A Chicory Kiln Becomes a Sustainable Vacation Home With Endless Flexibility

A Chicory Kiln Becomes a Sustainable Vacation Home With Endless Flexibility

By Lucy Wang
Mobile cabinetry and thoughtful reuse turn a dilapidated industrial structure into a warm and creative home with open-ended possibilities.

With a PhD in ephemeral architecture, a background in fine arts, and a long profession in landscape architecture, Dr. Charles Anderson wears many design hats. So, it was only natural that he and his wife, Tiziana Launech, would want to design and build, rather than buy, their vacation home by the beach.

To flex their creative muscles, the duo purchased a defunct chicory kiln on the northwest side of Australia’s Phillip Island to serve as the base structure for their new home. The decayed building was one of the many kilns that dot the island—relics of a bygone chicory farming industry.

Set next to protected wetlands and close to the beach, House for Hermes is located about 90 minutes south of Melbourne.

After spending years preparing the decrepit structure for renovation and drafting designs, the couple asked their longtime friend Andrew Simpson, principal at Andrew Simpson Architects, to help convert the heritage-listed building into a welcoming and sustainable home on a budget of less than $280 per square foot.

The converted kiln is one of three buildings on the large coastal property. In addition to the main house, there is the Coldon Home (a guest house and artist studio) and Setters Cottage (a sewing studio).

"The site location had a significant impact on the material choices for the project, as the exterior had to be able to withstand harsh coastal weather," says Simpson. "The architectural response to this history is also evident through the use of raw materials such as recycled timber, shotcrete, stainless steel bench tops, galvanized steel sheet canopies, and steel and stainless steel stair balustrades—all used to celebrate this local industrial and rural history."

Due to the harsh coastal climate, it was important that the house be clad in durable materials. The exterior consists of shotcrete sheathed in salvaged western red cedar weatherboards.

The vacation home also pays homage to one of Anderson’s artworks named A House for Hermes #1: The House of My Father, a 1,076-square-foot installation made of plywood panels etched with digitally overlaid drawings by Anderson’s father of the different houses where Anderson had lived. The piece explores ideas of dwelling and transition, and it was exhibited at Tarrawarra Museum in 2007.

"The design was conceived as part of an ongoing exploration of what might constitute ‘home’ or ‘place’ in a world where prevailing conditions are of speed, dynamism, and change," explains Simpson. The timber artwork not only inspired the name of the vacation house—House for Hermes—but the plywood panels were also reused to line the ceiling above the exposed trusses.

Simpson retained the original roof trusses and left them exposed as a reminder of the building's industrial heritage. The etched panels recycled from Anderson's former art installation line the ceiling above the trusses.

The conceptual thinking behind that artwork is also expressed in the mobile kitchen cabinetry, which is built on casters to roll along the floor for multiple configurations. A portion of the stairs is also mounted on casters, with breaks for stabilization.

Launech teaches cooking classes in the house, and the mobile countertops make it easy for her to configure the kitchen to her tastes.

The floating stainless steel countertop is supported by a steel rod to allow the cabinet underneath to roll in and out.

A section of the kitchen countertop wraps around the end of the stairs and serves as a landing. The washer/dryer are concealed behind the doors of that unit.

"Continuing with the concept of ‘home’ and ‘place’, the flexible stair provides an opportunity to manipulate the threshold of circulation on the ground level," explains the architect. "This desire for serendipity is partly a response to Georges Perec’s question: ‘We should learn to live more on staircases. But how?’"

"Emphasis was placed on the treatment of the interior of the home as a continuation of the exterior landscape," says Simpson. "This was achieved through a series of interlocking volumes and horizontal planes, including the kitchen joinery units, which also encompassed the exterior decking and surrounding context."

The renovation of the chicory kiln and the new construction resulted in a 1,065-square-foot minimalist home—roughly the same size as Anderson’s former art installation—that’s built predominately of salvaged timber inside and out. Salvaged and recycled materials helped keep the home’s construction costs and carbon footprint to a minimum.

Anderson, Launech, Simpson, and Simpson's children are seated around the dining table—a salvaged find from a nearby old cottage.

"Timber is a recurring theme throughout this project—in addition to contributing to the warm, tactile aesthetic of the home, it also significantly contributes to the functionality and sustainability of the project," notes Simpson, who built the floors, walls, stairs, and cabinetry out of hoop pine plywood to match the pine and KD hardwood ceiling. 

"Where possible, recycled on-site timbers were used. In terms of the structural frame of the building, the use of steel was avoided and timber adopted to reduce the carbon footprint of the building—this had the added benefit of improving thermal efficiency and creating an aesthetically warm internal environment."

A Japanese-style outdoor bathing area with a tub and shower sits on the property.

On-site hardwood was reused wherever possible; here it features in the screen and deck of the outdoor shower.

The adoption of passive design strategies also improve the sustainability of the house, which takes advantage of cooling cross breezes. In addition to the kiln’s naturally high thermal mass, lightweight high-density foam provides insulation for the first floor.

Housed inside the kiln is a bedroom with an operable skylight that serves as a thermal chimney for passive cooling.

A long line of mirrors makes the compact bathroom feel more spacious.

"The architecture is predicated, not on the rehearsed acts of enclosure or through the predetermined functions that define a house, but on the idea of facilitating and celebrating transformation and movement," says Simpson.

"Through the use of adaptive and reconfigurable spaces and the manipulation of thresholds and passages, the house is intended to be a place that engages with and is a catalyst for change. A sense of ‘open-endedness’—of new possibilities of inhabitation is reinforced by the treatment of an interior landscape defined by contiguous interlocking volumes that encompass the exterior decking and surrounding context."

An office on the mezzanine level includes a custom-made cantilevered bookcase by Orana. The lights are Beacon Lighting bulbs with Fat Shack Vintage ceiling light cords.

The office includes a Chapman and Bailey desk.

Thanks to passive cooling techniques such as natural ventilation, the House for Hermes does not need air conditioning in the summer.

In the living room, the couple placed a midcentury modern sideboard that they found at a secondhand shop.

Operable louvers on the first floor allow for cross ventilation, while lightweight galvanized steel canopies provide shade and shelter.

House for Hermes ground floor plan

House for Hermes first floor plan

House for Hermes north elevation

House for Hermes section

House for Hermes section

Related Reading:

An Uplifting Melbourne Addition Embodies its Owners’ Sense of Adventure 

An Iron Foundry Is Recast as an Idyllic Country Retreat

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Andrew Simpson / @andrewsimpsonarchitects

Builder / General Contractor: NJ Heathcote Constructions

Structural Engineer: Meyer Consulting

Landscape Design Company: Charles Anderson


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