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Open House Perth: 10 years of back-breaking work sees carpenter's grand design come to life

Pat Gaffney in front of his house on Silver Street
Pat Gaffney in front of his house, which is angled around a sewer line.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

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Ten years, a broken back and a sewer running through the main living area would not, and could not, stop Pat Gaffney from building his very own "grand design" in Perth's South Fremantle.

Mr Gaffney has a background as a carpenter.

He said he had always wanted to build a modern house, and settled on the perfect place — a block of land next door to the historic house where he had lived with his family for decades.

"We had lived next door for 30 years and really like the community, so there was no point in moving," Mr Gaffney said.

The 320-square-metre plot had been the family's garden for 20 years.

"We had the land, so it made sense to do it here," he said.

Mr Gaffney worked with architect Dimitri Kapetas to draw up the plans, but he was determined to build the house himself.

Pat Gaffney in the house he built over years
Pat Gaffney spent years building his dream house by himself.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

Sewer line impacted house shape

Even in the design stages, the project — a three-bedroom, double storey family home — proved complex.

A main sewer runs underground diagonally across the block, from front to back.

"The sewer is buried underground but you can't actually build over it, you have to build around it," Mr Gaffney said.

"So we had to design around that, and that's what has created the interesting shapes in the house."

Most of the rooms sit diagonally on either side of the sewer, but the house is not divided into two buildings.

"We have a tunnel through the house that is a room, but it is virtually demountable," he said.

The 'demountable' middle section of the Silver Street house
The 'demountable' section runs through the centre of the house and can be accessed by the water corporation if necessary.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

The design satisfies access requirements, but Mr Gaffney admitted there was a "slim possibility" one day his central living area could be dug up for sewer maintenance.

"I'm confident that they will never have to do it," he added, smiling.

Making it up along the way

The plans alone took five years to draw up, then Mr Gaffney began building.

"Dimitri drew the plans to a stage where I could build it, and a lot of the interior detail I have just done myself as I went along," he said.

"I didn't really know at the start what I wanted.

The Silver Street house is open to the outdoors.
The living areas of the Silver Street house open to the outdoors.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

"Money was probably the main thing," he said of deciding to do it himself rather than employing a builder.

"And I just wanted to do it.

Broken back did not stop determined builder

Mr Gaffney also runs a catering business that mainly operates on weekends.

He said that business, and the fact he lived next door to the building site, had given him the flexibility and time to build the house to his standard over the past five years.

Despite the long haul, he said he never got tired of the project.

"I've maintained my energy and didn't lose interest," he said.

"Everything's fine now. My back is 100 per cent better. My knee is still a bit sore but I can still get on and do most things."

Silver Street house kitchen
Mr Gaffney did not start with a clear idea of the interior, but developed the design as he went along.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

Walls make the house a giant esky

The finished house is a modern, angular mix of concrete flooring and highly crafted timber detail.

The walls are made from a material called R9, which is fairly lightweight but highly insulated.

"R9 is polystyrene and CFC sheeting, and it's about 200mm thick, making the house like an esky," Mr Gaffney said.

"It has double glazed windows and Bondor roofing, which is a sandwich panel of metal and foam.

Concrete and wood in the Silver Street house
Former carpenter Mr Gaffney used plywood, concrete and highly insulated panels to construct the house.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

Having finally finished the house, Mr Gaffney is now opening it up to the public as a part of the Open House Perth festival on Sunday, November 12.

"I'm really satisfied with it," he said of the finished product.

"Just going through the process, it was really difficult at times, working out how to do things, so to get to a stage where you have achieved all your goals and gotten through it is really satisfying."

The Silver Street House is open to the public from 10:00am to 5:00pm as part of Open House Perth.

The ABC Perth building will be open on Saturday, November 11 from 9:00am to 3:00pm as part of Open House Perth.