On the border of Northern NSW and Southern Queensland, nestled behind the broadwaters of the Tweed River sits Bilambil Heights, it's here at the edge of town, on the border of suburbia and farmland, where Tim and Elena Silverwood found Frontera House. It’s this border that forms the substance of the project and asks the question: where is the line between building to mainstream conventions versus consciously renovating with the planet in mind?
The bigger question underpinning the project explores how sustainable our current attitudes and approaches to housing are. How should conscious consumers approach building and renovating amidst a climate and biodiversity crisis?
Frontera House aims to reduce the environmental and chemical impacts of a renovation whilst supporting trades, businesses and collaborators who believe in a better future. We're thrilled to have partnered with Frontera House for their build and checked in with the duo to get an update on their reno to date.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourselves? Outside of renovating Frontera House, what do you do and what’s important to you?
Tim: I was born in Cairns, QLD but brought up in the Central Coast of NSW on 25 acres of native bushland. The ocean has always been my playground and I studied sustainability at university. It was natural for me to pursue a career in ocean conservation. In 2009 I co-founded Take 3 For The Sea, a non-profit organisation tackling the plastic pollution crisis and in 2020 I left to build a new project, Ocean Impact Organisation (OIO). OIO is Australia's first startup accelerator and innovation ecosystem for businesses with solutions to improve the health of the ocean.
I am a keen surfer and a budding permaculture gardener - there's nothing like growing your own food on land you care for. We love to travel and expand our minds so our recent trip to Europe was just the tonic we needed from our hectic year of renovating.
Elena: I was born in the UK to an English mother and Greek Cypriot father, I came to Australia when I was 19 and basically didn’t leave. I always say that Australia was my first love. Work wise, my background has been in fashion and PR. More recently though, through my agency New Future Folk I work with brands that are making a difference in the world and help them tell their story through PR and Events.
Outside of Frontera House I am passionate about conscious consumerism, it's very important in my line of work. I am also deeply interested in daily yogic practice + philosophy, and I love to travel to Europe. It really connects me with my heritage and inspires me creatively.
Ok, now Frontera House. Where is it? What inspired the renovation? When did you start and when do you hope to finish?
Frontera House as you've mentioned, is based in the Northern Rivers, about 45 mins north of Byron Bay. We had always wanted to renovate a home together, and at the tail end of 2021 we decided to take the leap. It’s been a very trying process, largely because we decided to renovate with the planet in mind. In theory it sounds simple, but in reality it means the decision making process has been protracted plus finding environmental building solutions has been really tough. But we are so proud of what we’ve done so far. We are about 75% of the way through the renovations and hope to finish them in the first part of 2023.
With a mission of renovating with the planet in mind, how do you determine which brands and businesses you want to champion within your home? What does a sustainable business mean to you?
We are a great couple when it comes to identifying the brands we want to work with and who are meeting our 'planet in mind' expectations. Tim sets a high bar when it comes to 'true' sustainability and can see through green-washing in a heartbeat. I bring the visual and creative eye to make sure the whole project looks great from an aesthetic perspective. Just because we're renovating with the planet in mind doesn't mean it has to sacrifice beauty and style.
We know that it's really hard for businesses to be 'perfect' - we have so much further to go in nearly every industry. The things we look out for are: Certification (what are some of the frameworks they've signed on to to ensure they meet high standards eg. BCorp, FSC etc); materials (how are they talking about their supply chains; carbon footprint (what are they doing to mitigate contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions); biodiversity and conservation (how are they contributing to mitigating and improving global biodiversity). In most cases we've been fortunate to connect with the founders and / or leadership representatives in the businesses we've worked to create a personal connection which enables us to hear directly how they are pursuing their version of 'good business for a better future'.
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
Juggling our two full time jobs and renovating has been really trying on us time-wise and energetically. Also, finding tradespeople that see our vision of sustainability - generally speaking their default is about the cheapest possible option, and not the most sustainable option.
We took a long time to decide what flooring options we would go for, in the end we bought some recycled timber floorboards from an old church in Melbourne and laid, sanded and coated them. They look beautiful.
Obviously money is a factor. It's safe to say that if you had endless buckets of money you have the 'luxury' to choose all of the best sustainable options when it comes to trades and materials. We of course have a budget and therefore have to make lots of compromises. We want our experiences to be replicable for others, after all - sustainability can't just be a luxury, it needs to be the norm.
What memories do you hope to create within this home once you’re finished?
To look back with a sense of pride that in those trying times of decision making, we made the soundest and most sustainable decisions that future families can enjoy in years to come.
We are excited to be part of your journey, what do you love most about Totem Road and how did you choose your Zara Bed and Muse Bedsides?
We’ve never had a king size bed before, so the spaciousness has been an absolute game changer. We really love the simplistic design, plus the solid construction.
We loved sleeping on the organic latex mattress too, knowing that it doesn't contain any polyurethane foams and that it's anti-bacterial makes for a really peaceful sleep.
Tim was really impressed with the low-waste packaging, what didn't go in the recycling bin has been used in the garden and as a protective material for renovation projects. It really has been the best bed we’ve ever had. We love it!
What do you hope to teach people about sustainability?
Hopefully through our journey of being novice eco-renovators we’ve helped to pioneer and inspire renovators to do things a bit differently. And hopefully we’ve been able to draw attention to amazing Australian brands that are really pushing their own sustainability agenda like Totem Road.
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