You might catch yourself dreaming about what life would be like if you could live in a way that was simpler, more meaningful, and more connected to the people and nature around you. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But for Bank Australia customer Vicky Grosser, all this is actually a reality.
Just three months ago, Vicky moved into her new digs: a tree-hugged small house on Wadawurrung Country in Manifold Heights, a residential suburb of Geelong.
Over two years from concept to completion, the 35 square metre home was built in seven months, with every aspect designed to produce the smallest ecological footprint. From the reclaimed bricks, wood and furniture, to the recycled windows and collected rainwater, the north-facing house sits on a block of land that also includes fruit trees and raised vegetable beds.
Committed to resourcefulness on every level, Vicky – who has some basic carpentry skills – also did a lot of the jobs herself, such as the oiling and sanding of the boards, the cleaning of the bricks, and other physical labour appropriate for someone who was unskilled, saving a lot of money in the process.
We caught up with Vicky ahead of Sustainable House Day this Sunday 16 September to find out more about realising her vision of a home as a shining example of sustainability, collaboration, and respect for the land’s indigenous connections.
What exactly is a tree-hugged home?
It’s a home placed in a location where it’s designed to fit in with the trees around it instead of removing trees, which is a common Australian experience. It also sits next to a big shed that I wanted to keep so the house was designed upwards to leave space for a veggie garden and areas to play in, and also to fit with respect to the tree and its growth and beauty. I believe it’s a Northern NSW White Gum that’s been on this site for at least 20 years.
What inspired you to build it?
As I’ve learnt more from the local Aboriginal people, I’ve also wanted to do things more thoughtfully and respectfully in relation to country. For example, this house faces onto a lane which was just called a ‘right of way.’ The council said it would have a new name and asked me what I wanted to call it so I went to one of the Aboriginal community leaders and we shared ideas. It’s now called Parrwang Lane, which means ‘magpie’ in Wadawarrung language, as there are a lot of magpies here. So, it’s an honour to have been a part of reclaiming the connection to the Wadawarrung people.
It seems like there are endless benefits to a sustainable home. What are the most important lessons you've learnt from this process?
I’ve learnt that if you create a strong team early on and people know their input is greatly appreciated, even if it causes discomfort or sometimes disagreement, it’s a much more effective way to do a project than just pleasing the customer or having the builder decide everything. How you think about your team and who you bring in is more effective for the end product than just your budget. Keeping a small home and being very involved as a client meant that the project could stay within budget and also create some new ideas as it developed.
The small home trend seems to be increasingly popular. Do you think that we’re moving towards an age when small homes are actually a necessity?
I think that young adults have led this movement and they’ve done it partly because of finance and partly because they want change. There’s a joy in using what’s already around as opposed to wanting more and not thinking about the impact of the materials we use and the way that we live. It isn’t a loss or a restriction - it’s completely the opposite. I’ve learnt a lot about care of the whole environment. You actually notice more, slow down your life. Sustainability is about social change. We can actually have impact through sharing things with other people much more.
For someone dreaming of one day designing their own sustainable home, where do you suggest they start?
I think it’s getting to know people who care about where they live, and live their lives in simpler ways. Get to know people who are living in a way that you want to move towards, and then talk with and learn from them. Do your own learning. I did a sustainability diploma and I’m trained as a carbon manager. There are many people who have lots of good knowledge. Don’t rush it and keep things simple. It’s about everybody being a part of creating something. And the end result is utterly wonderful.
You can visit Vicky’s home as part of Sustainable House Day this Sunday 16 September. For more information go to: https://sustainablehouseday.com/