'The New Joneses' sustainability project is for people who are sick of keeping up

Prestigious cars are typically seen entering basement garages of luxuriously appointed homes. So it's refreshing to see BMW's green-focused i3 and i8 displayed outside a simple timber prefabricated house erected in Melbourne's City Square.

The unlikely matching of prestigious cars with the work of ecoliv, a sustainable building company based in Victoria's Wonthaggi, was the brainchild of Tamara Di Mattina, creator of The New Joneses Project.

Give more, take less

The fourth project held in the City Square (last year was Archiblox), the message this year was to live like 'the new Joneses' – "live more, use less, give more, take less".

In other words, rather than strive to live in a 'McMansion' with endless rooms, look to simpler things. "My former job was working for a consumer PR company pushing fast-moving consumer stuff that no one really needed," Di Mattina says.

The modest house, designed by builder/designer Ashley Beaumont and his and business/life partner Esme Beaumont, directors of exemplifies the pleasures of living within a relatively small footprint. The 65–square-metre timber house on display has an 8.2 star rating.

Solar panels feature on the roof and good cross-ventilation with ceiling fans omits the need for air conditioning. The walls, floor and ceiling are heavily insulated and plantation timbers are used throughout the house. To avoid wasting space, the only passage is outside the bedroom, from where the bathroom is accessed.

Given the modest size of the house, it's surprising to see a generous walk-in butler's pantry combined with a laundry, also with cross-ventilation through shugg-style windows either side.

At the double

Double glazing is a given and all the products used for the house are sustainable, including combined LED pendant Sengled lights that double as music speakers. "It reduces clutter by having one item perform two functions," Di Mattina says.

For Ashley Beaumont, who has now produced 35 homes from his Wonthaggi factory, the appeal comes from those not only wanting a simpler and less complicated life, but a house that is quick to assemble and relatively affordable.

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"A house generally takes 12 to 14 weeks to build in the factory and approximately two weeks to erect on site," says Beaumont, whose 'catalogue' includes one- to four-bedroom homes, varying in price from $220,000 to $380,000, plus GST. "Our clients include those looking for a holiday house or retirees wanting to scale down."

The ecoliv house, framed by the towering Westin Hotel, is anchored to the bluestone-paved square with bales of hay, a portable steel chicken coop, green planter walls, planters filled with vegetables and a terrace enclosed by steel mesh.

And rather than a clunky air conditioning unit that most people take efforts to conceal, there's a new sleek unit, encased in glass, operated by battery and storing the sun's energy both during the day and well into the night.

In the driveway

Rather than the beaten-up rusty wagon parked outside, a BMW i3 and i8 sit nearby. These electric cars, like the house, are a clear direction of where things are heading. The carbon-fibre cars (rather than traditional steel) are considerably lighter, but also much stronger.

Designed to travel up to 130 kilometres before needing to be recharged, the BMW i3 allows for more mileage than the average Australian would use in one day. "When the car needs to be recharged, you can plug into a socket in your garage or anywhere else you find yourself, such as a friend's place or local garage," says BMW corporate communications general manager Lenore Fletcher.

She has just returned from a government conference in Canberra. There were some positive moves, she says, but a notable lack of government support for electric cars. "Australia is lagging behind the Western world in this area, but at BMW it's a strong component in our research and development," she says.

Like the house, the car also features numerous sustainable features, including timber veneers used for the dashboard, Kenat - an ultra-light and robust material - used to produce bodywork, and recycled plastics. Pricing isn't aimed at the mainstream, starting from $65,000 plus on-road costs.

While the message about not trying to keep up with the traditional Joneses comes through in this important installation, the Melbourne display could cause some confusion with its orientation. The home's sliding glass doors to the terrace face south rather than north, an arrangement for the benefit of the installation that will be reversed in real-world construction.

The New Joneses is on display at Melbourne City Square until February 27.