Design inspiration: stacked apple crates at nearby Trial Bay Orchards

Design – part 1

Andrew Kerrby author page

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The design process

Architects and designers are essentially problem solvers – they first need to identify the problem, and then resolve it through design. There is no defined path for design – it is often a meandering route that sees you wander down a dead-end alley before realising the solution you are looking for is in the opposite direction. Sometimes the answer is staring you in the face. The most important thing though is to begin – start somewhere. Allowing ideas to form and percolate before committing to paper is OK, but only once you have something in front of you are you able to begin to test those ideas. How you do this will vary. I tend to start with words, listing functional requirements, before organising them into groups and then positioning them in consideration of their relationship to one another. For example: living – inside dining – kitchen – outside dining – BBQ – fire pit. The size required for each function, and circulation between each function, soon becomes apparent. You can then begin to think about other qualities such as light, the relationship to outside, thermal performance and materials.


Function and relationship diagram of 60k House

Function and relationship diagram of 60k House

Needs vs wants

The initial phase of a design includes establishing the design brief, and subsequent interrogation of the brief. This includes both spatial requirements and functional performance. In any project it is critical to design for the client’s needs, while also considering their wants. Needs and wants are nearly always two different things – it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two. 60k House is all about designing for needs in favor of wants – adequacy instead of excess. The building is one-bedroom and totals 60 square metres – this satisfies all of my spatial and functional requirements. It is also necessary to deliver a comfortable, affordable house. Thermal performance is important – the house has to work and be comfortable all year round. Design decisions revolve around how the building will be used and how it performs – not how it will look.


My needs for the project:

  • Shelter
  • A place to sleep
  • A place to store my stuff
  • Somewhere to cook, clean and crap (not all at once)


My wants for the project:

  • Look simple but refined
  • Respect the surrounding vernacular buildings
  • Reference the history of the area


Note that my needs address functional requirements while my wants address less important things such as how the building will look.

Ask the questions

An ex colleague of mine wisely said: you can only be in one room at a time. How much space does one person need to live comfortably? Most of the time it will just be one person in 60k House – do I need an ensuite? I don’t have kids of my own – do I need a second bedroom? I will only do a couple of loads of washing a week – do I need a separate laundry? Asking easy questions and being tough with your answers can soon sort out what you really need and cut back on area (and save money). The plan for 60k House is for a stand-alone one bedroom shack. Sure – there will be some flexibility in how the space can be used, but there will be no second bathroom, no ensuite – there is no need for it.

Don’t design a futon!

A space or object that can work for two or more different functions is an obvious bonus – it saves you needing to build or make two things. However, it’s most important that the space performs well for it’s primary function. A classic example (and one of my pet hates) is a futon – a common piece of badly designed furniture throughout Australia. I find the typical futon to be uncomfortable to sit on as a sofa because the seat is too deep; it is also uncomfortable to sleep on when folded out as a bed because it doesn’t fold flat and there is a big crease in the middle- the futon doesn’t perform well for either function.


101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick


For any building project, the relationship between budget, size and quality can be expressed by the following diagram:


Simple diagram - complex balancing act

Simple diagram – complex balancing act


All three points are connected and have a direct influence on the others. Typically at the beginning of a project the client sets two of these points – that determines the third. Time is also a factor that can have an effect on size, budget and quality – if things need to be done quickly then it might add more cost or impact on the quality; if you have more time then you might be able to save some money.


Determining the functional requirements for 60k House established the approximate SIZE of 60m2. The BUDGET was primarily set by the finance available – around $60k. To achieve a suitable QUALITY of building performance and finishes, the materials will be a mix of rough and refined, salvaged and second hand. The timber cladding will be milled onsite from several trees that needed to be removed for bushfire protection; the roof sheeting is an assortment of odds and seconds; recycled bricks from the local post office chimney have been cleaned and will provide thermal mass for the main internal wall. 60k house is after all about performance.

Make the most of what you’ve got

There are several techniques for making small spaces feel larger and more comfortable including:

  • provide useful outdoor space, with good connections between inside and outside
  • create a meaningful relationship to the ground plane, extending the floor beyond the confines of indoors
  • borrow space and visual connection to the sky and surrounding landscape beyond the property boundary
  • every interior designer’s favourite – mirrors


I’m not interested in smoke and mirrors so will focus on the other methods and talk more about them as the design is revealed.

Design inspiration

There aren’t many original ideas left in architecture – chances are someone has already done it. Pinterest is an easy way to keep track of design inspiration – if you see a photo or article online then ‘pin it’ to a virtual board and access it later. I haven’t been very active ‘pinning’ lately but here is the link to my ‘shacks’ board:


If you happen to sit next to a window manufacturer representative at an awards dinner, tell them about your upcoming project. If you then pick up a couple of awards, you may just get some double glazed windows that have been measured wrong and are now sitting out the back of the warehouse, waiting to go to a good home. Well, it worked for me. And those 4 large double-glazed windows provided a design generator, along with something far less high-tech…


Apple crates are great – rustic, modular, stackable. And also nearly exactly the same width as the windows I picked up. All my life I have driven past the stockpile of apple crates at Trial Bay and become increasingly impressed by their material quality. It was these apple crates that would provide design inspiration for how to reference the local fruit growing history of the area.


Apple crates: design inspiration for the cladding to reference the local fruit industry

Apple crates: design inspiration for the cladding to reference the local fruit industry


The neighbouring block on one side is now a vineyard, before that it used to be a cherry orchard, and prior to that the land was an apple orchard. On the other side of the road the land is a heritage apple orchard. 60k House is about place and home – a vernacular shack that enables enjoyment of the surrounding landscape and recalls the days of the local fruit orchards that operated (and still do) in this area.


“The best way to make real architecture is by letting a building evolve out of the culture and place” – Samuel Mockbee


If you’re looking for colour inspiration just take a look around – chances are there is already some on site. The bark of trees provides a range of colours, from muted neutral tones to vivid highlight colours.


Colour inspiration from the bark of trees on site

Colour inspiration from the bark of trees on site


The next post about design will talk about the benefits of drawing and building to develop and inform the design. I might even pull out some very early sketches…


Disclaimer: Any advice contained within this blog is of a general nature only and cannot be relied upon. Details provided are in good faith and relate specifically to this project. Any author will not be held responsible for advice or information presented.

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