houses

Compact Eco-friendly Living in Perth, Australia

When four friends built together on a small suburban plot in Perth, they maximised space and flexed their creativity to realise their dream home

Jody D’arcy & Bauersyndication.com.au/ Magazinefeatures.co.za
Lisa Quinn-Schofield
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James Crombie, a film and TV set dresser, and his wife, architecture graduate Bekk, outside their 78m2 eco-friendly house in Perth, with their children Elsie, nine months, Beatrice, nine and Bjørn, seven.

 

It was 2008, while planning their wedding, that James and Bekk Crombie fell in love with the colour yellow.

‘We were looking for an interesting shade for the bridesmaids’ dresses and bonbonniere,’ says Bekk. ‘We went for a really warm, deep yellow that, strangely, we’d liked from the movie Rosemary’s Baby. It looks so rich teamed with white.’ Though the yolky hue didn’t get a mention in their vows, it’s followed them through the birth of their first two children, Beatrice and Bjørn, then for a couple of years living in Norway and back again to the house they built in Perth.

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Here, visitors are welcomed by the colour yellow at the front door and when they ring the doorbell. It’s reprised in the family’s bikes and the ladder that leads to James and Bekk’s loft bedroom. ‘Friends have started calling it “Crombie yellow”’ says James, ‘because it pops up in everything we do.’

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We’re lucky this climate allows us to open the doors and double the size of the house,’ says Bekk of the meranti-framed sliding glass doors. The kitchen cupboards were painted in chalkboard green for Beatrice, Bjørn and Elsie to get creative.


When it comes to personal touches, that yellow is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything in this house has been adapted, customised and reinvented – right down to the land it occupies, which they share with their best friends Nathan and Helen.


The plan was hatched while the Crombies were living in Norway, from where Bekk’s family hails. ‘I suggested it half-jokingly to our friends... but within a couple of weeks all four of us were actively looking at properties and finance options,’ says James. ‘They would renovate a house and we would build another one – and we would all live together on the same block.’

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Chalkie the cat wonders past a pair of vintage bar stools; the indoor window doubles as a outdoor bench on the patio; the house is positioned to take full advantage of the wind for ventilation and natural light for illumination.


It was an idea that ticked many boxes for both families. ‘[lt] gave us a chance to live “small”,’ James says. ‘For similar money we could’ve had a triple-garage mansion an hour up the freeway...but instead we have a five-minute walk to school, the train, supermarket and parks, and enough of a garden to grow veggies.’


They started making offers and struck lucky on their fifth go: a 600m2 corner block in Shenton Park with a small 1950s house, which Nathan and Helen would renovate and move into with their two kids, and there was space for James and Bekk to build. 

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The small dining area is uncluttered, with only a few practical additions. The painting above the window is a collaborative piece the Crombies made by all painting the same vase.


That said, the block couldn’t be subdivided, so their ‘house’ would need to fit the specifications for an ancillary dwelling – aka a granny flat. Ultimately, they got approval for 78m2 
and just one storey – but the couple were up for the challenge.


Bekk, an architecture graduate, describes designing her own house as a dream. ‘We’ve always lived in a compact way.’

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Pops of the couple’s beloved shade of yellow add energy throughout the house to add energy, especially in small spaces.


The Crombies moved back to Western Australia in 2015 and planned the project with three key criteria in mind – build an environmentally friendly home to a tight budget that maximises the small space.


According to Bekk, the most central concept of the home is reverse-brick veneer – a method where bricks are used for the interior, as they naturally regulate temperature far better than other materials. The house is positioned to make the most of the wind for ventilation and the sun for warmth, and is divided into two long halves.

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James sourced the bricks used throughout the family home. ‘We think they originally came from the beautiful old Perry Lakes Stadium, built for the Commonwealth Games in 1962.’ The kitchen counter is made from purebond rock maple plywood with a concrete studio benchtop. Cascading plants throughout give the rooms depth and life.

 

On one side is the open-plan living area (with TV nook, kitchen and dining area), which has extra space thanks to the high-vaulted ceiling and large glass doors that open onto the garden. On the other side are two children’s rooms, bathroom, laundry and wardrobe, crowned by a mezzanine bedroom for Bekk and James, which is cleverly accessed by a yellow ladder.

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In the kids’ bedroom a Pink Sahara rug from Oh Happy Home and Bambury Rainbow quilt cover shows how kids’ spaces can be bright without being childish. The wooden toy boat mounted on the wall is a sweet reminder of Norway, where they once lived.


‘In terms of materials, the brief was always, “This, or something similar”, so there was room for creativity and flexibility,’ says Bekk. There’s colour and texture everywhere, from the various timbers whose shades will evolve as they age, to kitchen cupboards given a lick of green chalkboard paint so the kids use less paper.

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That pop of colour again seen in the taps from IKEA, which were powder-coated in the same ‘Crombie yellow’ used throughout the house.

 

There are vintage industrial pendant lamps in blues and greens, and Mid-Century teak furniture inherited from James’ dad. ‘I don’t do it often enough, but when I have a moment to relax, it’s a feast for the eyes,’ Bekk exclaims.