Tuesday, 02 June 2015 02:04

Small Wonder

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While sumptuous home design is often associated with sprawling properties, this doesn’t mean that building on a small- sized block necessitates foregoing luxury. Lara Bailey discovers that good things can indeed come in small packages.

Having a modestly-sized site can make home design and construction more complex than with large blocks. The limitations of a small lot require clever managing if you want your home to match the comfort and aesthetic appeal of sites without considerable size and space caveats.

The purchase price of small blocks may be lower than regular or large blocks, but the cost of creating a home can be driven up due to the difficulties of designing a spacious home on a tiny site, and the restrictions and guidelines that must be followed in order to ensure a compliant build.

Here, Western Australia Home Design + Living speaks with Kris McGillivray, managing director of Osborne Park-based design and construction company Austurban Homes, about how small lots can offer the luxury usually reserved for more substantial sites. Having recently completed a show home – The Vincent – on a modest-sized block in prestigious Perry Lakes in Floreat, McGillivray is well-versed on the difficulties related to sites of this nature.

“Small lot construction has its challenges and this home was no different,” says McGillivray.

“Site access, manual handling of materials and liaising with the neighbouring owners and builder, who are experiencing the same challenges, are the main issues to deal with on-site.”


Small blocks appeal to many buyers: they can provide an affordable spot in a suburb that may otherwise be out of reach, can be more environmentally-friendly than homes on large

sites, and are perfect for those who don’t need too much extra room.

That said, small blocks can be difficult to work with, and these difficulties can equate to budget blowouts. Engaging a company that is experienced with the potential problems associated with small lots is a must in order to accommodate the potential pitfalls.

“Small lots mean that clever design is paramount as people still want sizeable homes with appropriate features for the area in which they have chosen to live,” explains McGillivray.

“[For example], if a pool is to be included, it needs to be fully integrated into the design of the building.”

This means your outdoor area can’t be an after- thought; the length of your driveway is a serious consideration (the shorter, the better), and a multi-storey design is the best choice in order to maximise the available space. For a site that is very narrow, or simply quite small, building up is the best solution, especially if you want multiple bedrooms and living areas (small homes on small lots can be achieved much more easily).

It is important there is no wasted space in the home’s interior, that windows are used strategically to exaggerate a feeling of spaciousness, and that privacy considerations are at the forefront of the design. Ensuring the home is congruous with the surrounding properties is also important – even though your site might be smaller than the others around you, you don’t want this to be the reason it stands out.

Open-plan living is used to great effect to make the most of homes on small lots. Avoiding closed- off spaces and numerous hallways means more

room is available for living areas and negates a claustrophobic feeling.


While there is much about small lots that is enticing, you must do your research prior to purchase to make sure the block will work for you. For instance, if you or a family member has mobility issues, or you have very young children, having stairs may make life difficult, but will be required in a multi-storey home (unless you circumvent this issue by having a lift installed).

Similarly, design requirements stipulated by local council and certain housing estates may affect your proposed design, so taking them into consideration early in consultation with your designer and builder is a must.

McGillivray says there is a shift towards small sites as blocks in desirable locations become increasingly difficult to attain. In purchasing land in in-demand locations, buyers are keen to ensure their home design matches the prestige of the suburb in which it is located.

“The trend is clearly for smaller lot development, whether it’s part of an inner-suburb infill or new major sub-division land in Perth’s outskirts, however, where infill-type estates such as Perry Lakes are developed, both the developers (for financial reasons) and the various levels of government (for social and financial reasons) need to make the most of the limited land resource.

“New western suburb developments such as Perry Lakes and Claremont Square, as well as various smaller infill projects, are seeing strong demand and the price of the land is generally seeing people capitalise their property appropriately.”


Perry Lakes is an infill estate occupying the grounds of the 1962 Commonwealth Games. Paying homage to the Modernist architecture that typified Perth residential design in the 1950s and 1960s, the homes in Perry Lakes are subject to stringent design guidelines that reflect the housing styles of the era. Characterised by skillion or low-pitched rooflines; linear, box- shaped fac?ades and abundant banks of windows, the Modernist style is experiencing a renaissance in the Perry Lakes district.

In constructing The Vincent in Perry Lakes, Austurban Homes has showcased the possibilities for achieving a luxury home on a small lot.

“The Vincent is a show home,” says McGillivray.

“It is not displayed to sell the floor plan, but rather Austurban Homes’ design, technical and quality capabilities.”

With three levels – a basement, ground and upper floor – and four bedrooms, a library, high ceilings, bespoke benchtops, under-floor heating, custom cabinetry, a swimming pool, architecturally designed landscape, activity room servicing the minor bedrooms and high-quality products such as natural stone, commercial-grade glazing, timber flooring and exceptional furnishing, The Vincent illustrates the ways small lot homes can be imbued with opulence.

Named after steeplechase runner Trevor Vincent, who won gold at the 1962 British Empire and

Commonwealth Games at Perry Lakes Stadium, the home is a tribute to the champion athlete, as well as the architecture of the time.

“The privilege of constructing a new home within Perry Lakes brings with it strict design covenants that reflect the housing styles of the 1950s and 1960s,” says McGillivray.

“These homes reflected the ever-popular Modernist movement, which challenged traditional views on architecture by placing greater emphasis on the form of the building itself.

“Much like meeting a client’s design brief, our designers have fused key design traits of the era with on-trend architectural features, resulting in a truly unique home defined by clean lines, light-filled living spaces and a bold connection to the outdoors.”


As discussed, it’s essential to know exactly what to expect from small lot construction before you pursue this option. Bear in mind estate guidelines, the need – in most cases – for multi- storey construction, and the logistical difficulties a construction team may encounter when building on a tiny site.

While the land may have been relatively affordable, beware budget blowouts when it comes to building. McGillivray cautions against assuming that you’ll effortlessly be able to attain the level of luxury on a small block that you would on a large one.

“My view is that people actually think [luxury design on a small lot] is easier than it is. Also, what is not understood generally is that the cost per square metre of small lot housing is generally greater than that of an equivalently spec’d larger-lot home.

“Generally land in new master-planned developments comes with design guidelines that need to be adhered to, in addition to the requirements of the R-Codes [Residential Design Codes] and the local government’s Town Planning Scheme.

“This can be a minefield for those who are not experienced in deciphering all of the requirements and protocols that these documents confer on owners.”

Depending on how small the block is, for instance, you may require planning approval in accordance with R-Codes requirements. When considered together with construction rules dictated by particular housing estates, as well as local council regulations, a seemingly simple small lot can become tricky.

Navigating regulatory requirements and developing a design that makes access simple, doesn’t compromise on comfort and will provide a home to suit your lifestyle can be a fine balancing act. It illustrates the need to engage a designer and builder who you can trust and who is experienced with tackling any issues that can arise with small lot construction.

With the right team and the right preparation, you may just discover that when it comes to lot sizes, bigger is not always better.



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