Retrofitting the suburbs – garage apartment

How much house is enough?

Like thousands of others in Brisbane, our house was built in the 70’s using a basic rectangular shape with a standard 3 bedroom floor plan upstairs and a garage, storage and laundry space downstairs. This ‘high-set’ design lacked character to be sure, but these homes were popular as they were inexpensive, practical and space efficient while providing for the growing needs (and storage requirements) of a 2 car household.

It was only with the arrival of the  ‘McMansion’ in the early nineties that home buyers began demanding more grandiose abodes and the ‘high-set’ design was superceded by multi living space, multi bathroom homes, largely built at ground level on a concrete slab.

When we bought our house in 2012, the downstairs was an ugly storage area that seemed to encourage the hoarding of items we rarely use. On the plus side, once we tore down the hideous suspended ceiling installed by a previous owner, we could see that the space was of legal height for development (2.4mt) and the newly exposed hardwood beams were quite beautiful.

Wasted space becomes living space

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Partly inspired by David Homgren’s ‘Retrofitting the suburbs’ work, as well as a growing interest in smaller scale living, we decided to build a studio apartment on the ground floor in order to share our home. Over a 6 month period, we converted 36 square metres of under utilised space into a pretty cool living space that includes a full bathroom and a kitchenette. We have even considered moving downstairs ourselves!

While largely self contained, the apartment shares the laundry and backyard with the main house including access to the veg garden, BBQ and fire pit.

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Beyond dollars – the other benefits of home sharing

Not only does the apartment offer potential rental income, but it also:

  • provides for more social interaction at home
  • provides low cost, high quality housing with good transport links
  • reduces  the need for more suburban sprawl and all it’s effects (traffic, commute times, pollution, environmental degradation)
  • lowers resource use per person through shared land and amenities.

Overall, this project proved to be a cost effective and low impact way of increasing the housing stock in our city. It feels like a positive step  in the admittedly long journey toward suburban sustainability.

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