Friday, December 23, 2011
What is a passive or energy-efficient design and how can we renovate our homes to achieve these outcomes? Here, we explore some of the passive and energy-efficient design aspects to create a ‘green’ home
BY: Sustainability consultant and designer, Ian Cleland
WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE DESIGN?
Environmentally sustainable (ESD) design is the philosophy of designing products, the built environment, systems and services to fulfil the economic, environmental and social mores.
Designing environmentally sustainable buildings requires the elimination of non-renewable resources in the materials specified along with sensitive, skilful design. The aim is to minimise the building’s impact on, and relate humans to, the natural environment.
Since the energy crisis of the 1970s we have learned much about ESD, although it seems not enough to make this a mainstream view.
The reasons for renovating a home are many and varied but one is to create spaces that are thermally comfortable for both summer and winter.
The majority of Australian homes have never been very accommodating to the foibles of the varying Australian climate. More often than not it is inappropriate or poor building design that creates the problems. Passive or energy-efficient design aspects are the exception rather than the rule in either new or renovated buildings.
So how do you create an environmentally sustainable or, more appropriately, passive solar and energy-efficient home?
When renovating your home you may be constrained by the existing floorplan, site orientation, the landscape of the existing building site and the surrounding urban landscape in your suburb. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a site with excellent solar access, it can be a challenge to create a design to suit both the floorplan and budget.
The key elements in your design are to take advantage of the local climate, window placement and size, type of glazing, thermal mass, insulation, shading and ventilation. Passive solar design techniques can be applied most easily to new buildings, but existing buildings can also be adapted or retrofitted.
In passive solar buildings, the walls, floors and windows are designed to collect, store and distribute solar energy in the form of stored heat in winter and the exclusion of heat in summer. This is called “passive” solar design, as there are no mechanical or electrical devices used to heat and cool the building.
We have known for thousands of years the path of the sun is from east to west but have you noticed that the height of the sun varies from the northern horizon in winter and summer? In winter the sun is lower in the sky than in summer and, in fact, if you head further north the sun may penetrate the southern side of your home during the summer months. So why is it that we continue to design and build homes in Australia totally disregarding this fact?
By using the path of the sun and by passively controlling its impact we can exploit its warmth when required and reject it when it’s not. How? Consider this: you wake up in the morning and the sun is in the east; your rooms take advantage of this beautiful morning light and, if required, warmth. During the day the sun’s path moves across the sky from east to west. In summer the sun is high in the sky, so if we don’t want the heat we shade the building and glazing from the heat of the sun with eaves, shutters, landscaping or other shading devices.
How do you store heat or cool your home? Simple. With the right combination of insulation, thermal mass and control of air filtration you can control the temperature inside your home passively. Given that we are talking about a renovation that includes the existing building and was constructed in the last decade to 50-plus years ago, your approach will be determined by all the components mentioned above and would require design input for each situation. So, as a general rule in a renovation, it is about maximising the control over what nature presents to you in both summer and winter.
Choosing insulationInsulation products come in two main categories: bulk and reflective. These are sometimes combined to make a composite material. There are many different products available. To compare the insulating ability of the products available, look at their R-value. R-value is the measurement of resistance to heat flow, so the higher the R-value the higher the level of insulation. Products with the same R-value will provide the same insulating performance if installed as specified.
Two issues you have to be mindful of when insulating a home are controlling unwanted drafts and moisture. The insulation system used should be designed to stop water condensation in the wall, which can cause damage to building frames due to fungus attacks in the case of timber and rusting with steel frames. Also, rising damp can be an issue with excessive moisture in the wall cavity.
Types of glazingNot all glazing is all the same and its use can make a big difference to the energy performance of your renovation; it is not just for capturing a view or allowing light into an otherwise dark room.
Apart from construction materials and window or door framing, the choice of glazing is probably the next most critical factor in the energy efficiency of a building. In most existing homes, windows are the areas where there is maximum heat loss because glass is a poor insulator.
Annealed or float glassAnnealed glass is the basic flat glass product that is the first result of the float process. It is the common glass that tends to break into large, jagged shards. It is used in some end products — often in double-glazed windows, for example. It is also the starting material that is turned into more advanced products through further processing such as laminating, toughening and coating.
Toughened glassToughened glass is treated to be far more resistant to breakage than simple annealed glass and when it does break it does so more predictably, thus providing a major safety advantage in almost all of its applications.
The float glass process is renowned for flatness and optical clarity. It is available in clear, toned, high-performance toned, ultra-clear low-iron glass and low-e pyrolytic coated.
The types of glazing designed for insulating windows are gas filled, insulated (double-glazed, triple-glazed), low-emissivity (low-e) coatings and reflective coatings.
Gas filledTo improve the thermal performance of windows with insulated glazing, some manufacturers fill the space between the glass panes with gas.
For these gas fills, window manufacturers use inert gases — ones that do not react readily with other substances. Because these gases have a higher resistance to heat flow than air, they (rather than air) are sealed between the window panes to decrease a window’s U-factor.
The most common types of gas used by window manufacturers include argon and krypton. Argon is inexpensive, non-toxic, non-reactive, clear and odourless. Krypton is more expensive but has a better thermal performance.
Insulated window glazing or glass
Insulated window glazing refers to windows with two or more panes of glass. They are also called double-glazed or triple-glazed.
To insulate the window, the glass panes are spaced apart and hermetically sealed to form a single-glazed unit with an air space between each pane of glass. The glass layers and the air spaces resist heat flow. As a result, insulated window glazing primarily lowers the U-factor, but it also lowers the solar heat gain coefficient.
Low-emissivity (low-e) coatingsLow-emissivity (low-e) coatings on glazing or glass control heat transfer through windows with insulated glazing. Windows manufactured with low-e coatings typically cost about 10–15 per cent more than regular windows but they reduce energy loss by as much as 30–50 per cent.
Reflective window glazing or glass
Reflective coatings on window glazing or glass reduce the transmission of solar radiation, blocking more light than heat. Therefore, they greatly reduce a window’s visible transmittance (VT) and glare, but they also reduce a window’s solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC).
A good reference for further information about the glazing you should use is the Australian Glass & Glazing Association: www.agga.org.au
Shading How often have you been in somebody’s home and found it either too cold or too hot because there is not enough or too much sun entering the living space? As part of passive solar design it is important to locate windows and then control the access of the sun to maintain levels of comfort inside your home. If you have windows with a view that allow excessive amounts of heat into the room, you can use an external awning.
To keep heat in, use internal coverings on windows; to keep heat out, use external shading devices. During the summer, even with the appropriate glazing, it is best to shade to reduce heat conducting through the glass. During your renovation, it’s good design practice to allow for appropriate shading so it is included in the construction of your project. If you are not sure what most suits the situation, obtain the appropriate technical advice from a professional.
VentilationAnother part of passive design is the controlling the movement of air through your home. This way you can maintain comfort by utilising the prevailing seasonal winds in summer and winter, day and night. Design spaces to allow for good cross-ventilation. The use of chimney effects allows hot air to rise, creating positive ventilation. The addition of thermal mass in conjunction with ventilation can provide both heating and cooling.
Another aspect of ventilation is controlling those unwanted drafts entering your living spaces through all the cracks around windows, doors, fireplaces and walls. Finding and sealing these can make a big difference to overall comfort.
In summary, what has been included in this article is just an overview of some of the components that create an excellent passive and energy-efficient home. This does not include the use of active or mechanical systems. If you are able to design and build your renovation with mainly passive systems this will be the most cost-effective design possible. But like all renovations there will be compromises that will affect the workability of the home as a passive and energy-efficient building.
Residence, Eastwood, NSW.
Architect: Caroline Pidcock.
The new addition to the rear of the house connects with the garden space. The roof was shaped to capture the sun over the roof of the front part of the house, while expanding with a pergola and struts to provide a definite entry and shade to the west. Photography by Dean Wilmot.
High level windows let hot air escape in summer. Window/door openings are protected to keep summer sun out while allowing winter sun in. A ceiling fan is used to help with ventilation in summer. Photography by Tim Wheeler.
An operable roof assists with appropriate solar access throughout the changing seasons. Photography by Tim Wheeler.
Suburban home, Elanora Heights, NSW.
This home has undergone reorientation for complete passive solar implementation with stack ventilation chimney/atrium/stairwell, reverse brick veneer in living areas, energy- and water-efficiency upgrade including BMS and pool, PV system and full rainwater harvesting.
Beach cottage, Avalon, NSW.
This cottage’s renovation included an additional living area and main bedroom suite in a separate pavilion as well as improved passive solar yet lightweight (slip zone) double glazing/shading. Indoor-outdoor water use is sustainable and is all solar powered.
Waterfront fishing shack, Koolewong, NSW.
This property has had an extra bedroom pavilion added and the main cottage was opened to become a big living area. Shading, glazing, insulation, solar HSW, site response and extra safeguards against actual sea-level rise were undertaken during the renovation.
Designing for the Australian Home
Are you embarking on a new build, renovation or interior project and would like to discover the newest trends and directions in home design in Australia? Kate St James will take you on a journey of discovery through the eyes of an interior designer and home design magazines editor.
Participants will look at living and dining rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, outdoor living, space planning and furniture layout. Discussing the ways in which colour impacts your home's design both inside and out and Kate will show you examples of a variety of homes designed by some of Australia's leading architects and designers.
Kate St James is the managing editor of Grand Designs Australia, Luxury Home Design, Design & Decoration and Renovate magazines. Kate is also an interior designer with more than 25 years experience in the residential market. Kate looks forward to sharing her knowledge and ideas with you!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
- Living Smart: Convenience-meets-multifunctionality is a key trend for today’s modern kitchen. “Easy to maintain work areas featuring solid surface benchtops and smooth cabinet doors that require a simple wipe down are the prevalent choices for stress free living whilst clever storage solutions such as large drawers and multi-purpose island benches make organisation a breeze,” says Susan.
- Looking Good:
Creating a unique identity is important, and this is being seen with the introdution of timber veneer cabinetry mixed with gloss finishes. “Basics of white, charcoal and timber will dominate the kitchen space whilst bold bursts of bright marigold yellow and grass green are on trend for livening up a kitchen space,” says Susan. Bringing furniture pieces and artwork into the kitchen are great ways to add individuality and can be changed easily over time.
Susan says that other on-trend inclusions for creating a statement kitchen are square or cube shaped sinks, integrated appliances, designer rangehoods and ambient lighting - either as underbench LED strips or oversized hanging pendants.
- Striking the Balance: The demand for work life balance has had a profound effect on kitchen design – more people working from home means more connectivity throughout the home as well as benchspace dedicated as work space.
- Planet Conscious: Sustainability is increasingly becoming a key consideration in the kitchen design process. From choosing energy efficient appliances and lighting, to taps with good water ratings and clever waste systems for recycling, a eco-conscious kitchen is cuts down on resources, saving you money in the long run.
- The Great Outdoors: Kitchens that open on to outdoor decking and patios for easy, year round entertaining are a fast becoming a priority in Australian homes. Adding bi-fold windows from the kitchen to an outdoor bar act as a convenient servery and bring the outdoors in. “Cooking is a social activity and proximity to kitchen and guests is solved with these indoor/outdoor design solutions,” says Susan.
Integrated drink fridges and coffee machines are becoming convenient features of the larger entertainers kitchen.
Susan says that workstations hidden behind kitchen cabinet doors, or those which are an extension of the kitchen cabinetry, are a common feature over a dedicated study. “This allows the kitchen to truly operate as the epicentre of the home; a fluid family space that accommodates work, entertaining, study and dining.”
A great tip from Susan is to install a window in your kitchen that can be opened. “This is a simple energy saving alternative to using the rangehood.”
Freedom Kitchens is renowned for delivering stunning designs with superb functionality. To view the very latest in Freedom Kitchen designs - from contemporary to traditional and classic, go to freedomkitchens.com.au or visit a Freedom Kitchens showroom today. To book an obligation free design consultation, phone 1300 885 435.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
With such delicate tissue-paper blooms Sweet Peas are a beautiful way to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Sweet Peas are surprisingly simple. Flowering in the late winter months their ability to be ‘cut and come again’ lets them keep flowering again and again right up till the heat waves start.
Sadly these days many people don’t have the space available for growing the climbing varieties. But with a little innovation anyone can have a these beautiful flowers to brighten your day!
Mini Sweet Peas have just come into market! So now anyone with a small courtyard or city balcony can enjoy the sweet aroma of Sweet Peas.
How to Start
Start by picking a spot that gets sun for most of the day. If you’re not using the dwarf variety, support is important. If you don’t have a fence for the plants to cling to you’ll need to construct a small trellis. A simple was to do this is to tie three tomato stakes into a tepee and surround with netting.
Water the garden bed well the day before planting. If you’re planting from seeds don’t water the bed again until they have sprouted and cover them well with soil as they will only germinate in the dark.
Sweet peas like enriched soil with a little lime added if necessary. A pH of between 7 and 8 is perfect for them. Good drainage is important for Sweet Peas to prevent any rot or disease. They benefit greatly from mulch, to keep their roots cool.
When they flower, keep picking flowers often to encourage more bloom. Don’t let children near the seed pods, they may look nice but they are poisonous. During dry spells you should water your Sweet Peas to prevent them dying from dehydration.
Dwarf Sweet Peas are particularly wonderful to grow in pots. There should be few drainage problems and they can be put anywhere you like!
Sweet Peas glorious colour spans the vast spectrum of the rainbow, from white, blue, purples, pinks and through to red. The normal variety will grow to nearly 2m tall.
Mice are the greatest danger to the seed during the period of germination. Later on, watch out for birds, slugs and snails.
Disease - Aphids transmit the mosaic virus. Plants start to grow poorly and have speckled leaves and flowers. Pull out infected plants to prevent the disease from spreading.
Bud drop – every Sweet Pea grower experiences this at some point in his or her growing career! In periods of cold weather the developing flowerbuds may turn yellow and fall off. Some varieties are more prone to this than others.
Leaf Scorch – leaves lose colour from the bottom upwards and dry off or 'scorch' but the plant continues to flower until the top leaves are affected.
Pollen beetles – Vast numbers of these small black insects can accumulate in the blooms, particularly on lighter coloured varieties. There is no chemical control available so the best advice is to place vases of affected flowers in a dark room with a light source at one end. The beetles will be attracted to the light and should abandon the flowers.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
How do you define sustainability and what is sustainable design?
How can you save money on heating and cooling your home?
What is passive solar design and why should every building use these principles?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and Particulates;
What are they?
How do they affect your health?
Ways to minimise their impact.
What is BASIX? (Building Sustainability Index)
Product Life Cycle
What is it and how is it important to sustainability?
Check out the #GrandDesigns :Live website for more info on the exhibition;
It’s going to be huge!!!
Monday, October 17, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Popular interior design has evolved over time. Some elements, pieces and styles are timeless, while others are made to suit certain tastes and particular personalities. Due to all this we have an endless list of popular interior design styles to sift through.
So whether you like clean, simplistic lines or that feeling of a country home, there is a popular interior design style for everyone.
Breaking it down to basics we have uncovered seven main design styles.
The main colour palate in Chic interior design is surrounded by light, gentle shades. Typically associated with washed out colour and white, it is not uncommon to see bright yellow or a whole range of Marie Antoinette blues among the design.
It becomes part of the popular interior design package through its use of both modern and vintage items. By pairing modern furniture with vintage pieces, you can create a look that is elegant and subtly stunning.
Another popular interior design is contemporary style. This gives a clean, sleek look to a room. Much like chic, contemporary uses soft colours, but this can make the design look cold and unwelcoming. We can counteract this by incorporating brighter colours and curvaceous pieces to add that element of comfort. Art pieces are also a major focal point when discovering contemporary design.
If your tastes lean toward something with a bit more flair and flavour, you might want to give your home that continental edge. Asian and Mediterranean styles are both extremely popular interior designs.
Asian style design achieves a look of tranquility through use of simple, clean lines. It's an extremely versatile art ranging from minimalist - from simple wooden chests, tatami mats and screens - through to the bold and bright - with strong Chinese reds and golds.
When you think of the Mediterranean you envision Spanish mosaics, the terracotta, and the large tables everyone will fit around. Just put those thoughts into your design and you're done! Using cornflower blue, yellow, reds and a beautifully soft purple can bring the warm feel of the Mediterranean to any room you choose. Pine furniture will set the room ablaze with life.
More often referred to as 'shabby chic', the cottage style of design is an eclectic, 'lived-in' look that is always comfortable and welcoming. You can achieve this popular interior design look easily with recycled furniture, floral prints, linen fabrics and pale colours. Either tiled or wooden floors make an excellent addition to the room. Bring everything together with hand-painted pieces, a signature motif of the style design.
French has to be the most well known popular interior design style. It's mainly characterised by the rustic, old-world charm that meshes both formal and informal elements seamlessly. Incorporate the French style by using natural materials such as aged timber. To decorate, think rough-stained, painted plaster walls with blue and white china and crystal pieces throughout.
There is plenty you can do to achieve the next style with it's use of natural materials and clean, often unusual lines, known as Retro. The 'cool' hipster style of the beginning of the century has an emphasis on fun, and often portrays this through contrasting pieces. Bright colours with dark fabrics, solid clocks of colour and even incorporating smooth plastic and crushed velvet have made retro famous.
Traditional interior design focuses more on timelessness than anything else. It shows its beauty through natural tones and textures, often using silks, brocades and leather to achieve this. Patterns can be mismatched for an endearing look. This popular interior design tends to be more formal, and uses pieces from different time periods to give the home a comfortable environment.
Whatever you choose, any style of popular interior design is sure to uplift your home and give it that new life you've been looking for.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
The Banksia has always been a well known Australian classic. It is extremely striking and is even more so in winter when it blooms. Reaching heights of up to 7 metres, the native animals love them. They are able to be easily pruned to make an excellent garden screen.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
This week we were alerted to a £1million crystal bath purchase, made by Tamara Ecclestone; daughter of billionaire Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. It took months for the crystal to be sourced from the Amazon, but Tamara insists it was “worth it.”
Image from the Sydney Morning Herald website
It got us thinking, what other expensive bathroom purchases have people made? One definitely worthy of note is a solid gold bathroom from Hong Kong, worth HK $80 million! It weighs 350kg of pure gold, and includes 6,200 encrusted gemstones in the bathroom features.
Image from the Whats the latest website
Another bathroom that caught our attention is from Frankfurt, Germany. The trendy public bathroom worth €900, 000, is complete with a reception desk and complementary wash cloths.
Image from the land lopers website
A report from Canstar Blue showed Generation X to be the most likely group to haggle (76%), followed by the baby boomers (75%) and lastly Generation Y (58%). However, when it comes to researching online, the opposite is true. Generation Y came out on top at 86%, closely followed by Generation X shoppers (84%) and finally the Baby Boomers at 73%. The report also found men to be more likely than women to haggle for electronic goods at 71% and 68% respectively.
Despite being more informed when it comes to buying electronics, we still impulse buy, with 3 of 10 customers over committing once in the store.
Here are some tips on smarter ways to buy electronics:
1. Check the product warranty: Product warranties can vary between brands. A good product warranty is an attractive feature, giving you peace of mind that you won’t burn your money if the product develops a systems failure.
2. Energy Star rating: Appliances carrying the energy star logo will use 20-30% less energy than products without, meaning its better for the environment and for your wallet!
3. Features and Functionality: Unless you’re an electronics product guru, it can be difficult to distinguish the differences between models/brands of products. Reading online reviews or magazines can be helpful to decide which one will best suit your lifestyle or needs.
4. Ease of Use: Make sure you read up on the instruction manual and make sure to ask the sales staff lots of questions. You want to be getting the most out of your new product!
We all feel the pressures of the “daily grind”; after all, there are never enough hours in the day for the amount of work we need to get through. Despite our constant struggle with juggling work, life and play as well as the ever-present economic pressures, Australians are spending more time indulging in their love of coffee than ever before. In fact, the average Australian drinks on average more than seven sups of coffee a week, many taking time out of their busy schedules to visit a café for their daily dose of caffeine.
Catering to this increasing desire for café-style coffee, it’s estimated that three in ten households now have coffee machine at home. Intertwining cafe luxury and a “time-is-money” lifestyle, the at-home cafe experience is on the rise, with many of leading appliance companies offering innovative machines, making it simpler than ever to replace instant coffee with silky-smooth cafe lattes.
Being your own in-house barista can be a tricky task. From sourcing the best beans, achieving the right milk temperature and correct consistency, the checklist for the perfect coffee seems endless. UK-based World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies is in Australia to participate in the Fine Food Festival in Sydney and Melbourne and lends us a few minutes of his time to shed light on the skills you need to create a top-notch cup at home.
What are the most important tools to create a café-style coffee at home?
A coffee grinder is as important, if not more important, than the machine. Coffee needs to be ground just before use. [And] fresh roasted coffee beans – naturally – and a quality machine.
How do we know what coffee beans are best and tastiest to use?
The most important factor when choosing coffee beans is that they are freshly roasted and traceable. Personal taste is individual, so what's best and tastiest will be determined by your own taste.
What’s the best way to store coffee beans to maintain quality?
Treat coffee like fresh produce; buy and use very quickly. An airtight container in a cool, dark place is best. Coffee is an agricultural product and needs to be treated as such.
What’s your advice on how to achieve silky steamed milk, and what happens if it’s overheated?
If milk is too hot, you will lose sweetness and the foam won’t be stable, so it will break down quicker. When you are steaming, you put the air in with the steam wand at the start, when it reaches body temperature just spin the milk in the jug. When [the jug] is too hot to hold it is too hot to put in your mouth.
Does the type of water we use affect the coffee’s quality?
Absolutely, we should be using filtered water at all times. If you use bottled water, be careful not to get one that is too high in minerals because it affects the fine PH balance and can be disastrous to the taste.
What are the most common mistakes that untrained baristas tend to make?
They don't clean their machines. You cannot make good coffee with a dirty machine. Always clean your machine every time you use it.
They don't taste the coffee. A chef tastes his food; baristas need to do the same so they can determine if the coffee is over/under extracted. It is very difficult to visually determine this with coffee, so tasting is integral to serving good coffee.
Under extracted is sour and over extracted is bitter. They taste almost identical to some people, so it is very difficult. [The extraction process should take] somewhere between 22 and 30 seconds but this completely depends on taste.
How do we correctly pack the coffee to ensure perfect extraction?
Simply put, as long as the grind falls evenly into the basket and it is tamped level and flat, then that's all that is needed. Don't over think it.
Finally, what do you love about coffee and what makes it such a life-long passion for you?
Making delicious coffee is a very new idea. We don't know that much yet and there is a lot to discover. It is the excitement of that journey and that all the time we are getting better at producing nice coffee. There are so many new tastes and flavours as we discover different varieties and improved processing methods.
Bodum Grinder from Matchbox, for more
Information visit: www.matchbox.com.au/Stores
Nespresso Lattissima+ coffee machine, for more
information visit: www.nespresso.com.au
Vacuvin coffee saver, available from:
Smeg fully automatic coffee machine, for more
information visit: www.smeg.com.au
Vibiemme Domobar Junior coffee machine, available from:
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Called upon to undertake projects for many high profile, and highly demanding clients, Howard can only be called a genuine Southern Gentleman, having never taken on the 'great architect' persona.
Howard's career has spanned generations. He has worked for such names as Steve Jobs, film director, Nancy Meyers, and the Harlan Winery Estate. Having started out in 1967 in San Francisco, and moving to Napa Valley in 1966, Howard Backen's career has been highly successful and incredibly exciting. He's designed restaurants, resorts and wineries. Although it's not so much the extravagance of his work, but rather the elegant simplicity and rural designs that make him so astonishing.
Backen launched 'Backen Arrigoni Ross' (BAR) in San Francisco. He was part of the highly successful firm for 35 years, which grew to more than 100 staff. BAR has overseen the design and building of vast projects like the Robert Redford Sundance Institute and the Disney Sound Studios and the new Restoration Hardware stores.
During his work at BAR, Mr. Backen had the opportunity to design the main office for the Delancey Street Foundation, a successful rehabilitation centre. Most of Howard's work on the project was pro bono, undertaken as a genuine service to his community.
Not only did the project win several awards for humanitarian service, but it has also been recognised for the unique design and beauty it contributes to San Francisco city.
It was in 1996 when Backen took his career in a new direction and headed to a new firm in Napa Valley. The Head-office in St. Helena and his new, self-designed home not far away in Oakville. Such a decision continues to be one of the most exciting and advantageous of his life.
At 75, Backen starts his day wandering through the morning chill over a series of fieldstone paths, to reach an open-roofed outdoor shower. It's his favourite morning ritual which he finds sublimely invigorating.
Sketching and drawing seems to come so easily to Backen who keeps a sketch-pad and pencil by his bedside, ready for anything his inspiration might come up with.
One of his treasured sketch spots on his five-acre plot is a lengthy zinc table in his open plan pool house. Sketching only on paper and leaving the computer work to others adds to the farmlike, natural focused designs he is famous for. Backen often leaves whole walls open to the elements, almost like a picture frame, to enhance the natural beauty of the surrounding country.
In 2010, Howard Backen was named in the top 100 architects by Architectural Digest.
Howard Backen works 24/7. A few days a week he visits current construction sites, enabling him to talk directly with the workers and leaving him time at home to work without interruptions.
Currently, Mr. Backen is designing a company, off-site dining location for Apple employees, in association with Steve Jobs. Whatever Mr. Backen decides to do nexr, you can be sure it's going to have the same breathtaking natural, rural beauty he is celebrated for.
As Australians, we are pretty lucky with our land, our forests, and our oceans. Many of us do all we can to preserve these treasures with efforts such as Clean Up Australia Day, which help Aussies recognise the effect our careless lifestyles can have on our environment. Yet, with all the energy we put into recycling and disposing of waste, we are still not making a significant dent in the problem. What we are constantly reminded of is that we are running out of time.
According to a 2011 Electrolux Plastics Pollution Report, up to 72% of Australians do not understand what constitutes recyclable plastic. We all know that plastic bags are not recyclable, yet we still dispose of them thoughtlessly. When unusable plastic is disposed of incorrectly, we risk contaminating potentially re-usable materials. With nearly 88% of us confused about which plastics to recycle, is it any wonder that there is a blimp in our recycling programmes?
Champion Surfer and lover of the ocean, Layne Beachley has teamed up with Electrolux to introduce the global Vac from the Sea initiative. The collection of funky vacuums not only makes the humdrum task of cleaning your house more exciting, it is also made of 55% recycled plastics, from marine plastic debris.
“As a surfer I regularly experience first-hand the vast amount of rubbish that ends up polluting our oceans,” Layne explains. “The Vac from the Sea initiative brings attention to the issue of plastic pollution, while at the same time addressing the lack of recycled plastics needed for creating sustainable products for future generations.”
The scheme, initiated by Electrolux, aims to direct attention to the amount of plastic entering our water systems. “The Pacific Ocean is polluted with the largest floating garbage islands in the world,” says Julian Huitfeldt, Electrolux Product Marketing Manager, Floor Care and Small Appliances. “Yet, on land we struggle to get hold of enough recycled plastics to meet the demand for sustainable vacuum cleaners.”
It is important that we sustain a recycle programmes in our households and familiarise ourselves on plastics that can be recycled, and those that cannot. Daily waste such as plastic bottles, bags, containers and lids can easily be discarded or used as landfill if they are not put into the correct disposal bins. More often than not, these unrecyclable items end up in the ocean, causing potential harm to many of our protected species such as sea lions, whales, dolphins and penguins.
DIY jobs and renovations are also a huge source of waste and considerable effort must be taken to ensure that we dispose of our plastics smartly. Exercising wise choices can mean a sustainable environment for all our beautiful Australian marine life.
The colourful Electrolux Vac from the Sea range includes a model manufactured from waste found in Australian beaches and the coastline.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Growing tomatoes doesn't have to be hard and the reward of home-grown, succulent tomatoes is reason enough to give it a go!
Whether growing tomatoes in a pot or in a garden bed, all types love similar conditions. As a spring/summer plant they adore warmth and sunlight, so keep that in mind when thinking of growing your own.
Before planting either the seed or a seedling, make sure their future home has fresh soil (to prevent disease and to ensure a nutrient rich food base). Preparing the soil a few days in advance is ideal by digging in compost or manure, and adding a little potash and some lime per square metre. This gives growing tomatoes plenty of calcium.
A raised planting bed in an area that gets at least five hours of sunlight is the most ideal location to plant your tomatoes, to prevent water-logging and to keep the soil warm. Be sure to give your seeds plenty of space and avoid overcrowding.
Growing tomatoes is easy. Don't be afraid to bury them deep and remember - warmth and sunlight is key!
It's advised to set stakes in to provide support for the growing tomatoes now, to prevent disruption to the roots later in the growing process. Keep plant ties handy, as the tomatoes start growing they'll need the extra support. You can use almost anything as a stake; wooden poles, chicken wire, even the back of chairs - but be careful when considering metal objects, as they can heat up and burn your plant.
When it comes to growing tomatoes, remember the plants will need lots of nutrients, so mulching every so often is required. The afternoon is a good time to mulch as the soil is warm. Try to find a brand of mulch that breaks down quickly, like straw, which also adds to the soils valuable organic content, or slivered plastic, which is useful in retaining soil moisture and reflects sunlight back onto the tomatoes.
Watering goes hand-in-hand with mulching. It is a very important step when focusing on growing tomatoes. Keep it regular, giving them constant moisture, but avoid over watering and watch for signs of water-logged soil.
As your tomatoes grow higher and higher, give them some extra TLC by pruning. You don't have to prune if you don't want to, but it can lead to a better crop with bigger, fuller, and more flavoursome tomatoes.
Pruning should be directed to the lower leaves. When these start to become yellow it's best to get rid of them to prevent disease affecting your beautiful growing tomatoes.
Side-shoots are a growth of new leaf between the shade leaf and the main stalk, in what's known as the "crotch." If these are only a few centimetres long, pinch them away gently with your fingers. Side-shoots only take energy away from your growing tomatoes.
Go easy on pruning! Due to Australia's hot climate and sunny disposition, pruning an excessive amount could lead to the scalding of your tomatoes.
From here on out it's only a short wait till your delicious tomatoes will be ripe and fresh, becoming a juicy addition to the delights of summer.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Planning for the world’s most important upcoming architectural event, the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale is in process. The latest news is that the creative directors who will be designing the Australian Pavilion for the event have been announced, namely Anthony Burke and Gerard Reinmuth.
The two creative directors were chosen for their deep knowledge about the field, and the expertise they will provide to the Australian contribution at the event.
Anthony Burke specialises in contemporary design and theory in relation to technology and its implications for architecture in the built environment. He works as associate professor and Head of the School of Architecture at UTS, he is an international curator, writer, and architectural designer, and a director of the architectural practice Offshore Studio. Anthony also has a prestigious academic background, with a Bachelor of Architecture from UNSW and a first class honours in 1996, and he is a graduate of the MS AAD from Columbia University from 2000.
Gerard Reinmuth founded Terrior in 1999 together with Richard Blythe and Scott Balmforth, and is today one of the directors for the practice. The idea was born from conversations between the directors around the potential for architecture to open up questions of cultural consequence. His research and practice on these questions led to his appointment as visiting professor at the Aarhus School of Architecture in 2010 and Professor in Practice at UTS in Sydney in 2011.
The Australian Pavilion will be designed as a “soft landscape of connections and possibilities”, and display the exhibition ‘Formations: New Practices in Australian Architecture’, which will “challenge traditionally held beliefs about what architecture can be, and celebrate new opportunities for architects working in non-traditional ways”. ‘Formations’ will highlight “the unconventional and world-leading innovative range of architectural
practice types being developed across Australia”.
The Australian pavilion will be a “space of engagement” in which viewers can interact and “participate in architectural conversation at close quarters”, as it will focus on actual projects and their impact. There will also be a series of what they call ‘flash formations’, which are free informal and intimate public events around Venice that will “allow viewers to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most innovative architectural practices and commentators and their work”. The creative minds of the Australian team will be bringing their skills and expertise to areas as diverse as robotic fabrication, government policy, and indigenous housing.
To find out more about the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale visit The Australian Institute of Architects at: http://www.architecture.com.au/
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Azaleas come in all sorts of colours including vivid pinks, violet, orange and golden yellow. Azaleas also respond well to pruning and make excellent hedges or feature bushes. However, to ensure you get the most from your plants, proper azalea care is needed.
These vibrant flowers thrive in the afternoon shade, though now more species of hybrids are available that are able to adapt well to survive in any garden. They prefer to be situated in the mild and humid regions, making them perfect for the backyards of low coastal Australia.
Azalea care doesn’t have to be a complicated matter. Following these few steps for azalea care will get your flowers in full bloom in no time.
Azalea care 101
Azaleas need soil that has good drainage, but still slightly damp. They prefer cool, slightly acidic soil that doesn't become too dry. When the heat sets in, try to water your azaleas once a week or so. However, remember not to over water.
When it comes to azalea care, be aware of their root systems. Roots that have wrapped themselves around the root ball can strangle the plant when it grows.
If this occurs, use an old knife and cut the matted roots away. Make sure to leave most of the roots intact, but spread out, to keep growing.
Make a raised mound for planting when you're ready. This provides the best drainage possible. Dig out the middle, adding some peat moss and a sprinkle of fertiliser. Place your azalea in the middle, fill in the surrounding hole, and mulch.
The best mulch for azalea care is pine needles or pine bark. Apply twice a year to get the best from your plant. A peat moss fertiliser is best applied at the same time as mulching. It's okay to use plenty of compost. It acts as a sponge around the roots, keeping them moist but not too wet.
Pruning and fertilising is best done shortly after their main flowering period from July through to October - although there are some varieties that will flower earlier or later. Pruning gives your azaleas a full growing season to fill out and time to mature before the colder months hit.
Azaleas aren't known to have too many problems with pests or disease. The most common problems are red spider mites and lace bugs (both of which can be controlled easily and do not affect the plant much).
During the wetter months you may discover that some of the azalea flowers have become mushy and brown. This is a process known as petal blight, a fungal disease. Although, it's easiest to pick them off and throw them away, spraying with a fungicide and/or Bordeaux mixture for best azalea care.
Azalea care isn't hard and it's a hugely rewarding process that will allow you to reap the final product of beautiful blooms and vibrant colour in your garden for a long time to come.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
My passion has always been food, either eating or making! Straight out of school, I studied Hospitality Management and after years in the world of hotels, returned to my original passion.
A great oven. Love thy oven and get it know it well!
What’s your most interesting food experience?
I love to travel and love to cook. Combining the two is pure bliss. I had the luxury of spending a week in a small school, in a tiny town in southern India. Students had the choice of fabulous studies such as yoga, languages, art or cooking. Of course, I ended up in the kitchen with an amazing teacher who's philosophy was ‘you must enjoy the chop’, meaning enjoy the entire cooking process...not a bad philosophy for life. Indian sweets are such a sugar hit. Our Pistachio & Cardamom cupcake is inspired by my travels in India - aromatic and sweet!
How do you think Australia’s love affair with cupcakes began, and where do you see it heading?
It's not just Australia, but the world, that has fallen in love with the cupcake. I think it came from a strong trend back to the simple things in life. A cupcake is a little sugar bliss bomb that is suited to any of life's celebrations.
What surprisingly delicious flavour combinations have you created?
So many! Oriental flower, lychee and rose is a fabulous flavour sensation. I also love the simplicity of Pure Sparkle, our signature cupcake, made with fabulous vanilla bean paste.
What’s the best accompaniment to a cupcake and why?
Sparkle is all about combining a cupcake with a glass of bubbles (which is lemonade is you are under 18 and French is you are over!). Nothing quite says 'celebration' like this combination!
Sparkle Cupcakery, 132 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, (02)93610690, http://www.sparklecupcakery.com.au/
Monday, September 12, 2011
Create a sanctuary
We are working longer hours, getting burnt out and stressed. For many of us, there’s no better way to relax than to soak in a bubble bath after a hard day's work. There are so many ways you can turn your bathroom into a private retreat. Be creative. You could opt for some simple additions such as scented candles and soft Egyptian cotton towel. If you wanted something a bit more luxurious think of adding some bathroom furniture such as an ultra modern or even upholstered chair (for when you want to sit back and paint your nails!) or a mounted TV or sound system to help you unwind.
Bathrooms do not have to be completely white and neutral. Be bold and add a dash of colour. A black and white colour schemes create an interesting contrast, but don’t be afraid to go brighter and bolder. This doesn’t mean an entirely hot pink bathroom, but using splashes of colour to create a different mood and feeling in the space.
This will of course depend on your budget, but it is common to hear of designers knocking down walls to increase space of the bathroom. If this isn’t an option for you, there are many clever ways to properly utilise and maximise what space you have. There are countless options when it comes to cabinets, fixtures and storage options to efficiently organise your bathroom
Lighting can be an effective and economical way to change the mood and feel of a space. For instance, ensure you select and light the key features or objects in the bathroom such as bath or feature wall. When it comes to mirrors, the light source should be at face height and provides both reflected and directed light to the face. For atmosphere consider both switch and dimmer lights. This is ideal for when enjoying a relaxing bath. Create the mood by switching off the down lights and dimming the mirror lights for a soft glow.
Complete Home also has plenty of bathroom ideas and inspiration. Check out some beautiful bathrooms here.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Many homes and businesses are choosing to use recycled materials for interior design. It's no longer just a piece of furniture or flooring. It's now a piece of history . It's a part of a story that's going into your architecture.
From just another garden, into a night-time wonderland of light and colour - garden lights can transform your landscape design in the blink of an eye. With post-lights, underwater and solar lighting options, there are garden lights to suit everyone's tastes.
If you want to go all out, purchasing garden lights with motion sensor technology is extremely useful in lighting up an area more significantly when someone passes by. Definitely a good choice if you're sick of getting stubbed toes from bumping into garden pots in the dark!