and a study/2nd bedroom upstairs, and living room, kitchen, dining, powder room/laundry and a generous terrace downstairs. Currently, the two households share the green outdoor area between the two houses where eventually a pool and covered outdoor kitchen could be added. 

“To achieve the brief within a small budget and maintain architectural integrity, strategic direction was used to build a cost-effective and innovative solution. One strategy was the double use of spaces, which lead to combine the kitchen island bench with the dining table, and incorporate the laundry within the powder room joinery. Another solution was to use burnished concrete to avoid costly tiling, polishing of the slab or form-ply to enable the design of custom joinery, while avoiding the usually costly finishing,” says Monika. 

“Following the slope of the land, the sequence of indoor, outdoor and hybrid spaces offer either integration and connectivity, or separation and privacy, to allow for maximum flexibility. The neighbourhood is characterised by traditional Queensland cottage-style houses. Overtime, many have been renovated and extended. In consideration of the context, the design embraced traditional materials, including corrugated metal, weatherboards and timber elements, while simultaneously expressing a contemporary shape,” says Monika.

REFRESH*DESIGN has developed a model of infill development that sensitively increases density of urban areas, which is branded ‘my gardenhouse’.

Urban sprawl is a reality across Australia. Many of our cities are expanding further into rural land with low-density residential developments. It can be a contentious issue with opinions divided.  On one hand, people want more housing available for our growing population and to keep prices down. But on the other hand, urban sprawl can negatively impact residents and the environment through loss of agricultural capacity, increased car dependency, increased traffic congestion, increased air and water pollution, increased pressure on infrastructure, loss of trees and wildlife, and less open space. 

The gardenhouse concept is a great example of sensitive densification by building a well-designed, affordable, small home behind an existing home. Costs like Internet and electricity can also potentially be shared between the two households. A previously unutilised backyard can be used to create an income-generating property for the home owner or provide a multi-generational home to cater for different life stages.   

The Woolloongabba gardenhouse will be on display during the inaugural Sheo Design Home Tour on 22 September.  If you love all things design (especially sustainable, compact design like this!), register your interest and we’ll keep you up to date. 

We’re also on the look out for other innovative Australian homes and architects to showcase, so if you know of a home that might be suitable, we’d love to hear from you.

Kate Derbyshire