Peter Maddison has grand designs for tiny houses

Peter Maddison designed the RACV Tiny Home to fit on the back of a semi-trailer, so it can be transported anywhere.

Grand Designs presenter Peter Maddison proves that biggest is not always best.

Peter Maddison, architect and host of Grand Designs Australia, has designed a tiny home with big ambitions for the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV). It was unveiled at Open House Melbourne on July 28th. Brickworks Building Products caught up with Peter Maddison to discuss how he goes about designing a small space to make it feel larger, and how young people can utilize unconventional means of affordable housing.
The RACV commissioned Maddison to design the best possible way to live in under thirty square meters. The project features state-of-the art technology and design principles, all packaged into a comfortable home that is totally off-grid and can fit on to the back of a truck.
“We have a fully functioning home that would work away from any services, such as power and wastewater, making it self sustainable in its own right”, says Maddison. “We explore high quality design principles in a way that is exciting architecturally, but also embraces the idea of being able to live with all the amenities that we used to – a bedroom, bathroom with privacy, kitchen and living space. All this in one little building.” “It’s got some great ideas in there, which have the potential to really disrupt people’s ideas about the way we live,” says Maddison.

Small but beautifully designed.

Maddison’s design for the RACV Tiny Home has a footprint of two meters by seven meters, built as a simple steel-framed gable roof structure, clad in timber. Maddison emphasises that the gabled roof shape is easily recognisable as a home, which is important in marketing the tiny house as a viable living option to those used to the more standard type of house. While the footprint is small, the vertical height is large so that the room feels bigger than it is. “A low ceiling can feel very small and mean. So I’ve tried to keep a small footprint but vertical height,” says Maddison.
Twelve photovoltaic solar panels are located on the gabled roof, providing the house with enough power to run LED lights, powerpoints and even a pot bellied stove. Excess power is collected in a storage battery. The tiny house is completely off-grid, in that it collects its own black water, grey water and rainwater for showers and handwashing. These active systems complement important passive systems that regulate the building’s temperature and natural light. The interior is incredibly well insulated behind six layers of insulation. Maddison used of phase change material by BioPCM, which maintains its thermal performance over one hundred years.

The RACV Tiny Home under construction.

“The interior opens up to the north to catch the most of the sun” says Maddison. “For one of the sides, I redid it in a yellow mesh that is usually used for walkways in marinas. The perforated lattice acts as a kind of sunscreen. Behind that is a polycarbonate sheeting that lets the light in, while regulating temperature.” The grid mesh opens out into a pergola structure, providing a level of changeability and adaptation that even a larger house would struggle to meet. The exterior is charred timber, Victorian Ash, which will never need repainting.

All the house’s soft furnishings have been created by Melbourne designer Claire Kelder.

Beyond their novelty factor, tiny homes are a response to the current housing market. “We’ve got these middle ring suburbs with quarter acre blocks, with space that’s a nuisance to maintain and often run down or got a swimming pool that no-one uses,” says Maddison. “I think all that space is perfect for a tiny house – aunt and uncle in the front house and then a young family in a tiny home out the back. There’s a great opportunity to capitalize on Australia’s plethora of quarter acre blocks and do something with them.”

The RACV Tiny Home  is travelling around Victoria and available for tours. Find out where it is now here.

Peter Maddison advocates that only poorly designed space feels small.

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