Issue 3/July 2013
Sustainable, super-chic flatpacked studios are springing up in backyards around Australia, changing the way we work and giving people the opportunity to design their own living spaces. Words: Tatyana Leonov.
Sometimes the best ideas are born in peculiar places – and logical in this instance. Bill McCorkell, cofounder and architect of Backyard Room, and David Martin, fellow co-founder and builder, were at a friend’s barbecue one balmy summer evening chatting usual guy stuff – football, upcoming events, changes to family dynamics. “We were in the backyard of one of my friend’s terrace houses in Northcote [in Melbourne]. He had a third kid on the way, worked from home a few days a week and was looking at adding another room upstairs,” Bill explains. “One thing led to another, and with a sketch pad in hand we had come up with this really cool studio that could be flatpacked and installed in the backyard.”
The idea came to life quickly (although it took over a year to get it off the ground as the guys spent a lot of time tracking and researching the consumer process to get it just right). Bill and David already had a successful working partnership having previously launched Archiblox together in late 2011 (a business offering architecturally designed, prefabricated and sustainable homes), and the concept of creating a similar type of product – this time studios – in backyards seemed like a logical next step. “Backyard Room was an obvious move into the area of activating people’s yards with affordable solutions,” explains David, “and we had money for the start-up through the Archiblox revenue.”
It was a smart move. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in 10 people work for themselves and one in 12 employees work a couple of days a week from home. The Backyard Room concept was designed to tap into the needs of people searching for a cost-saving workspace that is separate to their living space (we all know how important it is to not combine the two). “With Melbourne being the most congested city in Australia and sixth in the world, we have a big need for outdoor home offices to assist in reducing congestion on our roads,” Bill explains. “We definitely see this trend spreading quickly around Australia.”
Proof that timing is pivotal when it comes to business decisions, both Bill and David knew that, although the idea was great and they were confident in its success, launching at the appropriate event would further increase their chances of it really taking off. “We always wanted to launch at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show [March 2013],” David explains. “Immediate exposure was a must.”
Some 110,000 visitors attended the show and the launch was a huge triumph. Backyard Room won the sustainability award, and the garden it was placed in won the silver award for best garden (with landscaping by Daniel Tyrrell that was designed to be low-maintenance, naturalistic and modern to complement the concept), and the guys got the exposure they needed to get the business on its feet.
Backyard Rooms are made mainly from sustainable wood from renewable and certified sources, and are designed to maximise energy efficiency with high insulation floors, walls and roofs. The guys are passionate advocates of clean living and always take the green design route. “The less we need to pump into an atmosphere to artificially alter its structure, the better,” David explains.
Essentially a Backyard Room is a super-chic box – one that customers play a role in designing. “We had an epiphany moment when we realised the importance of the consumer experience. They analyse the site, the planning schemes, arrange service connections, choose styles, built form, facades – basically how the room is fitted out,” Bill explains. “Giving customers ownership makes them more committed to the sale and it allows them to say, ‘I designed this’.”