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Embracing nature

The Altsons pride themselves on their efforts to effectively and responsibly use the environment around them to run their home. Photo by Aydin Payne

Off-the-grid and sustainable living reach new heights in a carefully designed house and garden that work with the natural environment, not against it.

STORY: NICOLA CECCATO. PHOTOGRAPHY: AYDIN PAYNE

In the foothills between Euroa and Gooram lies a home fully off the grid and using the provisions of nature to thrive.

Designed by Mark Shapiro from Habitat Design, the home is simply stunning — with unique architectural elements that make it stand out.

The home sits in front of a hill layered with boulders and greenery, overlooking a 150-hectare property filled with sheep and native Australian flora.

Removed from the busyness of town, owners Jill and Malcolm Altson have lived a peaceful life in the quiet countryside since they built the house in 2010.

Not only are they well protected from noise, they’re also prepared for the threat of fire that comes with living in a bushfire prone area.

Built with fire-resistant materials like rammed earth walls, double glazed aluminium windows and the fibre cement Cemintel, Jill and Malcolm’s home is prepared for bushfire season.

These materials, alongside low-emission coating on the windows, contribute to the home’s passive solar design and provide insulation — allowing a comfortable temperature throughout the home all year round.

The above-ground pool, which sits on the deck next to the living area inside, is the home’s source of cooling.

As wind comes across the pool, it blows through the windows at the bottom of the living room, cooling the home down as hot air exits via higher windows at the top of the room.

“You drive the temperature of the house according to the doors and windows for cross ventilation,” Malcolm said.

“In winter, the sun shines in and heats up the concrete floor which provides our heating; as long as we've got a sunny day, we can walk around in a T-shirt. Even if it’s pretty much zero degrees outside.”

To keep the lights going and appliances working, solar panels are used to power the home — keeping them entirely off the electrical grid.

“We bought a solar system 12 years ago and we knew things would be cheaper and more efficient and that’s exactly what happened,” Jill said.

As the world continues to get warmer, the couple has also designed a garden acclimatised to hotter weather.

Their desert-style garden is packed with rocks and pebbles, preventing fire from spreading to the house and limiting the need for water.

Dry plants like pennisetum grass, perovskia, westringia shrubs and yakka plants are dotted throughout the front yard, with banksias and varieties of eucalyptus spread across the property.

A netted area for fruit trees sits at the back, growing an array of stone fruits alongside a vegie patch, herb garden and a stunning stone labyrinth.

The garden sustains its energy from a dripper watering system, which continually feeds the plants from the flow of the spring on top of the hill, making it both easy to maintain and sustainable.

For household water, the couple makes use of wet days — with water tanks which take in the rain, filter it and pump it into the house.

The interior also showcases a unique feature — a stream, which flows through the house from the top of the hill behind it, to the front of the home.

Running adjacent to the bedrooms and main hallway, the stream falls down into a mini waterfall at the stairs to continue its path out the front where an array of taro root brings colour to the water display.

Another outstanding design element of the home are the Japanese sliding walls turning an open living area into a closed off library, and a side entrance into a spare room with the help of a hidden Murphy bed in the wall.

Colourful artwork and wooden furniture feature throughout, with potted plants dispersed throughout the rooms complementing the natural landscape just outside.

“We bought a solar system 12 years ago and we knew things would be cheaper and more efficient and that’s exactly what happened.”
Photo by Aydin Payne
Water poppies and taro root, among other water plants, bring a spark of colour to the running stream that goes through the house. Photo by Aydin Payne
Malcolm Altson designed the labyrinth to mimic the one at Chartres Cathedral in France. Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Native flora surrounds the area and is echoed in the desert theme of the garden. Photo by Aydin Payne
These rocks were drilled out from under the back bedroom when the Altsons were building their home, and it was decided they would use them as a sculpture designed by Peter King. Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
The wide windows around the front of the home are integral to the passive solar design principles. Photo by Aydin Payne
The stream makes its way from the back of the house to the front, bringing a little bit of nature indoors. Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
The pool on the front deck overlooks the beautiful landscape of the Altsons’ property. Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne
Photo by Aydin Payne