Paperback House, Northcote

Paperback house enables a family of four including two publishers who frequently work from home to live, work relax and play connected with each other and the environment. The architectural protagonist is the bookshelf that celebrates their literary vocation at the centre of the house. Double sided and semi-transparent it connects their Library/Study with the Living rooms adjacent and Rumpus room above connecting the occupants while allowing selective seclusion.

The overlapping spaces allows a very compact footprint essential for this relatively small block and a more sustainable use of resources in manufacture and occupation. The layout encourages interaction with the elements for natural comfort and wellbeing. The ground level is open and transparent, flowing outside encouraging play while making the spaces feel larger than the modest footprint.

The floating upper level by contrast is solid and opaque, carved from charred black hardwood. It responds to a different context requiring privacy and shade. Its form cantilevers to provide summer shade to rooms below while letting in low winter sun. Inside translucent surfaces attenuate glare while maintaining the benefits of passive solar gain. Reflective surfaces accentuate his soft light and combined with natural materials create a clam relaxing ambience perfect for reading whether professionally or relaxing.

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue + Jennifer Payette  

Photography: Derek Swalwell  

Styling: Justine Murphy + Melissa Bailey  

Builder: Truewood Constructions  


Town House Turnaround, Northcote

Helping a Quarter Life Crisis

A house only 28 years old shouldn’t really need a renovation, right?! But some of the nineties townhouses were built terribly, concerned mainly with maximising yield for speculative developers, not live-ability for the occupants or environmental sustainability. They were often small, pokey, dark, poorly oriented and poorly insulated. But structurally they are usually fine, and they are often well located in established suburbs with good communities. Built in clusters of two, three or four, it would be difficult to get planning permission to demolish and rebuild. And environmentally, with the embodied energy contained within the structure, it is difficult to reconcile demolishing and sending to landfill a building less than thirty years old. So we took up the challenge of renovating this 1991 townhouse and help it through it’s quarter life crisis. The original was a shocker: It was dark and squishy. So small that doors collided with each other. It was poorly oriented with all of its windows facing south or west with no opportunity for warming northern sun. The only room with a north facing window was the laundry! All of the windows were single glazed and enclosed by external roller shutters (a puzzling choice in a friendly neighbourhood!) meaning that these windows did not even gain ambient light or cross ventilation. The poor levels of insulation meant that the existing house had an energy rating of only 1.7 stars. Stylistically it was confused. Despite being built in the nineties, it wasn’t really modern or contemporary but instead had faux-heritage details like ornate federation fretwork, bulkheads and and chunky turned timber balustrades which, in dark brown timber, visually cluttered the compact spaces making them feel even smaller. So how did we approach this townhouse turnaround? Firstly we upgraded the buildings entire envelope to improve its thermal performance. We installed new insulation in the floor, walls and roof. We installed new double glazed windows throughout with electrically operated external blinds (fabric, not shutters so they still let in ambient light and breezes) to the west facing windows. These measures, along with the new north-facing windows we provided, raised the energy rating to 6 stars.
But the most profound change was was to re-orient the house and open it up. We knocked out the laundry wall to make the kitchen bigger and provide a new large north facing window. This connected the living rooms to a new sunny north facing deck in what had previously been a dreary services yard. This brings warming winter sun into the kitchen and meals room energising these spaces, providing natural light and creating a sense of space greater than its modest footprint. We opened up the wall between the meals and living room so that the new L-shaped living zone now has windows on four sides, opening it up for cross ventilation and visual connection to garden on all sides and neighbouring treetops. We raised the ceiling in the kitchen/meals, raking it to match the underside of the existing roofline. The impact is dramatic, making the space feel much bigger without increasing the footprint. We demolished the old stair with its chunky balustrade and replaced it with an open tread stair with visual transparency creating a sense of spaciousness throughout the ground floor. Bright new colours and reflective surfaces bounce light around increasing the sense of space. We didn’t actually increase the footprint at all except for the addition of a new deck and pergola, the only extension permitted by the planning regulations. But this becomes an outdoor room surrounded by a new garden by Sam Egan gardens and views to the friendly neighbourhood streetscape. We questioned the need for excessive spaces that have become modern norms. There is no butler’s pantry, instead a well appointed space-saving appliance cupboard/pantry with bi-fold doors. We deleted the space-hungry walk in robe and instead provided a well designed, but compact, cupboard robe. We  gave the space gained to the bathroom which contains a new euro-style laundry and the space from the old laundry was in turn given to the north-facing windows of the kitchen and meals area, a more valuable use of that space and orientation. The new layout is flexible. There is no main bedroom as such, but bedrooms on both the lower and upper floors that have great robes and access to a bathroom next door (instead of a dedicated en-suite) allowing the occupants to switch levels as age and mobility requires. We applied new surfaces to the existing structure including a new spotted gum floor, rendering the bricks and painting the tiled roof. All of these surface finishes, with a few key structural changes, and the spatial re-orientation have given this young building a second life with a more open, bright and environmentally friendly future. Publications: Sanctuary Magazine Issue 49, November 2019 Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue +  Jennifer Payette Photography: Jack Lovel Builder: Truewood Constructions Landscape: Sam Egan Gardens Cabinetry: Chris Cabinets Styling: Sarah Minson

Elemental House, High Camp

Off-Grid Under a Big Hard Sun

“We went to Ben with a hand-drawn sketch of a design for a modest weekend retreat to be built high on a hill in country Victoria. After listening to our dreams for the house and visiting the site, Ben came back with a suggestion for a completely different design – one which suited the site and the rugged conditions far better. The result is a beautifully crafted robust 10-square house which takes full advantage of its heroic views but still stands strong and secure against the full force of prevailing winds. Ben understood and supported our desire to go off-grid and to make the house as bushfire-resistant as it is possible to be, incorporating elements such a fire-resistant spotted gum timber inside and out. Ben managed the tender process for us, ensuring we obtained the services of a quality builder, and then oversaw the construction which was completed within the expected time frame, making it an easy, seamless and enjoyable process. Naturally we’re biased but we think it is the most beautiful house in Australia.” – Sue & Jim Elemental house is a low impact off-grid retreat on an exposed ridge line at a place called High Camp, an hour north of Melbourne. In a compact 10m x 10m footprint, this house has one bedroom, one bathroom and one living room. But while it shuns some of the excesses of modern life, it doesn’t sacrifice comfort. The house produces and stores its own power,  collects its own rain water and treats its own waste water on site. The design interacts with the elements to create natural comfort; inviting warming winter sun, blocking out hot summer sun and catching prevailing cool breezes. Perched on a hill overlooking stunning panoramic views, it is exposed to the harshest of Australia’s elements; category N3 winds (low level cyclonic,) bushfire attack level of BAL-29, and the unforgiving hot summer sun. It was the raw natural beauty of the place that drew our clients there. They told us that ‘woora woora’ means ‘sky’ in the local dialect and the sky out here is expansive and beautiful. But on such an exposed site, the sky takes on a paradoxical relationship for us; providing all that we need to be self-sufficient but also imposing the harsh elements that make this place inhospitable.
Rather than shy away, this bold little house confronts the elements and embraces them, immersing the occupant in the broad landscape beyond. The geometric form is a pure expression of the essence of shelter that we crave in this land – like seeking shade under the branches of a broad tree canopy. The depth of the eaves provides summer shade and shelter from rain. The chunkiness of the eaves is a structural response to the wind loads and visually gives the house a sense of solidity. The strong horizontality of this canopy visually accentuates the undulations of the surrounding landscape. We used a natural palette of materials complementing the location. The external timber, spotted gum, is sustainably harvested and is so durable that it is bushfire resistant. Unlike the corrugated iron vernacular, this will age gracefully, allowing the building to settle into the landscape. Inside, protected by the elements, the spotted gum-lined ceiling and cabinetry will stay forever young. The internal palette is minimal, practical and unadorned, reflecting our client’s brief. Concrete is structure, thermal mass, benchtops and hearth. Oriented strand board (OSB), a structural bracing, is appropriated as internal wall lining and cabinetry and painted black. These dark, moody finishes emphasise the sense of shelter. The reflective lustre of the burnished concrete, the sheen of the timber and the mirrored splash backs also increase the soft ambient light and amplify the views beyond, celebrating the awesome nature of this site viewed from a position of comfortable refuge. Publications: Vantage Point, Green Magazine Issue 67, May 2019 Elemental House, The Age Domain, 26th April 2019 Awards: Houses Awards 2019, Shortlisted Sustainability Awards 2019, Finalist Interior Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) 2019, Shortlisted Timber Design Awards 2019, Finalist Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue Photography:  Jack Lovel + Dave Kulesza Builder: Keenan Built

Treetop House, Northcote

“We hired Ben to design our new home in Northcote and we could not be happier with that decision. From the outset he listened and understood the brief of light; trees and breeze with connectedness and retreat. Sustainability and our budget were always masterfully matched. Ben is an excellent communicator and we were so thankful he project managed the build which meant much less stress for us and an exceptional end product. We would highly recommend Ben to deliver a brilliant design; a transparent process; an eye for detail and all delivered with calm efficient professionalism.” – Liz & Andrew

Treetop House explores architecture that responds to its environment pragmatically but also emotionally, allowing a young family to connect with their leafy surrounds.

Our clients, a family of five, wanted a house that would foster connections within the family whilst providing spaces they could retreat to. They wanted their house to engage with the elements to provide natural comfort, and to embrace the stunning treetop views in the parkland to the rear of their site.

This really sparked our interest, because we think the next level of sustainable design (in addition to practical passive solar techniques, active engagement and sustainable technology) is creating deeper human connection and understanding of the natural environment and our place within it.

The house is designed to amplify the view of the surrounding tree canopies in order to encourage such connections. The height of the kitchen’s raised ceiling frames the treetop views while letting natural light pour in. The clerestory window providing intriguing glimpses to activity on the rooftop deck. This all creates this captivating sense of wonder in this kitchen – the space where the family comes together and radiates from. Lower ceilings in the adjacent spaces provide a sense of safety and coziness. Meanwhile these adjacent spaces are also the zones where family members disperse to pursue their own interests separately while remaining connected with each other.

Upstairs, a turf roof – like an infinity pool in front of an ocean horizon – brings the greenery of the park right into the house. Although not actually trafficable, the sight of the turf creates a feeling of possibility and wonder that stirs the senses.

The cantilevered roof deck draws the occupant out into the treetops within the relative safety and comfort of a high glass balustrade, provides a sense of refuge that heightens the emotional response to that all-important view.

Importantly, the underlying principles of sustainable design are still present. The courtyard layout brings warming winter sun into the living rooms over a tall two storey neighbouring roof. The raised ceiling over the kitchen catches more northern sun and southerly breezes. The occupant is encouraged to actively engage with the elements, operating the openable windows and electric external blinds as needed in response to the moving sun and shifting breezes to create natural comfort within the house. The house is also specced out with solar power, underground water tanks and thermally efficient materials.

Photography: Nic Granleese + Jack Lovel

Builder: Truewood Construction


Lean-2, Northcote

“From the first meeting with Ben, we felt he understood us and what we hoped to achieve with the renovation of our house. He saw what irked us about our small, dark and wonky old weatherboard, yet he also understood why we wanted to retain some of it. What Ben designed is a practical new extension that adjusts easily and cleverly to the notorious fluctuations in Melbourne’s climate, and provides the extra space a chaotic, growing family requires; but it is also a very creative and beautiful space that we love to spend time in.

We worked with Ben from initial design concept through to practical completion. At every step he was knowledgeable, respectful and receptive to our ideas, and he kept us in check when our fanciful ideas threatened to blow the budget! He and the builder worked effectively and efficiently together, and the finished result is testament to that. Now that we are moved in and the house is littered with the debris of games and toys, we realise that ours is a house that is not precious, but is of great value to us, and one that we hope Ben will continue to visit for the occasional beer!” – Alexa & Gregor

At Lean-2 we’ve put a new spin on the quirky and quaint elements of the typical lean-to, with a compact but spacious second lean-to on an existing house with a difficult orientation. In an age where social media emphasises image, encouraging consumption, size and excess this house celebrates modesty of scale and quality of space and simplicity of materials.

We all know the classic Australian lean-to:

Three walls and a single pitched roof abutting a taller existing building as an appendix to the original.

They often come in two’s or three’s they get progressively smaller like a row of babushka dolls.

Despite their modest scale and tight spaces, they offer some positives that are worth re-interpreting: Once-external cladding becomes internal lining boards and previously external windows become internalised creating interesting views and connections between rooms. They are inherently low and compact, providing cosy intimate spaces within. Their visual bulk is diminutive, resulting in negligible overshadowing on its own backyard.

Our clients, a young family of four, needed more space for their family to grow.They wanted flexibility to allow the house to adapt to changing needs and to accommodate visiting family members. They wanted a degree of openness to facilitate connections between family members. They sought greater connections with the elements, warming sun and cooling breezes, to create natural comfort and reduce their environmental footprint. But the main challenge on their site was the orientation, north to front, making it difficult for the living rooms at the back of the house to engage with the sun.

We retained the existing high pitched roof over the front four rooms and the low adjoining roof form of the original lean-to. Then Lean-2 adopts the classic single pitch skillion roof but rather than tuck it under the existing roof (as the usually do) it projects high over it creating, a clerestory highlight window to get sun down into the new living rooms.

We inserted a north-west facing courtyard which is a compact but sunny occupiable outdoor space. It’s operable folding arm awning allows it to adapt to all seasons. The courtyard facilitates cross views from the man living space into the flexible studio space across the courtyard. This replicates that sense of views through rooms typical of lean-tos but meets the contemporary need for passive interaction between occupants allowing them to supervise and be in contact while not necessarily in the same room.

The roof form, 4m high at the northern end, takes dramatically downwards to be only 2.7m at the southern end, replicating that modest sense of scale and negligible visual bulk from the back yard which is so important on a site with this orientation.

The materials are modest and domestic but honest, natural and robust. Concrete floor, plywood ceiling, timber windows, exposed rafters, recycled brick pavers and folding arm awnings are all part of the vernacular of the lean-to but put together in a refined way to elevate them from simple domestic construction.


Photography: Jack Lovel

Builder: Keenan Built


Glide House, Flemington

the spirit of adventure

“We hired Ben to help us create a sun-filled creative space that made the most of our Northern Aspect (particularly in winter). Ben expertly guided us through the briefing, design and tender process – making sure every detail was accounted for to a very high standard. He also was extremely patient and tirelessly answered our questions no matter how basic or small they were! From start to finish the design and build process was a lot of fun and everyone involved from Ben to Truewood Construction (builders) made the process so incredibly easy and stress free – we would not hesitate to recommend them. The end result is a wonderful and creative space that is very hard to leave. In Winter the sun streams in and 12 degrees outside registers as 20+ degrees inside – a testament to good design at work. ” – Christina and Mark

Our clients recently returned to Melbourne from years of travelling and working overseas ‘chasing the sun.’ They exuded that wonderful sense of adventure, optimism, enthusiasm and creativity experienced when travelling. We wanted the extension to their Melbourne home to embody those dynamic feelings. 

Meanwhile it would respond to our client’s brief for a house that uses environmentally sensitive materials and a creative form to harness the sun and be naturally comfortable and beautiful.

Their double fronted block in Flemington, despite its modest size, is blessed with a beautiful northerly rear aspect and views of established native trees all around. The sculptural roof glides over the extension responding to these site opportunities while embodying their adventurous spirit. The roof twists symmetrically around a central ridge, soaring up and out over the backyard to embrace the winter sun. At the southern end the roof gently wraps downwards to each side with sweeping eaves that shelter the house from hot summer afternoon and morning sun. Clerestory windows allow visual connection with street trees beyond and catch high southerly breezes to create cross ventilation. The triangular highlight frames views of the old Edwardian pressed metal roof and chimneys. Like a traveller reflecting upon their hometown from abroad, we look back at the original part of the house, see its foibles and imperfections, and love it all the more for these eccentricities.

The materials are an eclectic collection (as is a traveller’s way) selected to express and accentuate the form: The lines of the white timber ceiling express the shape of the hyperbolic paraboloid roof.  The raw charred black timber cladding contrasts the white ceiling to heighten the sense of lightness.  Recycled timber cabinetry, recycled brick pavers and timber windows with locally sourced hardwoods express our clients desire to re-use where possible and to source local materials to minimise their environmental impact. High levels of insulation, double glazing and thermal mass help maintain stable temperatures creating a naturally comfortable home that as our clients say is “hard to leave.”

Photography: Tatjana Plitt

Builder: Truewood Construction


Pigeon Pair, Sanctuary Issue 41, Summer 2017/18



Curvy House, Northcote

Catching the sun

“Ours was a difficult project – a south facing, dark, single fronted terrace with a heritage overlay. Ben’s solution – to curve the roof upwards to allow in northern light – was both beautiful and practical. The design delivered all the things we wanted in our renovation – more light, more space, more openness. But also a stunningly beautiful space to admire every day as well.” – James & Jo, Northcote

This project is another in a series of houses in which we’ve employed creative means of getting sunlight into difficult spaces, while creating an uplifting feeling for the occupant.

The existing house was on a narrow 6.5m wide block with neighbouring walls built on both boundaries, a heritage facade that had to be retained and with the difficult orientation of north to the front – all of which make it hard to get sun in!

In response to these challenges we popped up the roof and then peeled it up towards the north. The large highlight window brings in warming winter sun and the perimeter of clerestory windows brings light in at all times of the day.

The convex curve of the roof bounces direct sun light down into the living space but also creates an illusion of space. The ramp of the peeled roof directs the eye up and outwards increasing the sense of space vertically while the long tail of the roof cantilevering over the back deck accentuating the feeling of length on a small site.

The detailing is carefully considered to create a feeling of floating. The slender structural frame and black steel windows make the roof feel detached. The light coloured ceiling contrasts with the dark solidity of the external walls and cabinetry increasing the sense of weightlessness.

As a result the house is naturally comfortable, warm and bright and a delight to occupy.


Kitchen Catalogue, Green Magazine Issue 59

Pigeon Pair, Sanctuary Issue 41, Summer 2017/18

Photography: Tatjana Plitt

Builder: Keenan Built


Beyond House, Northcote

Illuminating a south-facing heritage terrace house

“Ben has worked with us through all stages of our home renovation – design, development, council approval, documentation, tendering/negotiation, and project management. He has brought imagination, knowledge, solid experience, an eye for detail and a good work ethic to the project. He has listened to us, but brought extra back – which has given a better result than just agreeing with us or telling us what (we thought) we wanted to hear. Arrangements and relationships have been refreshingly transparent and respectful.” – Tim & Karen

With Beyond house we seek to stretch the boundaries of the typical terrace house. The existing heritage house was south-facing, dark, cold, narrow and overshadowed by neighbouring walls on both side boundaries. It’s owners, a family of three, were detached from the world beyond. They are serious about sustainability and wanted the new addition to be naturally comfortable, using sun for heating, breezes for cooling, water harvesting, solar power, recycled materials (even re-using the old kitchen!) and integrating and indoor clothes-airer. We looked beyond the site constraints and beyond the typical spatial boundaries within a terrace house’s rooms and levels.  

Through the insertion of central void, adjacent to a multi-purpose studio space, opening onto a roof deck, the occupants engage with the world beyond – the sun, breezes, sky and trees. Internal planters and many carefully placed openable windows (internal and external) bring the external environment in from beyond. Rooms are openable to share light, breezes and views across the void. These elements break down the barriers typically within and around a terrace house to create social connections between occupants unified by the flexible open spaces and visual connections to the sky, tree-tops and now visible Ruckers Hill community beyond.

“By creating a lantern-like high void above the kitchen that pulls in daylight through a big west-facing window, and draws in northern light via the deck’s wall of windows, the kitchen is bathed in a daytime glow.” – Jenny Brown, Domain


Beyond Brilliant, Sanctuary Issue 36, Spring 2016

A Narrow Escape, The Age Domain, 18th March 2016

‘Beyond House’ in Northcote pushes boundaries, RealEstate.com.au, 30th January 2018



2016 Sustainability Awards, Winner Heritage Category

2015 International Green Interiors Awards, shortlisted.

Photography: Peter Bennetts


Beyond House REVISIT

Post Occupancy Evaluation

We believe that it is important to revisit our houses after they have been occupied to see how they perform and learn what has worked well and what can be fine-tuned.

Beyond house was completed in December 2015 and won the heritage category of the Sustainability Awards in 2016 but now, 18 months later, we revisit it to see how it really performs.

There is currently a lot of discussion about solar technology and how far it has come in recent years and where it is going, and so we have decided to focus on that in our analysis.

Our clients at Beyond House had the aim of generating more electricity than they used on an annual average.

In addition to this they made a conscious decision to not use gas for heating and hot water because it is a fossil fuel and is a finite resource… and of course is getting more expensive! This view of gas being adopted by more people now and promoted by the ATA (Alternative technology association) to push for houses that are theoretically ‘zero carbon’ and using no (or low) fossil fuels in operation. The house isn’t completely gas free. They use gas for their cooktop which they had recycled from their old kitchen.

They decided to use electric heat pump systems for the domestic hot water and also for the hydronic heating. The heat pump is a very energy efficient means of producing hot water and, if that electricity is produced on site, then is a very clean, green option.

We designed the house to use as little electricity as possible in the first place.  A big part of this is passive solar design and natural cross ventilation to reduce the need for heating and cooling which are the biggest users of energy in homes.

The heat pumps are set to do produce most of their hot water in the afternoon while the sun is out and the solar panels are producing the power that they use. The domestic hot water is then stored in highly insulated tanks that keep it hot until it is used for showering the next morning. The hydronic heating’s hot water is pumped into the concrete floor slab that heats up and retains that heat for much of the night.

The next step was designing sufficient solar panels to generate the power that will be used. One of the challenges with this house is that the roof space is limited and is not oriented for optimal active solar gain. The front part of the roof, retained for heritage reasons, doesn’t have any surfaces optimal for mounting solar panels and is overshadowed by street trees anyway. The new addition at the back rakes up to the north which is great for passive solar gain but provides a roof space that faces south – the opposite of what we need for mounting solar. So we had to tilt the panels up on frames to orient them north. And of course these rows need to be spaced apart so that they don’t overshadow each other. So we had space for 14 solar panels.

After 18 months our clients have recorded the data on their electricity use. On an annual average they use 10kWh/day and produce 13kWh/day. In summer they produce more than they use and export the excess to the grid. In winter they use more than they produce and import their shortfall from the grid. But on an annual basis they export more than they import so become a net exporter of electricity.

This is a great result when we consider that they use electricity for their heating and cooling and the house is frequently occupied all day as one of the owners works from home regularly. This is a testament to the original brief and vision and everyday living of our clients and the benefits of carefully selected active technology systems designed in conjunction with passive solar design for natural heating and cooling.


‘Beyond House’ in Northcote pushes boundaries, RealEstate.com.au, 30th January 2018



Mont Albert B&W House

Collaboratively creating an extension

This house was the result of a collaboration between the owners, their bespoke cabinet maker and us.

Our clients, a family of four including two horticulturalists with a landscape design, construction and maintenance business, wanted to owner-build the project and selecting Cantilever Interiors as the kitchen manufacturer was the first piece to lock in.

Cantilever then recommended the clients engage us to design the house. Having worked together, we had a strong working relationship and mutual design respect and a similar sensibility all of which complemented the clients.

We see this as a fantastic opportunity to design a space that would complement and accentuate all of the elements that are unique in their hand crafted locally made kitchens – the materials, detailing and environmental performance.

The addition is an elegant and compact L-shaped plan with the Kitchen at the knuckle, the Dining space to the north side opening onto an outdoor entertaining area and Living at the rear overlooking the sort of beautiful lawn that only horticulturalists have.

A raking roof lifts up over a north-facing clerestory window to bring light and warmth deep into the house. The asymmetry in this form complements that in Cantilevers balanced elevation compositions.

The restrained palette of materials is all black and white except for the plywood roof and timber windows framed in timber complementing Cantilever’s language of all monochrome surfaces except for the timber elements to be accentuated.

The raking ceiling and corner ‘bay’ window pull light in from the side and connect the occupant with the environment. As with the key elements in the cabinetry, these architectural elements are accentuated and the warm timber glows in the natural light against the backdrop of black, white and of course the horticulturalists’ green.


‘Light & Breezy’, Grand Designs Australia Magazine, Issue 8.1

Photography: Tatjana Plitt