Interiors

With the edict ‘waste not, want not’, an eco warrior turns the dream of sustainability into reality. By Lucy Feagins.

Joost and Jennie Bakker’s Monbulk home

Joost Bakker is a Melbourne designer, restaurateur, entrepreneur and champion of sustainable building practices. Together with his wife and business partner, Jennie, he has staged countless events across Australia to encourage discussion about sustainable design and his “zero waste” philosophy. He is known for his vertical gardens, his Greenhouse by Joost restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, his waste-free Silo restaurant in Melbourne’s Hardware Street, and his endless creations and installations using “the stuff other people throw out”. Despite his disarmingly cheerful temperament, Joost is deadly serious about proving that buildings can be designed more efficiently, used to grow much of the food we eat, and run waste-free. And he practises what he preaches: the home he shares with Jennie and daughters Ruby, 10, Charlie, 8, and Remi, 5, built on 2.4 hectares in Monbulk, east of Melbourne, is perhaps the greatest example of these philosophies. Joost and Jennie bought their property, a cherry farm of 40 years’ standing, in 2000. Initially, they cleared the land, installed massive concrete water tanks, and planted more than 200 trees, struck from cuttings, with the assistance of Jennie’s father, a skilled horticulturalist. A connection between the indoors and outdoors was paramount to Joost’s design for his sprawling family home. The house is big – about 600 square metres – and incorporates a large workshop, double garage and the family home within one structure, surrounded by green lawns and plantings, and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. “I’ve never understood the disconnect between homes and gardens in Australia,” says Joost. “In Holland, everyone lives in their gardens. I wanted to build a home where people actually spend time in the gardens. I always wanted a home where the garden feels like part of the house.” The Bakker home is designed on the principle that everything used in its construction is recyclable. Every steel beam, every sheet of plywood, every window frame, every element of the structure could potentially be unscrewed, dismantled and used for something else. Joost refrains from using glues, plaster, floor polishes or other finishes that render the base building materials unrecyclable. His home is built on a 90 per cent recycled concrete slab, using a steel frame, straw-bale and block-work walls for thermal mass, and plywood floors and ceilings, which are simply “soaped” – a Swedish idea that protects them and gives them a bleached look, without the need for harsh chemicals or polishes. Outside, the building is instantly recognisable by Joost’s signature vertical garden of terracotta pots. This impressive structure houses more than 11,000 wild strawberry plants, grown from seeds supplied by Joost’s uncle in Europe. A vast vegetable garden and chicken enclosure at the rear of the property provides enough fruit, vegetables and herbs to feed far more than the five people who live here, along with a constant supply of fresh eggs. This unique property exemplifies the core values of the creative family that lives in it. There’s an integrity here that only comes from a genuine passion for doing things differently, for seeking better ways to design and build the spaces we inhabit, and for always asking, “Why can’t we do it this way?”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 12, 2014 as "Joost and Jennie Bakker’s Monbulk home". Subscribe here.

Lucy Feagins
is founder and editor of The Design Files. She is The Saturday Paper’s interiors editor.