Ruth & Phil’s Smartly Designed, Eco-Friendly Family Home

published Oct 3, 2015
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(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

Name: Phil and Ruth de Vos and their six children
Location: Mount Richon, Western Australia
Size: 340 square meters (3,660 square feet)
Years lived in: 3 1/2 years; Owned

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Ruth, a textile artist, and Phil, an engineer, built their home with two things in mind: It had to be as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible, and there had to be plenty of room for the entire family. They set about designing their home themselves, gaining knowledge of sustainable house building largely from a book they borrowed from the library. They brought together everything they’d learned into a working house plan, which Phil then built to scale out of LEGO bricks!

(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)
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The family does not have a TV in the home, so they use the family room as a quiet place to read. It’s also the perfect space to entertain visitors. (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

The de Vos home, set in the hills southeast of Perth, has copious amounts of natural light thanks to windows that are on at least two sides of every room, a sustainable design feature Ruth learned about in her research. There is minimal need for heating and cooling systems in the home, with just a small heater in the downstairs lounge for the very chilly winter mornings and an air conditioner in Ruth’s studio for the West Australian summers.

Organization is key to a happy, peaceful life with six children all in primary school or younger. With that in mind, Ruth and Phil introduced many systems for keeping spaces organized easily. They kitted out the mud room with separate lockers for each child (no more school bags and dirty shoes left lying about the home) and built a shelving system, adjoining the playroom, that is home to lots of labelled tubs. All the toys and craft activities were organized depending on the children’s ages and skill sets.

And then there’s the pantry: oh my goodness, what a space! Ruth designed a mix of shallow and deep shelving units to hold both individual spice jars and the like and larger baskets that corral party gear and excess kitchen staples. It also houses an extra fridge and all the cleaning gear needed for such a big home. It is a cook’s dream, with a place for everything and everything in its place.

(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: I’m not too strict about my style. I love rustic industrial (which I equate with family-friendly décor)… think rustic timber, concrete, and galvanized steel.

Inspiration: When we designed the house, we tried to implement passive solar design principles as much as possible. We also regularly borrowed a couple of architecture books from the library. Together these things had a great impact on the actual layout of the house and on the materials chosen. We oriented the house to stay close to the slope of our block and to allow for natural heating by the sun. We also chose concrete floors at the front (north) of the house, with insulated carpet floors on the south side. Our big splurge was double-glazed windows throughout. We also tried to vary the scales of our rooms and spaces, as well as allowing natural light to enter each room from at least two sides.

Favorite Element: That’s too hard! I think I love the dining room most, with our 3-meter-long dining table, our massive bookshelf, and accompanying library ladder. It’s where the whole family gathers to do our thing: eating, sewing, homework, coloring, puzzles, and more.

Biggest Challenge: Trying to combine all my favorite ideas, things, and styles into just one home! I had quite a long wish list for the house, and we managed to fit most of them in, but it took a year of planning and many iterations of a floor plan before we got there! Now that the house is finished and furnished, I try not to spend too much time looking at the latest decorating trends – I don’t want to become discontent with what I already have. (I still love a little decorating splurge though – my latest being two rustic wooden boxes).

What Friends Say: Visitors all love exploring our home. We really do feel very spoiled here! The visiting kids love to try out all the stairs.

Biggest Embarrassment: We’re lucky enough not to really have one here!

Proudest DIY: My husband built this house with the help of his dad, so really it’s one big DIY project! A couple of particularly successful mini-projects though, are the concrete kitchen benchtop [countertop], which Phil poured and polished himself, and the library ladder. The ladder was the last project we completed here. We were a little bit nervous about having a scarily tall ladder, but it has turned out to be quite functional. And I love how it looks, too!

Biggest Indulgence: Definitely the double-glazed windows. We have a comfortable temperature inside year-round, with minimal heating and cooling. A rather big change from the old wooden window frames we had in our previous house!

Best Advice: We relied heavily on a book from the library. I forget the title but it was something like 10 Architectural Principles for Home Design. That’s where we received advice such as:

  • have natural light come in from two sides of a room
  • vary the scales of the spaces in the home to make it more liveable
  • have ‘through spaces’ between inside and outside
We also worked with a quote from another library book: “A house without stairs is a wasted opportunity.” We have plenty of stairs in our house and we love them!


(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Walls: Dulux Hog Bristle (1/4 strength)
(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Green couch: custom-made through Trilogy
  • Grey rocking chair: Kelarma Furniture Mart, painted grey by Ruth
  • Coffee table: Freedom
  • Side cupboard: Freedom
  • White couch: vintage
  • Two armchairs: vintage
  • Desk: Kelarma Furniture Mart, sanded back and whitewashed by Ruth
  • Desk lamp: Target
  • White checkered armchair: secondhand, painted white and reupholstered by Ruth
  • Light grey chair: Freedom
  • Large textile artwork: My Big Wide World by Ruth
  • Blinds: raw linen, handmade
  • Clock: a wedding gift from Ruth’s grandfather
  • Child’s drawing cushion: Ruth’s son’s drawing, turned into a softie/cushion by Ruth
(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Dining table: built by Phil to match the kitchen island
  • Bookshelves: built by All About Wood (Phil’s brother)
  • Station clock: Freedom
  • Metal chairs: Freedom
  • Tripp Trapp chairs: David Jones
  • Leaf artwork: Leaves Rustle 1-6 by Ruth
  • (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Kitchen cabinets: All About Wood, finished in a two-pack paint spray
  • Pendants: Seawhite Sydney
  • (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Shelving: All About Wood
  • White tubs: IKEA
  • Jars: mostly empty Moccona coffee jars
  • Wooden crates: IKEA
  • Black crates: local salvage yard
  • Washing line: On the far wall is a retractable washing line. It pulls out to the opposite end of the pantry, providing Ruth with a wet-weather clothes-drying facility!
  • (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


    (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Bed: vintage DIY
  • Wardrobes: IKEA
  • Feature wall: salvaged floorboards
  • Bedside tables: IKEA
  • Drawers: IKEA
  • Yellow quilt: made by Ruth, inspired by the quilts of Provence, France

  • (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


    • Beds: one readymade from IKEA, the other hacked using a couple of IKEA cupboards
    • Ottomans: Freedom
    • Green stool: IKEA
    (Image credit: Hayley Kessner)


  • Sewing table: vintage
  • White drawer unit: IKEA
  • Sewing machine: Bernina 710, which Phil set down into the table
  • Sewing tool storage: IKEA RÅSKOG trolley

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    Thanks, Ruth!