Free As A Bird

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  • No matter how much the wind huffs and puffs through the hills above Byron Bay, the home of Rachel Bending, founder and creative director of leading sustainable fashion and homewares label Bird Textiles, and her partner Campbell is one house that certainly won’t blow down – despite the fact that it’s made of straw.

    As someone who’s passionate about environmental responsibility, Rachel knew straw bale would be the perfect choice for the home she planned to create in the lush Byron Bay hinterland. A traditional building material with serious eco cred – it’s a renewable natural resource with exceptional thermal insulating properties – straw bale is undergoing a renaissance in dwellings. “It’s durable and, when you combine it with passive solar principles and an awareness of the site’s environmental considerations, you can design a house with significantly fewer energy requirements,” says Rachel.

    Read more from this interview with Home Beautiful Magazine May 2010.....


    Sitting in harmony with its bush surrounds, Rachel’s home is one of only six private properties within an 32-hectare community-titled, wildlife sanctuary that borders a state forest. Before design and building began, she lived part-time in a caravan on-site for three years. “I needed to know what the sun and the wind were doing over the four seasons so the design would be in sync with the environment,” she explains.

    In order to stay hands-on, Rachel took a straw-bale building workshop and an owner-builder training course, then hired Blue Architects (now based in the UK) because “they had a similar design aesthetic to me and were interested in the challenge.” Straw-bale specialist Robert O’Keeffe of Natural Building Works was commissioned for the build.

    Of course, one would expect nothing less than a totally green approach from Rachel, who is widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of eco textiles. The beautifully bold, organic fabrics in all of Bird’s ranges are designed in her Byron studio, hand-printed using water-based dyes and sewn using solar-powered machines – and Rachel’s home displays the same enchanting characteristics: a raw, organic palette punctuated by graphic bursts of pattern and colour, with a nod to nostalgia and a firm focus on natural beauty. Designs from Bird are dotted throughout the house, as are well-chosen hits of retro furniture and the occasional style statement, such as a cowhide rug. “Pieces that have caught my eye have become highlights of the house,” says Rachel. “I incorporated a vintage fridge but had a new motor put into it to make it more energy efficient. And I collect items like old egg whisks and cake racks as wall decoration.”

    The home is split into two pavilions, connected by an outdoor bathroom and stepped timber deck, with the northern pavilion containing the couple’s ‘summer bedroom’, and the southern a cosy, enclosed ‘winter bedroom’, an indoor bathroom complete with a composting toilet, and a combined kitchen, dining and lounge area. “I love the natural flow between the indoor and outdoor spaces and the way it all blends with the environment,” says Rachel.

    Uniting it all is a consistent commitment to planet-friendly features, such as solar heating and power, a compost toilet, a reedbed greywater system and rainwater tanks that hold 50,000 litres and provide all the home’s water. “When one understands that one can live lightly without decreasing your quality of life, there’s no going back,” says Rachel.

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    References: Story - Judy Barouch
    Styling - Stephanie Powell
    Photography - John Downs
    for Home Beautiful Magazine May 2010