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“Something simple and unadorned and something that really took advantage of the amazing 360 degree views,” says homeowner Sue Preston of the vision for The Elemental House, an innovative weekend retreat in High Camp, Victoria that’s nothing short of spectacular.

Situated on an exposed ridge line, the remote location about an hour outside Melbourne led architect Ben Callery to suggest an off-grid approach — he knew that would make the most sense from both an economic and environmental perspective. The home sits atop some 100 acres of denuded sheep-farming land, ideal for a real weekend escape complete with views of the gorgeous surrounding countryside.

The home itself is only 10 sq. meters, but it packs a punch. With one bedroom, one bathroom, and a wealth of views the surrounding landscape (kangaroos included), the small-footprint house suits their two-person household perfectly.

We sat down with Sue to get the lowdown on this anything-but-boring weekend retreat. 


Boston Dining Chair

Jones Dining Chair 

Photos by Jack Lovel & Dave Kulesza, architecture by Ben Callery Architects, build by Keenan Built, Kathleen Murphy Landscape Design.

Tell us about what you do for a living. What hats do you wear? 

Two different ones at present. I am a travel writer so spend a lot of my time interstate or overseas. However since building our country home I have also become a tree planter. The 100-acres on which our house is situated is old denuded sheep farming land so we want to restore the natural habitat as much as possible.


What was your vision for the Elemental House? 

Something simple and unadorned and something that really took advantage of the amazing 360 degree views. For a weekend retreat it needed to be a place that was unfussy and uncomplicated. It’s only a one bedroom, 10 square home, but that suits our two-person household perfectly. We do without mod cons like a washing machine and dishwasher but I had to have a beautiful bath. 

What prompted your desire to go off-grid? 

Cost was a factor because we were a long way from the nearest power pole. Installing solar panels and batteries was more expensive than connecting to the grid but it made sense to us, both from an economic and environmental point of view. I’m glad we did it.


How do the Boston Chairs fit into the overall design of the home and how do they serve your lifestyle? 

The Cubitt table and Boston Dining Chairs fit beautifully in our large living area. We have spotted gum ceilings so I didn’t want to have timber furniture as well. I love the lightness they bring to the room which has a lot of black and a lot of concrete. I wanted to fill the house with Australian-made and Australian-designed products as much as possible so they fitted the bill in that regard too.


What 5 words would you use to describe the style or overall feeling of the home? 

Innovative, simple, stylish, relaxed, welcoming.


How did Ben Callery help you achieve your dream house? 

I went to him with a design sketch. I thought it was pretty good but he came back with something that was twice as good. That’s why you employ an architect! He and Tim Shallue were wonderful to work with. They had a wealth of good ideas, the patience to explain them and the ability to put them into practice. 

What materials were important for you to incorporate into the build? 

It was important to make the house as sustainable and as bushfire resistant as possible. All new homes built in rural areas of Victoria have to have a bushfire rating (BAL rating) and regulations sensibly dictate criteria that need to be met. We built the house with spotted gum (which looks good as well as being bushfire resistant) and incorporated other features such a fire tank and mesh under the decks to prevent ember attacks. Having our own solar system too means we won’t lose power in an outage. 


What have you loved most about the home? 

It’s turned me into an early riser! I love getting up in the early morning and going to our east facing windows to see the sun coming up. The kangaroos are cropping the grass close to the house and the wombats are scurrying back to their burrows. I never tire of the views from every room of the house. I’ve become a travel writer who doesn’t want to travel!

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