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This Melbourne passive home is a sustainable triumph

A desire to prove that style and sustainability can go hand in hand drove the owners of this innovative family home.
A Japandi style kitchen with open timber shelving and a raised white ceiling.Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming

As with many families, Nelson and Mandy dreamt of creating a forever home for their children, Jacob, 11, Isaac, nine, and Paige, seven. But given the current state of the climate, they wanted to ensure the build, and their lifestyles within it, contributed to a more sustainable future and, as such, a more livable world for the generations of their family still to come.

The eco-friendly home's hempcrete and timber front facade.
The front facade features natural and durable Australian bluestone. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

After years of renting, the opportunity to bring their visions to life came in 2019 when the couple bought a property in north-east Melbourne. With the help of passive house designer Simone Schenkel from Gruen Eco Design and builder Hamish White from Sanctum Homes, the knock-down-and-build process began.

“The brief was for a big enough house for the kids and us, with no wasted space,” says Nelson. “Every room must have a function.” Mandy adds, “We wanted something with longevity, a family home that would grow with us.”

The family outside their eco-friendly home made of hempcrete.
Nelson, Mandy and their children, Isaac, nine, Paige, seven, and Jacob, 11, plus Harry the greyhound, in front of their striking new eco-friendly home made of hempcrete. “It’s just about wanting to do something for the next generation,” says Nelson. Native species like banksias and kangaroo paw have been planted in the front garden. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Who lives here?

Nelson, who works in the health sector, his wife Mandy, their children, Jacob, 11, Isaac, nine, and Paige, seven, plus Harry the greyhound.
Weekend ritual? Nelson: “Pancake Sunday!”
Lessons learnt during the build? “Find a trustworthy architect and builder, who will invest in your dream home. It was great to have Simone and Hamish on our side.”
Biggest design decision? “Eco-friendliness and sustainability, for a growing family. We wanted a big enough house, with no wasted space. Every room had to have a function.”
What do you love most about it? “The hempcrete and the comfort level.”

The hallway leading a reading nook below an open window.
Paige relaxes in the reading nook, the family’s favourite spot to gaze out at the rivergums. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

While sustainability and leaving a better world for the children was front of mind, there was a certain degree of ambition involved, too. “I secretly wanted the first certified passive house made with hempcrete,” admits Nelson.

In hempcrete, the central part of the hemp plant is mixed with aggregate, water and lime binder to create a construction material that has a natural insulation and traps carbon, making it almost carbon negative. A passive house is a building standard that focuses on energy efficiency and sustainability.


With the build covered, the couple turned their minds to the style of the home, opting for a calming Japanese/Scandinavian style that incorporated clean lines, neutrals and small pops of colour.

A Japandi style kitchen with open timber shelving and a raised white ceiling.
Cabinets by Skyline Kitchens, in Laminex White Linen and oak veneer, provide storage. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

“We spend most of our time in the kitchen,” says Mandy. “The kids do their homework on the stools; we eat here sometimes.”

Lando stools, from Freedom, in leather and oak, create a casual seating option for the oak veneer benchtop, which acts as an extension to the island, topped in Caesarstone Statuario Maximus. No gas is used in the home, so the V-Zug FullFlex induction cooktop, and pyrolytic and steam ovens, from Winning Appliances, are key.

Japandi style kitchen and dining room with a timber dining table.
Mandy and Nelson love the kitchen and dining area’s access to the garden. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Dining area

Natural materials help to bridge the gap between the interior and exterior, with Tasmanian oak and black leather featuring strongly in the dining area, from the ‘Coco’ pendant, from local furniture designers Coco Flip, to the dining table and chairs, custom made by Gratton Design. In the living area, the King ‘Neo’ sofa in Baxter Indigo adds a cooling and colourful contrast.

A minimalist dining room with a round timber table and a black light pendant.
The large windows, framed in black PVC from Blue Sky Windows, are triple glazed to ensure maximum insulation. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Burnished concrete flooring by Volf Concrete Coatings and Polishing continues throughout the open-plan space to the study nook, which is cleverly situated alongside the Tongue & Groove oak staircase to maximise space.

A minimalist timber study nook beneath the staircase.
Mandy sits on the chair, custom made by Gratton Design, while Paige perches on a step. The shelving and cabinetry, made by Skyline Kitchens, matches the joinery in the kitchen, (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)
A dramatic abstract artwork in the living area.
‘Falling Down Like…’ by abstract artist Janna Watson adds colour and dramatic flair to the living area. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Main bedroom and ensuite

Natural materials add a calm, organic feel to Nelson and Mandy’s bedroom, with the Sleeping Duck ‘Baker’ bed in European Oak, Melb Design Co ‘Alice’ side tables and oak flooring in Alpacca from Tongue & Groove.

A natural white and timber bedroom with oak flooring.
Linen from Bed Threads completes the space. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

“We wanted something fairly simple. Clean lines, a few pops of colour, but mainly neutrals.”

– Mandy
A white and timber ensuite with white finger tiles.
The white and timber palette continues in the bathroom. The oak veneer joinery, by Skyline Kitchens, offers warmth, while the Nagoya Mosaic-Tile Co ‘Kayoborder’ splashback tiles, from Academy Tiles, add subtle texture. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)
Minimalist ensuite with white finger tiles.
Timber adds warmth to the white palette in the ensuite. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Paige’s room

Paige’s room features the Totem Road ‘Isabel’ desk and a Lilly & Lolly bed, which has a trundle for sleepovers.

The children's bedroom with oak flooring and green linen on the bed.
A Lilly and Lolly bed with an extra bed tucked neatly beneath. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)


An especially hardworking room, the laundry houses the Zehnder ComfoAir Q ventilation unit, which achieves maximum energy efficiency.

A Zehnder ComfoAir Q ventilation unit in the laundry.
The Zehnder ComfoAir Q ventilation unit. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

“Nobody’s perfect but every little bit adds up. You don’t have to do it all. We’re mindful about usage, about the things we buy.”

– Mandy
A white minimalist laundry with a timber drying rack.
The Japanese and Scandinavian style is simple but functional, blending neutral shades and timber. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)


Nelson and Jacob shoot hoops, while Mandy watches on from a bench made of repurposed railway sleepers. But it’s not all fun and games. The 33,000-litre water tank is neatly situated underneath the basketball court, providing water for the garden and pool. Gedlec Energy solar panels, positioned on the Colorbond roof, source more energy for the house.

The family on the basketball court in the backyard by the home's rear facade.
The home’s rear facade is finished with a mix of shiplap timber cladding in Silvertop Ash and Rockcote lime plaster, which was rendered by heritage plasterer Kieran Dunleavy, who also did the interior render. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Despite its name, builder Hamish White says hempcrete doesn’t involve concrete at all. “You build a normal structural frame, then place the hemp around it,” he explains. A lime render is then placed either side. “It seals it from the weather. Moisture moves through but it’s airtight.” All the walls were then rendered for a beautiful, textured finish. Visit thehempbuildingcompany.com.au.

We love… hempcrete
The studio and guest bedroom with timber cladding and oak flooring.
“Before we demolished [the old house], we also sold things on Gumtree,” says Nelson, who didn’t want materials to go to waste. “We try to have minimal waste, even with our food,” says Nelson. “I think the kids have learnt a lot with our way of life. I want them and my future grandkids to see a cleaner world.” The studio accommodates guests and maximises space with a wall bed. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

After a building process that took just over a year, the home is complete, with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and two powder rooms, plus a studio for guests. Now all that’s left to do is wait for certification from the Passive House Institute.

The owners in the edible garden in the backyard.
Nelson, Mandy and Harry the greyhound survey the edible garden, which was designed and built by Laurie Landscapes. Crushed rocks and exposed aggregate concrete have been used to form the pathways around the different zones. The raised garden beds are Biofilta Foodcube planters surrounded by wood, repurposed from the old fence. Bok choy, zucchini, cucumbers and eggplants are all grown in these beds, while the ceramic pots house various herbs. (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

While creating a first-of its-kind home wasn’t always easy, it was worth it. “We wanted to show people it could be done for a residential home,” says Mandy.

Timber cladded garage with a Tesla and an electric charging station.
An electric Tesla is at home in the garage, complete with a charging station and a wall battery (13kwH). (Photography: Marnie Hawson / Styling: Belle Hemming)

Architect: Gruen Architecture, gruenarchitecture.au.
Interior design: Gruen Eco Design, gruenecodesign.com.au.
Builder: Hamish White, Sanctum Homes, yoursanctum.com.au.
Landscaper: Laurie Landscapes, laurielandscapes.com.au.
Renderer: Kieran Dunleavy, Dunleavy and Son, 0417 349 246.


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