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A design for all time

This Canberra home was designed to accommodate its homeowners through life’s different stages. And the results? Eclectic functionality.

A design for all time

This Canberra home was designed to accommodate its homeowners through life’s different stages. And the results? Eclectic functionality.

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Laura Valic

With a charming gable roof perched over an earthy-toned brick exterior, the ‘Gingerbrick House’ is full of contrasts. The custom-built family home intentionally assimilates with the geography of its location, a quiet street in one of Canberra’s inner suburbs, but on the inside it bucks the design tendencies common to many residential properties today. 

For starters, the clients of the multi-storey home wanted a practical layout to accommodate their young family for years to come, one that would age along with them and their evolving lifestyles. So instead of the ‘open plan living’ embraced by homeowners in recent years, they opted for zoned spaces over three levels which can be closed off as desired. This allows these areas to function according to the occupants’ needs over four life stages: young children growing up, privacy-seeking teenagers, empty nesting with rental income, and aged living.

Plus, where possible, they did not want ‘all white’ internally. Based on the unconventional floor plan and quirky colour palette, the design response from HIA member Light House Architecture & Science achieved their goals and more.

‘It’s a unique home, but also a home that knows and speaks about where it is externally,’ explains Sarah Lebner, principal architect at Light House. ‘It’s a house designed for them, and very specific to how they want to live their life and how their family spends their time. Inside, it’s just full of colour and energy!’ 
The Gingerbrick House assimilates with the geography of its location, but on the inside it bucks common design tendencies for today's housing.

Externally, the use of white bagged brick with recycled red brick and timber is reminiscent of the traditional housing in that suburb, while a contemporary look is achieved by hints of quintessentially Australian Zincalume corrugated cladding. The internal palette however evolved from the client’s love of bright colours. 

‘The client said, “I prefer bold colours for interiors [but] left to my own decisions I would create vomit, so I’m hoping for some help to get it right!” That’s actually what she wrote in the brief,’ Sarah laughs.

The plans for the brief morphed into three levels with flexible spaces. ‘The ground floor holds the kitchen and dining area, it’s where the hustle and bustle is, so the design is fun and sunny,’ she says. 

Recycled Blackbutt timber was used to create a sturdy kitchen benchtop, while plywood and Laminex panelling – some in red, green or yellow – was chosen for the cabinetry. By including bench seat dining beside the kitchen (instead of a formal dining room) and a couple of study nooks with pleasant outlooks along two hallways (instead of traditional home offices), the space saved has allowed for a higher quality of finish and greater energy efficiency.  

Sarah adds that the middle level serves as a multi-purpose and adaptable wing. ‘There are a lot of flexible features in this house. The mid-level is more of a teenager’s space; it has the kids’ bedrooms and the main family lounge which can be separated for private, focused activity. This area can also be separately rented as a unit down the track when the kids leave home.’ 

‘It’s a house designed for them, and very specific to how they want to live their life and how their family spends their time.'

The upper floor then forms the parents’ bedroom and bathroom, with an additional flexible space. 

‘The central staircase ties together those three different areas and three different functions of the home,’ Sarah explains. ‘It features beautiful wallpaper of colourful Italian houses so it’s a real core, bright feature of the home where you can orient yourself. In different parts of the house we’ve pulled out and applied some of those colours.’

In a 193-square metres, the Gingerbrick House potentially functions as a four-bedroom, two-living, two-dining, three-bathroom and two-study home. ‘From a design point of view is was a challenge to coordinate all of that across three levels,’ she says. ‘There was a lot of construction detailing and coordination on site to make sure the hard working plan functioned well and looked great externally.’

Led by director and building scientist, Jenny Edwards, Canberra-based Light House Architecture & Science has a vision to make energy-efficient housing mainstream and to serve as a beacon for positive change in the residential building industry. The multi-disciplinary business employs building scientists, as well as architects, who simulate the energy efficiency performance of a home and help to fine tune a concept so that the orientation, eaves, windows and materials are all optimised. 

Such a strong focus on sustainability ensures all projects the team are involved in are designed to suit the varied climate experienced in the region, with the Gingerbrick House a prime example. ‘This home achieved an EER of eight stars so that means it is predicted to use 53 per cent less energy to heat and cool compared to a new standard six-star home of the same size,’ Sarah explains. 
Two 10,000-litre water tanks connected to all taps, toilets, the laundry and hot water system allows for minimal use of the mains water, while an 8kW photovoltaic system is projected to have the home operating as net positive. Besides incorporating recycled brick and timber throughout the home, other eco-friendly features include salvaged light fittings alongside materials chosen for their durability and energy-efficient properties to allow for a lighter footprint over a longer lifetime.

With such a careful and considered response to every aspect of how the house will function and perform, the clients were unsurprisingly thrilled when handover arrived in November 2018, and are ‘totally convinced’ their new home will be ‘perfect for many years to come’ as their family grows and changes. Light House Architecture & Science was especially proud to then have the Gingerbrick House recognised with the 2019 HIA ACT & Southern NSW Residential Building Designer award.

‘Even though it’s not a straightforward home, it’s easy to have a great outcome like this project when you hit it off with the clients and your vision is quite naturally aligned,’ Sarah says. ‘We continued our involvement throughout the construction process and all three parties remained on the same page. When that happens, it leads to a great outcome.’

'From a design point of view it was a challenge to coordinate everything across three levels’

Gingerbrick House at a glance


Light House Architecture & Science


2019 HIA ACT & Southern NSW Residential Building Designer




  • External cladding and roof: Colorbond Zincalume Miniorb
  • External walls: recycled Canberra red bricks and bagged bricks
    Ironbark decking, awning and vertical batten cladding
  • Galvanised steel pergola 
  • Floors: burnished concrete; Strandfloor stairs and upper level
  • Kitchen benchtops: recycled Blackbutt timber
  • Kitchen and laundry splashback: Laminex
  • Kitchen and laundry joinery: plywood and Laminex panelling
  • Heating and cooling: ceiling fans, ceiling mounted Far Infrared heating panels
  • Windows: Ultimate Windows uPVC double glazed 
  • Window dressings: Nordic Blinds honey-comb 
  • Bathroom: Johnson Subway Waringa tiles with Ardex FS-DD mould inhibiting hydrophobic grout; Hansgrohe, Vitra and Neko fittings.