ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kerry Press is principal and senior consultant of Spirit of Design. For tailored advice for new building designs, renovations and refurbishments, property appraisals, and assessments for existing homes and businesses, please contact us.
Michael Houghton is a chiropractor who lives with his wife Susan and sons Joel and Kier in their lovely home in Melbourne. He effectively and enthusiastically applies his values of balance, integrity, harmony and health to both his private life and his professional work.
Spirit in the Home: Case Study
A Work of Art...
and of the Heart
The Viewbank Project:
holistic design... from the ground up.
I have a vision for our homes as places that expand and enhance our potential as human beings not as an individualistic or egocentric experience, but one that is connected to all life on earth. Instead of our homes isolating and alienating us from ourselves, each other and from nature, it is possible for our built environments to actually facilitate wholeness within ourselves, togetherness between family, friends and community, a reverence for the Earth, and attunement to spirit and God.
I have coined the term holistic design to refer to design that considers all aspects of a person's relationship with their living environments. Holistic design is conscious design. It embraces environmental considerations (such as minimal impact and sustainable use of resources), but also takes sustainable design further. Holistic design:
- promotes harmony, balance and alignment between person and place,
- enhances health and total wellbeing, and
- encourages an experience of peace, beauty and grace in our lives.
A well-designed building should provide nourishment and solid foundations for growth and aliveness, and align and balance the occupants, such that they are well placed to be successful in the world. Feng Shui recognises that the qualities of our environments influence our quality of life and our state of mind. For many of us who lead busy and often stressful lives, it makes sense for our homes to be places that nurture and contain us, provide for peace, for emptiness, for an experience of beauty, and for enjoyment of the pure and simple things.
By the way, it is useful to remember that although we like to have our homes 'finished', they should rather be considered as living entities. As our lives and priorities constantly change, so our homes are also in a state of change. Feng Shui teaches us that the energy of our homes changes with the seasons and the weather, or with the arrival of new tenants. Changing a room colour, moving a bed, cleaning the house, renovating, or simply drawing the curtains can alter the energy dynamics of a house. The trick is to learn how to truly experience and enjoy your home here and now, moment by moment.
The Houghton Home
The development of the Houghton's mudbrick home at Viewbank in Melbourne evolved over three years from the initial selection of the site in September 1997, through to planning, design and construction of the house. Samuel Kwok, a Melbourne-based architect, had already worked on Feng Shui projects in Hong Kong, and here skilfully managed to capture Michael and Susan's vision, together with my tailored Feng Shui guidelines, into a practical and tangible building design.
What made the whole project so special is that it successfully incorporated Feng Shui principles for balance, alignment and harmony with criteria for health, beauty and environmental sustainability. The result (according to those who live there and those who have visited), is a home that feels good to be in. This is a house with soul. Qualities experienced are described as nourishing, substantial, warm, sensual, grounded, and ultimately beautiful in an organic sense. Without becoming materially ostentatious this is a home where one experiences richness in everyday life. One sees and feels first-hand the integrity of conscious design.
The success of this house, in suburban Melbourne, proves that you don't have to live in the country to live sustainably, and to be connected with nature and the elements moment by moment. It also demonstrates that a house doesn't have to look like a technical masterpiece, an engineered machine or an industrial warehouse to be environmentally sound or architecturally stunning.
Unlike many of the 'perfect' but stark, angular and often short-lived contemporary homes being built today, this house suggests a sense of timelessness and intrigue with its interesting rooflines and thick walls vaguely oriental and somewhat middle European in character. The lower level of the house has been sensitively excavated into the hillside. The solid earthen structure and strong foundations make for a house that sits confidently on its sloping site and conveys a sense of belonging.
There is a subtle use of symbolism and meaning. The grand and beautiful entry has been positioned to take advantage of a particularly beneficial Feng Shui influence. A curving path leads up to a set of double-opening front doors, creating a feeling of ceremonial arrival. The pair of doors in one sense represent balance yin and yang. Indian sacred design (Vaastu Shastra) respects the front doors as representing the two sides of the human body and so these should be identical and opening inwards to encourage a healthy flow of energy into the house. The Houghtons' doors each have a semi-circular window which together make a whole circle oneness, the Tao, cycles, eternity. The patterns in the windows suggest water ripples. The terracotta roof and path tiles represent the fire element. The circular windows symbolise heaven's force, in contrast to the solid, square shapes of the main building structure which symbolise earth.
The natural colours, patterns and textures of the mud walls, sculpted glass, ceramic tiles and oiled timber posts awaken the senses and imbue the building with life force and substance.
The home provides different spaces to suit different personalities and space needs within the family. The solid, nourishing nature of the house complements the family's busy lives in the world in that it offers comfort, stability and containment. Decorated in muted natural colours with interesting windows placed to provide vistas to the outside world, the kitchen is a warm and friendly space that invites people in. The family room and dining room capture the light and warmth of the sun to the north-east, via a heat sink created by the walls and floor through full glass windows.
Michael and Susan's bedroom was deliberately located on the second floor in the north-west to receive an auspicious human fortune star, indicated by the building's Feng Shui chart. Their bed is strongly placed with their heads to the mountain (the high side of the site). Son Kier's bedroom has great views from a balcony across to the fields and hills in the distance. The room reflects his light, playful and creative personality. In contrast, son Joel's bedroom is below the ground floor and expresses his more earthy, grounded and caring nature.
In my experience the success of a design has a lot to do with the energy that the owners bring to the project. Michael and Susan have injected into their home much of themselves their values, dreams and goals. Michael has applied to his home project the same dedication and integrity and care that he applies to his work in the world as a chiropractor.
Holistic design recognises that it is not enough to get the technical and economic aspects of a building right. To achieve a building that enhances mind, body and spirit one must consider all facets of the web that connects. These include the slope of the land, how the water flows, where the building materials come from, the emotive and energetic effects of colour, how energy moves around a room, what happened on the site previously, the personalities and goals of the occupants, the influences of the sun, and the impacts of our own thoughts and actions. Together these and many other factors determine the ambience and feeling within a building, and determine the fate and fortune of the occupants.
There are many ways to achieve holistic design. What matters most is that we continue to cultivate alternative and more positive visions for beautiful, healthy, sustainable design, that we dare to speak our dreams and have the courage to build them.
Planning and carrying through with the building of one's home can be many things for different people. For some it can be their worst nightmare of design faults, financing complications, subcontractors indifference, construction mistakes, deadlines missed, and the completed project totally different from what you imagined at the onset of the project. On the other hand, it can be an extremely busy, consuming, but exciting and immensely gratifying experience to dream, design, build, and then move into something that can only be called a work of art and of the heart.
After hearing of the heartache, frustration, anger, and disappointment of others during their building projects, we still entered eagerly into the exercise and came out the other end joyously!
Were we just lucky? Luck may have had something to do with the chance encounters with the various people who each helped us in their own way to reach our goal.
The very first person who helped us was Kerry Press, who we met through the chance reading of an article in The Age one weekend. In fact our contact with Kerry came only days after finding a beautiful vacant property that immediately drew our interest. So Kerry's involvement with the project began from the ground up.
The First Steps
Her first advice was on the suitability of the property for us as a family. This was quickly determined to be most favourable for us, so on we moved to the design of the home.
The critical Feng Shui criteria that initially shaped the building design were the orientation of the building on the site, and then the location of the front entrance, and the position of the master bedroom. Our own criteria were born from our experience of living in several countries, reading a variety of books and family discussions. We then developed our design brief with Kerry and our architect Sam Kwok.
Books that were of interest to us at the time included:
- Koji Yagi A Japanese Touch For Your Home
- David Pearson The Natural House Book
- Michael Mobbs Sustainable House
- Sydney and Joan Baggs The Healthy House
- Lillian Too Feng Shui For Gardens
- Master Lam Kam Chuen The Feng Shui Handbook
Our original brief was for:
- Personalised home
- Timeless design
- Environmentally sound
- Health promoting
- Aesthetic proportions
- Sensitive response to local environment, fitting in rather than imposing on
- Respectful of neighbours privacy
- Passive solar design including high density floor to the north with floor to ceiling windows
- Double glazed windows
- Natural materials, low chemical emission, recycled if possible
- Smooth transition between indoor and outdoor living areas
- Open plan with comfortable flow between spaces
- Natural lighting
- Minimise electromagnetic fields as much as possible
- Solar water heating with gas boost
- Supplementary heating from single efficient gas heater and wood combustion stove
- No plastics, chemicals or other synthetic materials
- 'Organic' paints
- Collect rain water
The Design Process
Feng Shui principles guided the internal arrangement of rooms in particular the master bedroom, the front entrance, other bedrooms, and important living areas. The design and spatial relationship of the rooms was carefully considered to facilitate a harmonious flow and quality of Qi (life force), and produce a living area that demonstrated an efficient and comfortable use of space.
Reaching the final design took several months of integrated planning and design work between ourselves, our architect Sam, and Kerry. We would present our ideas and preferences, Sam would translate these into rough drawings, and Kerry would apply Feng Shui principles to fine tune room position and utilisation.
I guess it would be simplest to say that the home really designed itself from 'inside out', that is to say that the final shape and position of the rooms created the external shape of the building.
When Sam was finally able to present us with several elevations and basic floor plans we then sought out a builder who could work with our chosen medium, mudbrick.
Jeff Parry, our builder, was able to translate the design concept drawings into working plans, incorporating our choice of materials, according to our original design criteria. Before construction even began, Kerry selected favourable dates for us to begin digging the foundations, and to begin the actual construction. At the time we pegged out the foundations she also confirmed the precise alignment of the building to ensure that Feng Shui forces could be captured.
Construction took nearly twelve months, and for me as the manager of the project it was a time of intense activity. I was already working full time in my own profession, but every day for those twelve months, any free time before or after work was spent on site looking after every detail and decision that came up along the way. Many days began before light and finished after dark, winter and summer.
Finally, as completion neared, Kerry provided favourable dates for us to actually move into our new home.
The end result was there were no surprises in the end. Everything was as anticipated, and with very few exceptions we were able to follow all Feng Shui advice and fulfil all of our design criteria.
We have happily achieved a home that is beautiful to look at, welcoming and comfortable to live in, and a place where we feel refreshed and full of life. Everyday when returning from work, no matter how tired we may be, we are always filled with the feeling of being so fortunate to live in a home that we love so much!
An interesting note to add is that the actual increase in building costs, in order to be able to build our home design in mudbrick (for environment and solar passive reasons), represented no more than a 2% increase in the overall price of the home.
So was this all a matter of luck? Of course most of it was just a lot of work and attention to details, but there must have been some very fortunate good luck in the chance meeting of those important people such as Kerry, Sam, and Jeff, who helped us achieve our goal of a special family home.
Kerry spoke to us once about 'holistic design'. She said that it was not just environmental design, but also a process that captured beauty, grace, reverence, a sense of the sacred, of meaning, healthful qualities, peace of mind, and even a bit of mystery and intrigue. Qualities that most of us yearn for and many seek to achieve when building their homes but in the end, very few designs manage to successfully capture this essence.
When we pause to consider just what we have been able to achieve, again and again we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have had the chance to create such a friendly, beautiful home, where there is nothing major that we would consider changing if we were to rebuild again. Our home looks well, works well, and feels well.