A Sustainably Designed Family Home in Byron Bay

Photography by Anna Hutchcroft

This week on the IN BED Journal we visit architect Michael Leung and his wife Tiffany Gee at their truly unique property ‘Skyfarm’, nestled in the Byron Bay Hinterland. Skyfarm is made up of three different residences designed by Michael’s architecture practice Balanced Earth Architecture; a main family home and two smaller satellite cabins. We spent a sunny morning at Skyfarm and spoke to Michael about his philosophy on sustainable design, family life and catching sunsets all year round.

Our Skyfarm home has been a ten year long dream to create a contemporary family farm in balance with our values, nature and this wonderful site in the Byron hinterland. The house design is based on sustainable passive design and building biology principles, a fusion of Tiffany and my beliefs and interests.”

“Before moving into our main home, we designed and built a small hempcrete cabin with zero toxic materiality as a test bed for ideas for this main family home, this tiny home ended up being the catalyst for work we do at Balanced Earth with innovative natural materials.”

“We have lived here for seven years after moving from Western Australia and before that Sydney and enjoy spending time bathing in the stunning views of Mount Chingoan and the Kooyan Ranges. We enjoy time in the garden playing football as the kids have grown up and planting out the veggies, and enjoy pool time with the kids in summer.  We love the sounds of the birds and cows and get to see sunrise and sunset throughout the seasons. The Northerly aspect allows full experience of the sun's journey through the day and is why the previous local owners called it Skyfarm.”

We love the sounds of the birds and cows and get to see sunrise and sunset throughout the seasons.

“We lived in the small cabin with our two children for four years before we built and moved into the main house. The tiny hemp house was a wonderful space that had everything we needed whilst our kids were still young and holds a lot of precious memories for all of us. A short youtube doco was made about it back in 2018 that now has 1.5-million views and won local sustainable awards. This space is now used by friends and family and rented out when not in use.”

“The upper cabin was in some ways the second version of this hempcrete tiny house and was built in 2020. This is also built from hempcrete and is left off form internally. The timber floor is also insulated in hempcrete, a first in Australia at the time. This space has a wonderful view of escarpment, the ocean and you can have a bath under the stars.”

“As mentioned, it all started with our first tiny hemp home and has grown to an Architectural Practice of six and a building company of over twenty five. We are passionate about the environment and all things hemp and how we can create new buildings that inspire change in our industry. We push for a very low amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and chemically treated materials, we design using breathability and passive design principles in all our projects and strive to educate through this process. All of our projects have these driving factors as we look to push the boundaries of this new (old) hempcrete material in an innovative way.”

“We have taken the off form hempcrete wall and made it into contemporary architecture with our most recent projects and wish to show a new generation the benefits of considering the planet as well as our health as we design new homes and spaces. We’ve also done a few podcasts that share the journey.

“The design process was a long collaboration between Tiffany and I that took many twists and turns. We needed the help of an architect friend Leo to bring our ideas together peacefully! The house is all hempcrete with large exposed recycled timber beams sitting on a flat area we carved out of the site. The building of the hemp walls with 17 volunteers over 5 days was the biggest milestone event I remember and really brought the house to life in a hand made community way.”

The design process was a long collaboration between Tiffany and I that took many twists and turns.

The main bedroom is an open plan space that overlooks the stunning escarpment views surrounding us with full glass to the north. We have an epic concrete bath overlooking the garden and an exposed hempcrete wall to the eastern face. We have a picture frame window to capture the eastern sunrise views that my wife designed for her meditation practice of waking with the sunrise.”

“There’s plenty of special objects in the house, especially the artwork and our books.The main art piece in the entry was commissioned for Tiffany's father after he passed away and is a wonderful painting of Indigenous land that meant alot to him. The rest are done by local artists and Tiffany. The Books are our collection of love and passions.”