Home Tours

A Melbourne cottage transforms into an energy-efficient family home

The once poky cottage is now a two-storey home that ticks both the sustainability and style boxes.
Melbourne energy efficient home picket fencePhotography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass

You can’t help but do a double-take when you drive by this home in the suburb of Prahran. As you take the corner, its modest picket-fenced frontage extends into a majestic, angular building that’s eye-catching in all-white. It’s been completely transformed by owners Elissa and Ben, both doctors. “We bought the house ages ago with the intention of living in it,” says Elissa. “We really liked the old Victorian cottages around Melbourne. Then, you know, family happened and we realised it was too small for us.”

The couple, who live nearby with their young daughter, decided to renovate the “poky” cottage and turn it into a future-friendly rental property. “I feel like we all need to be thinking that way,” says Elissa. “With climate change, it’s inevitable. We’ll all have to go electric.”

Melbourne energy efficient cottage weatherboard cladding exterior.
The sides of the cottage were redone in James Hardie Scyon ‘Linea’ weatherboard cladding and the first floor is in BGC Innova ‘Stratum Trio’ cladding, all in Dulux Colorbond Surfmist to match the roof. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)
Melbourne energy efficient home with white picket fence.
Energy-efficient updates include the installation of double-glazed windows, insulation in the roof, walls and under the floors, a heat-pump hot water system and hydronic heating with a 10kW solar system and solar battery. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)
Melbourne energy efficient cottage exterior with white picket fence.
The front of the worker’s cottage was redone in block-face cladding and the existing picket fence now flows perfectly into a newly built one. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

It was previously one level with two bedrooms, a small kitchen and living room, and a bathroom that was “tacked onto an old, quite dodgy renovation out the back”. A heritage overlay listing meant they were restricted in the changes they could make. “We had to keep the facade and Council was quite firm about not having the upstairs too close to the front of the building. So that forced us to come up with something a bit more interesting,” says Elissa.

Cottage entry hallway and skylight.
The entrance leads through the original cottage section to the open-plan kitchen, dining and living extension. Everything has been given a fresh lick of Dulux Natural White. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

Who lives here?

This is the family’s rental property.

What was the project brief? Elissa: “To restore a leaky worker’s cottage and transform it into a well-heated and cooled, solar-powered and aesthetically pleasing house for the rental market – unheard of.”

What were the challenges? “Council limited the size of upstairs and therefore the roof space available for solar. We also had to work with a heritage overlay and a small, corner inner-city block.”

Why did this type of home appeal? “We have a passion for sustainability and eliminating fossil-fuel energy use. The future is electric! The energy savings are also a win-win for the tenant and landlord.”

Melbourne energy efficient home with family.
Owners Elissa, Ben and their daughter outside their transformed home. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

“There’s free sunshine so we wanted to maximise the solar capacity and have a really energy-efficient house.”


Living areas

The open-plan kitchen, dining and living space unfurls onto a courtyard. “It’s a small site, so we only had room for a courtyard,” says Elissa. “The upside is it requires minimal maintenance.” Under the deck is a 5000-litre water tank for reuse purposes.

Living room white painted brick and clerestory windows.
A Globe West ‘Huxley’ dining table and timber chairs from Inartisan sit between the kitchen and living areas on Royal Oak Floors. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)
Courtyard garden and timber flooring.
‘Dusk Down Up’ wall lights from Est Lighting light up the courtyard. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

The Lounge Lovers ‘Bronte’ sofa and armchair with Adairs and L&M Home cushions create a soft space to relax with a sunny outlook. The side table from HKliving and a Globe West ‘Hills’ coffee table offer the ideal resting spot for books or a cup of tea.

Living room hidden wooden storage cabinet and white curtains.
A West Elm artwork takes the place of a TV. Bespoke oak joinery provides hidden storage, allowing for a calm, curated area. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)


“The idea was to create a flow from the kitchen through to the courtyard and make it feel bigger,” says Elissa of the space. White walls, light floors and streamlined joinery by Precision Cabinets, paired with oak handles from Linear Standard, turns the kitchen into a practical and beautiful space.

Contemporary white kitchen and finger tile splashback.
The splashback features Classic Ceramics ‘Isola’ tiles in Zannone and the under-bench cabinetry matches the white walls and ceiling. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

The kitchen features a simple, considered palette, including a selection of stainless-steel pieces to add interest. A hi-tech Fisher & Paykel ActiveSmart French Door fridge sits between the cabinets to one side of the kitchen and the stainless-steel Franke EOS pull out spray mixer tap is paired with a Clark double bowl sink from Caroma. Artworks by Tuftluck on the kitchen shelf and by the window add character and tie the areas together.

Insulation acts as a barrier to heat flow – it makes your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer, leading to a reduction in energy usage. This home has insulation in the roof, walls and under the floors. A neutral rug adds another layer of insulation to the floor, plus a lovely tactile experience underfoot.

We love… insulation
Energy efficient solar wall lighting.
Globe West ‘Ronald’ bar stools complement the Stone Ambassador ‘Kirec’ bench. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

Main bedroom

The new upstairs bedroom has a walk-in-wardrobe that has proved its worth. “The shelf and mirror in the wardrobe is perfect for getting ready and putting on jewellery,” says Elissa. “We had to move a service, which was planned to go in the roof/cupboard upstairs to the courtyard, so we got a bit of extra wardrobe space.”

White bedroom with vaulted ceiling fan and rattan bedhead.
The armchair, bedside tables and bedhead are from Adairs and the bed is dressed with Pottery Barn bedding and throws. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

The diagonal design allows the second storey to sit back from the original front section. They kept the original two bedrooms and added a third upstairs with an ensuite. The biggest challenge in making the draughty worker’s cottage energy efficient was sealing up all the cracks. “I think that makes a big difference to the energy efficiency of a house,” says Elissa, who got an air-tightness consultant on board but wishes they had done so earlier.

Home study and wooden desk.
Also upstairs is a streamlined study, which makes working from home a pleasure. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)


The second storey includes the main bedroom and ensuite with a double shower. Considered choices for this space include AXA square sinks with chrome basin mixers by Phoenix Tapware, all available from Reece. The matt white wall tiles from Signorino are paired with ‘Melk Natural’ floor tiles from National Tiles.

Main bedroom ensuite with double shower.
A potted plant brings the outdoors in with a jolt of lush greenery. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)
White tiled bathroom and freestanding bath.
The Posh Domaine freestanding bath is from Reece. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

“Trying to fit all the spaces and services we wanted in was the ultimate jigsaw puzzle.”

Contemporary blue and white bedroom.
This original bedroom in the downstairs section of the home has been updated. West Elm bedding, pillows and throws amp up the cosiness. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Siobhan Glass)
Cottage entry hallway and skylight with hydronic heater.
A skylight floods the home with light, and hydronic heating keeps it toasty. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

While the finished product is incredible, it wasn’t without obstacles. Regardless, the first-time renovators pulled it off and are pleased with the end result. As for the longer-term benefits like savings on power bills (and, of course, the pros for the planet), those will come. “The tenants have only been there for a month, so we’re still getting data in,” says Elissa. “I’m sure time will tell.”

Melbourne energy efficient home with solar roof panels.
During the renovation, new metal roofing and window shrouds were installed. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Siobhan Glass)

Builder: Murchie Group, murchiegroup.com.au.
Air-tightness testing: Passivetech, passivetech.com.au.
Landscaper: Van Leeuwen Green, vanleeuwengreen.com.
Styling: Neighbourhood Property Styling, neighbourhoodps.com.au.
Electrician: Demann Electrical, demannelectrical.com.au.
Windows: Taranto Windows + Doors, tarantowindows.com.au.


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