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Julie takes us inside a tiny home in the Hunter Valley

Somewhat ironically, it wasn’t until Elisa moved into her tiny house that she finally found the space she’d been craving.

The tiny house movement has been trending for years now, with homes less than 93 square metres popping up around Australia. The focus has turned to creating beautiful living quarters in a micro space, with motivations varying from saving money to minimising ecological impact.

I had the good fortune to meet the owners and creators of their own tiny house in a picturesque township in the Hunter Valley.

Elisa with her chook Mittens
Elisa with her chook Mittens

Elisa is a ceramic/photographer artist specialising in large format tile murals and decorative homewares. After a 15 year career in photography, Elisa discovered a passion for ceramics four years ago, whilst on holiday with her partner, Joana, in Portugal.

Living on her beloved little yacht, ‘Sass’ in Newport at the time, Elisa returned home and set up a studio in a garage in Dee Why which offered little to no natural light. With her newly found unquenchable thirst for knowledge about ceramics and developing an archival process, it wasn’t long before Elisa began replacing her clothes in her onboard wardrobe with tools.

“I needed tools more than I needed clothes. I don’t really care that much for clothes”, Elisa says.

When did you make the decision to leave the city for a country life?

“My business, Kreyfarer Ceramics was taking off and I needed more space. My Dad’s a retired builder and he offered to help me build a studio. Sydney was too expensive so it was really an easy decision to pack up and move to the Hunter Valley. I still have my boat in Sydney so we get the best of both worlds.”

Elisa enlisted the help of both her Dad and Mum to design and help build her new studio, which continued to evolve throughout the process.

It was an incredible opportunity to apprentice for a master builder and a man I admire very much. And it required a lot of physical work and expert skills - not bad for a couple of retirees.

What considerations do you need to take when designing a tiny house?

“It changed a lot. The original plan was to use a shipping container but it was going to be too small. We started with just the studio and the kitchen, then it grew because I wanted to spend more time here. We put a mezzanine space upstairs and created an area for sleeping and another for living.”

The setting we’re in is picture perfect. After a recent downpour of rain, the grass is green, the dam is filling and the birds are singing. Elisa has responded to her new environment by using large picture windows throughout, all of which she found second-hand. The most beautiful windows, perhaps, are the ones she has used in her studio. Extending the length of the wall, these beautiful side-hung casement style timber windows were purchased for just $100 on Gumtree from a lady who was renovating in Sydney. Together with the massive barn doors made by her Dad and the impressive windows, Elisa has successfully created a spacious studio with an abundance of the natural light she was yearning for. The sense of space is created, almost entirely, by the expanse of the view beyond the windows.

You were operating on a small budget. Where did you source some of your materials from?

“I found the kitchen cupboard doors on the side of the road in Newport. I thought they looked nautical and would be a great start for the kitchen design. I stripped them back and restored them, then designed the kitchen around the doors. I think they look great! The teak in the kitchen came from a ship builder in Sydney and the benchtop is black laminate from Ikea. I saw really expensive versions from designer places, but this is perfect and doesn’t scratch. The splashback is made from tiles I had already made and I put up my shelves.”

With space being at such a premium, how do you manage storage solutions in your kitchen?

“I use jars for storage. You have to be very organised. You take something out, then you have to put it away. I bought the shelving unit over the sink online from and it’s a great space saver. The fridge could be bigger but eventually we’ll be growing our own vegetables so we won’t need so much fridge space. We don’t have a microwave and we cook outside in our barbecue, rather than having an indoor oven.”

To keep the space warm during the colder months, the fireplace is cleverly positioned between the studio and kitchen so it heats both spaces.

A small, open staircase leads from the kitchen up to the mezzanine bedroom, then another few steps to the right lead to the living area.

Open shelves that Elisa picked up from the side of a road divide the bedroom and living areas, allowing air to flow freely between the spaces. They also serve as valuable storage for Elisa’s book collection and other essentials.

Low cupboards that extend all the way back into the roof from the bedroom wall, back over the studio provide storage for clothes.

Elisa’s tiles, boat gear, equipment, tools, ceramic experiments and portfolios are all stored in the roof of the studio.

The home is a true reflection of its creative and eclectic owners. On the living room wall, hangs a photograph taken by Elisa that is part of a series she was awarded for during her time in London.

“She’s a witchdoctor” explains Elisa.

"I met her in Cuba in 2001 when I went to photograph the Santeria religion. I asked her if I could photograph her and she said I could if she could read my tarot cards at the same time. My friend spoke Spanish so was able to translate for me. I felt so incredibly good there. Everyone was fascinating to me.” 

Downstairs, photos from Elisa’s time in the Northern Territory are on display, alongside art from her 11 year old niece, Lola Rose.

Elisa’s ceramics also feature throughout, including a fish mural coffee table, and an exquisite ceramic lamp fired through a Japanese style raku fire. This beautiful, old process includes smoking the clay in sawdust and results in a unique, crackled finish with a deep, smokey finish.

How do you find living in a tiny house?

“I’m so used to it because I came from living on my boat! I think because I have so much space around me, and it was the same on the boat, that it doesn’t feel small. I love the fact that I can grow my own vegetables. I want to be more self sufficient and this will allow me to do that. I like the cosiness of it.”

What do you love most about this kind of living?

“It gives me space. Emotional space as well as environmental space. I can work until whatever time I like, then talk to the chooks in the garden in the morning. I now have the space to be more open with my time. I realised I never really slept until I got here. Joana and I try to go for a dip in the dam for at least two minutes every day, year round.”

Embracing her new country life, Elisa has added two chickens to the family, who she named Mittens and Friday.

What’s your favourite room?

“Definitely my studio. I can now do everything on-site, except printing the photos that I transfer onto my ceramics. My favourite things would have to be my kiln and the fireplace. I hate being cold!”

The move to the Hunter Valley has enabled Elisa to focus on her work and to finesse her technique of making her ceramics archival. Her signature style is created by using photographic images and kiln firing them onto a textured glazed ceramic surface. The images absorb into the glaze to give a rustic aged feel, as if to fossilise them into permanency.

Drawing inspiration from nature and boats, Elisa’s ceramic work is becoming increasingly in demand by interior designers and commercial clients. She was recently commissioned to do a large horse portrait tile mural for The Inglis Hotel and Stables in Warwick Farm. The mural is huge at 4.2 metres in length by 2.1 metres high, and she had to use a cherry picker to put it up due to the weight and height above the floor.

Kreyfarer tile mural at The William Inglis Hotel photo credit - Damien Ford Photography
Kreyfarer tile mural at The William Inglis Hotel photo credit - Damien Ford Photography

As well as continuing the large format tile murals, Elisa has just released 3 series of ceramic mugs, tumblers and wine coolers and she is now working on other homewares which are available through Etsy. Visit Elisa’s website or follow her on Insta @kreyfarer to see more of her incredible work.

Want your home featured in House Proud? or do you know of a beautiful home that is in need of sharing? To be considered please contact our House Proud Editor, Julie Evans for more details at - [email protected]

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