Simplicity Reigns at This Off-Grid Australian Retreat

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By Melissa Dalton / Published by Dwell
If you think these two buildings resemble old sheds, you're not wrong—that's kind of the point.

When clients tapped MRTN Architects to design a simple cabin and shed on 300 acres in Victoria, Australia, they were not only seeking a retreat from their busy lives in the city. They also wanted to use the space as a care-taking cottage, where they would get to know the property, as they wanted to build a bigger house on the land in the future.

The team was asked to come up with a design that would "eventually be incorporated into a more permanent home, appear to have weathered with the site, and be of a familiar form when viewed from a distance."

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The clients requested the design of the cabin and shed to appear as if the buildings had been weathering over time with the site.

The clients requested the design of the cabin and shed to appear as if the buildings had been weathering over time with the site.

After being inspired from existing agricultural outbuildings in the area, the architects conceived the two new buildings as "rural artifacts." 

"Nostalgia for this connection between land and building was the guiding principle for the Nulla Vale House and Shed," the team explains.

The 500-square-foot cabin and adjacent shed are 100 percent off-grid, with water, sewer, and electrical systems in place to support these buildings and any future development.

The 500-square-foot cabin and adjacent shed are 100 percent off-grid, with water, sewer, and electrical systems in place to support these buildings and any future development.

The exterior combines recycled brick, radial sawn timber, and galvanized roof sheeting. "Materials were selected to meet the clients’ brief that the house fit within the cognitive idea of an old shed," explain the architects.

The exterior combines recycled brick, radial sawn timber, and galvanized roof sheeting. "Materials were selected to meet the clients’ brief that the house fit within the cognitive idea of an old shed," explain the architects.

Salvaged brick was left unfinished on the interior, without a "sheet of plasterboard in sight," the architects continue to explain. Reflective roof insulation at the ceiling redistributes the light from concealed LED fixtures at the timber trusses.

Salvaged brick was left unfinished on the interior, without a "sheet of plasterboard in sight," the architects continue to explain. Reflective roof insulation at the ceiling redistributes the light from concealed LED fixtures at the timber trusses.

A central core houses the bathroom and divides the bedroom from the kitchen/living area.

A central core houses the bathroom and divides the bedroom from the kitchen/living area.

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"The house provides the means to eat, sleep, and wash in a space that is part of the experience of being on the site and not removed from it," add the architects.

"The house provides the means to eat, sleep, and wash in a space that is part of the experience of being on the site and not removed from it," add the architects.

The view is the focal point in a bathroom sheathed in charcoal tile and complemented by wood accents.

The view is the focal point in a bathroom sheathed in charcoal tile and complemented by wood accents.

"Our design fulfilled the fundamental concern to create a connection to place, capture site and distant views, while providing humble protection from the elements," the architects note.

"Our design fulfilled the fundamental concern to create a connection to place, capture site and distant views, while providing humble protection from the elements," the architects note.

Passive design principles were utilized in the siting of the highly-insulated cabin. Deep eaves protect the interior from hot summer sun, while a verandah overhang optimizes solar gains in winter.

Passive design principles were utilized in the siting of the highly-insulated cabin. Deep eaves protect the interior from hot summer sun, while a verandah overhang optimizes solar gains in winter.

The shed was custom-designed with a shed kit company, and is clad in heritage-grade corrugated galvanized iron. It houses land-care equipment, as well as the PV panels and battery.

The shed was custom-designed with a shed kit company, and is clad in heritage-grade corrugated galvanized iron. It houses land-care equipment, as well as the PV panels and battery.

Project Credits:

Architect: MRTN Architects /@antmartarch

Builder: Hardwick Build Co.

Structural Engineer: Deery Consulting

Lighting Design: Light Project