Book review: Small House Living Australia by Catherine Foster

Monday, October 30, 2017 Permalink

Anyone who follows my social media accounts (or reads the non-bookish posts on my blog) will know my journey down the tiny house-loving slippery slope began with an innocent little #vanlife instagram obsession. I poured over picture after picture of campervans, minibuses, RVs, ‘skoolies’ and so forth – renovated into something sleek and sophisticated or bohemian and trippy.

Of course I eventually realised my fascination was less about the idea of travelling (cos meh… plus I hate driving) than the idea of minimalist living.Ā 

Even though I upsized a year ago into my current gorgeous house, I found myself fantasising about downsizing. Again. Or at least eventually.

But with some caveats. For example, what I love about the #vanlife thing is the notion of having to only own 1-2 pots/pans; and a couple of plates. But… there is no way I could live without a bathroom. Or comfy bed.

Most of the tiny / small houses (#cabinlife is also a feast for your eyes) I found online were American, with a few popping up in nordic countries and the occasional New Zealand rural living gem. I wondered a little how the concept would translate here so was delighted to discover Small House Living Australia by Catherine Foster.

Book review: Small House Living Australia by Catherine FosterSmall House Living Australia
by Catherine Foster
Published by Penguin Books Australia, Viking
on October 30th 2017
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Non-fiction
ISBN: 9780143783619
Pages: 240

Small House Living Australia features 21 small, inspiring Australian homes. Some are clever additions onto tight urban sites: others are tranquil weekenders in deep countryside ā€“ what all have in common is a shared belief that good architectural design principles make even the smallest of architectural and ecological footprints possible.

With land ever more expensive, growing environmental pressures and an increasing number of small households, architects and designers are responding with great ingenuity to produce both practical and cost-effective buildings, and all the while never sacrificing the most essential of human needs ā€“ a beautiful home. The houses you will discover in Small House Living Australia are celebrations in built form of lives lived well, with less.

I won’t go into huge detail about the stunning houses featured in this book (as that would defeat the purpose of you buying the bloody thing yourself) but… it reminded me of a housey magazine – the types that include info about renovations and floor plans and the like. You know, where you meet the interior designer wife and surgeon husband and their gorgeous twins, dog and immaculate house. (And yes, I hate those people too!) But… unlike those magazines this includes a lot more information and hints about small house planning, design and living.

It includes a range of different houses across Australia in both rural and urban settings, floor plans AND design notes. And there are hints about how to enhance or create the impression of size AND promote multi-functionality where possible.

But back to me, cos… hello, it is all about me?! (Also found under ‘Why I am not a real book reviewer’ item no. 7). Everyone knows I’m significantly happier in my current house than I was in the apartment I bought after making my sea-change. It never felt like home and I struggled with its smallness and the lack of privacy.

So you’d think the small living concept would be too much for this lover of alone-space to deal with.

I’ve realised however, that’s not the case (having bought / sold 3 apartments and now bought a house). It’sĀ  about privacy and layout as much as anything. It’s about a place feeling like home.

And as a pourer-over-pictures-of-small-houses I’m already getting a good idea of what I would (and would not) like. Many tiny houses you see online, for example, include a bed up a ladder or loft. Gah! I’m 50 soon so can’t damned well imagine being 60 and climbing a ladder to get into bed. Or down it to go to the loo when I’m older and bladder-challenged.

I’m increasingly realising it’s about working out what’s important to you / where you spend your time and prioritising that.

The Doll’s House. 70 square metres in inner city Melbourne. Photo: Fraser Marsden

I was recently asked if I’d live here forever. It wasn’t something I’d given much thought to. I’m happy here now. My mum is nearby. But… it did make me think longer term.

So it was with that in mind I examined (and re-examined) this book. And though any plans are on hold for quite some years, I’ve been inspired! I’m not ashamed to admit I like to be surrounded by nice stuff. Nourishing stuff that is aesthetically pleasing (to me, cos I don’t care about anyone else šŸ˜‰ ) and offers a sense of ‘home’ and comfort. And it is possible to do that in a small space. Quality over quantity if you like. I hate clutter. I like clean surfaces. I like space. High ceilings, open plan living. Outdoor space I can take or leave. Though privacy is essential and a view kinda nice.

I must mention I was particularly inspired by a few houses in this book… Keperra House (in Keperra, Brisbane Queensland; the Tourmaline Pavilion (in Narrabeen NSW); Balnarring Retreat in Victoria and Foster House in South Gippsland, Victoria.

They’ve got A LOT of common elements and helped clarify what I like and want. They’re small but offer a sense of space, with large windows, and open spaces.

This is a gorgeous book, full of great ideas for small house living reflecting contemporary designs and Australian life. It offers great inspiration for those wanting to minimise their footprint (at least in terms of space), solve the dilemmas of small house living or just enjoy some house and home eye candy.

Small living in an urban setting. The Grasshouse in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Dixon

Small House Living Australia by Catherine Foster was published in Australia by Penguin and available from 30 October 2017.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review (and drooling) purposes.

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