Opening image: Designful’s Golden Valley Small Home in Tasmania’s north prioritises “enoughness and refinement.” Photo Natalie Mendham

Best of 2023 | Escape your four-bedroom esky: Jane Hilliard asks, “How much is enough?”

“’Enoughness’ is working out what you need to be healthy and happy, but without taking more than you need. Most people have good intentions — they want to do something that's going to make a difference. Enoughness is something that anyone can do.”


Jane Hilliard — building designer, beachcomber and changemaker — leans into the late arvo sunlight and traces the shape of a different kind of future across the sky above the chookpen. We’re standing by the outdoor kitchen at the back of her place in Nipaluna/Hobart, looking out into a garden that’s exploding with green. We’ve been talking inside for well over an hour, a circuitous and excitable conversation about family, politics and bushwalks. Of what it means to make a truly humble house, and about the many different ways to build a better world.


Janey spends her days designing thoughtful, honest homes. She meanders her way along quiet beaches, delighting in the curlicued outline of a curious shell, the gentle shadow of an albatross feather floating across the sand. She also grins a lot, gesticulates wildly and with great joy — one of those rare humans who make the very air crackle and fizz about them. She grows all kinds of veggies, fruits and blossoms in her family backyard, and more and more, every day, she advocates for this concept of enoughness.

Jane Hilliard at home in Nipaluna/Hobart. “Part of enoughness is letting the unnecessary things drop away to make space for the people. Our lives are just stuffed with things that we don't need.” Photo Ula Majewski

“Part of enoughness is letting the unnecessary things drop away to make space for the people. Our lives are just stuffed with things that we don't need. Enoughness is a question, not an answer. It's not a hard line in the sand — it will fluctuate and it's different for everyone. It’s good for individuals because it means that you're not trying to live beyond your means. You're not being overwhelmed. But the bigger impact is that it's better for everyone around you — in your neighbourhood, in the whole world. It's better for the planet.”

Design has been at the heart of Jane’s life, right from the get-go. When she was a gromlet, she spent hours constructing micro houses from the offcuts in her dad’s workshop. “I would imagine little people living in them, about how that would feel. I learned a lot from my dad. He built our houses and he built boats. I was fascinated with space. I was always thinking about it. I’d be designing things and making stuff, building cubbies in the bush. I learnt a lot of patience from my dad. With good things, you can't just have them immediately.”

After studying a Bachelor of Environmental Design at the University of Tasmania, she got a job with an architectural firm way up north in croc country and lived in the tropics for a spell. “It was extremely hot, the opposite of here. But it’s where I learned how to design for a climate and it taught me how to do that in any kind of climate — especially the extremes. I learned to be acutely aware of the conditions around me, to observe closely, to take notice.”

Eventually, Jane migrated back south to her home in Lutruwita/Tasmania, that wild little island at the bottom of the world. She found work with some notable architects and designed some beautiful homes, but something wasn’t quite right. “I found that everyone was very stressed, all the time. The clients were stressed. The architects were stressed. I was stressed. People were missing the point. I was seeing this really indulgent, over-the-top design happening, but architects were getting away with calling it sustainable because they’d whacked a few solar panels on top. There’s a lot of ego that you get in architecture where it's all about the end product and how that looks — what magazines it gets into, what awards it wins. I'm just not interested in that. At the same time, I saw people trying to get things built that they simply couldn’t afford. And I just thought, you know what? There's got to be a better way.”

She decided to go out on her own. In 2013, Janey launched Designful — a very different kind of design practice. “I basically design houses because I love helping people. I want to see them stoked with their space and with the whole process. But at the start, I didn't really have a real-world example of what that looked like, what it was that I wanted to do. So I made it up and it worked! It just organically grew and evolved.

The Coal Valley Studio: “By removing the obvious we made way for the meaningful.” Photo Natalie Mendham

“We really hate that phrase —the ‘dream home’. A lot of people feel that their house is their whole life — it has to do everything for them. They have to have their own space and their own bathroom. But this thinking has got to change. We can’t sustain it as a community, let alone a planet. I see so many people who go and stay in a shack to escape their lives. And I think, why don’t you just make your house like that? What people really want is a dream lifestyle, not a dream home. So we ask them about that instead. We ask them about their values.”

Jane and her team’s philosophy is simple — ask what is enough, democratise design and create honest homes for everyday people. They believe in simplicity, in the idea of a home as the “vessel for a meaningful life”. Their design and influencing work is a tiny but philosophically significant part of the solution to a diabolical pair of wicked and highly politicised problems — the housing crisis (for humans) and the crisis that’s tearing apart everyone’s home — the planetary crisis.

When it comes to housing, Tassie families have been hit hard, particularly those who rent. Since 2016, the median cost of rentals in Nipaluna/Hobart have grown by 60 per cent and over the past five years, it’s become the most unaffordable capital city in the country, with vacancy rates still sitting well under 1 per cent. The situation became so desperate that homeless families were forced to relocate to a makeshift tent city erected in the Glenorchy Showgrounds, commuting to work and school through the biting cold of a southern Tasmanian winter. Or they were, until everyone was evicted. And it’s not just the cities — the situation for renters is equally grim in rural and coastal Tasmania.

“The problem is not that there's not enough houses — it's just all geared to Airbnbs and wealth creation now. The whole system isn't working. Like this whole thing with people being told that it’s financially irresponsible NOT to build a huge four-bedroom house. Basically, the only reason people are being told this is because someone’s going to make more money from that. Even public and social housing — someone’s still trying to turn a big profit! That's the reality. The focus is not on how to house people. Housing has become this wealth creation thing over a basic human need,” says Jane.

“We need a fundamental mind shift. People have to remember that not every decision should come back to the question — is this profitable? That has to change because it’s exactly the reason why we're in this mess.”

Expert commentators from far and wide have proposed all kinds of policy driven solutions — from urgent tax reforms to the negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts that favour wealthy investors over owner/occupiers, to upping the rights of renters and considering rental caps, to making long-sighted and socially equitable budget decisions that prioritise building a whole lot more public housing. But political courage is the critical element in making these public policy decisions and then actually implementing them at the scale required. And while we hear a lot of positive noise on the daily, the courage to act decisively and boldly in the interests of everyday people appears to be largely absent in the places where it matters.

Jane, while frustrated by the lack of action in the halls of power, is pragmatic. “You can't wait around for the government to do things. I want to encourage the general public to go, ‘I’ve got extra space. I could share that with other people. I could rent out part of my house or I could build another little house on my property, something that's fit for purpose.’”

West Hobart Writer’s Studio. “I see so many people who go and stay in a shack to escape their lives. And I think, why don’t you just make your house like that?” Photo Natalie Mendham

In her keynote speech at the Building Designers Association of Australia's National Design festival last year, Jane highlighted the immensity of the environmental crisis and the collective responsibility of the building and design sector to make some urgent systemic changes. “In Australia, on average, we are using 3.5 times the amount of stuff the planet can safely support each year… [but] the striving for more is not our fault. Currently we live in a system that thrives on us wanting more. Capitalism conditions us to believe and behave as if we will never have enough to be satisfied, to be happy.” She faced a room full of her design industry peers and proposed enoughness as an antidote to the excess that is hurting our planet and our people.

Back in her garden, Jane sighs. “We still have a huge problem. I am a big advocate for energy efficient homes, but something isn't sitting right with me. People say — ‘Well this is a carbon neutral home’ – but it's still four bedrooms and two bathrooms. It's 21 degrees all year round and the whole thing is mechanically ventilated. You're basically living in an esky.

“You're missing the point. We need to be building smaller homes that are fit for purpose — for how people are living now and for what people can afford. Our industry has to change. We need to get over ourselves and provide practical options that are responding to what people need, and what the world needs. That’s why I set Homeful up a couple of years back.”

Homeful — which makes affordable, pre-designed small home templates — is Designful’s little sister, created to democratise design. To provide a solution for all the people who don’t have many options, who want to build a robust and environmentally responsible home but can’t afford the increasingly hefty price tag of a custom designed house.

“Homeful was living in my mind for a very long time. The reason that it didn't happen until recently was because I had all these architects and friends in my ear who were like. ‘Oh, no, no, you can't do that. That’s not architectural design. It's so cookie cutter.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, okay. But I think it would help people.’”

For Jane Hilliard, a small home means a full life and the spaces outside are as much a design consideration as those within. “We are part of nature and it's not always comfortable. We have seasons, so maybe we should just put on a jumper. If we start to connect ourselves back to that, we're all going to feel a lot happier. Smaller homes force us to go outside and do cool things. They make our human connections stronger, and if we do need our own space, we can always go for a walk. We might see some great birds!

“At the end of the day, enoughness is about sharing. It’s about community. Some of us need to consider how much is enough and based on that, we need to use a lot less, but the reality is there's a whole lot of people in the world who don't have anywhere near enough. If we scale things back, there’ll be a lot more left for other people.”

Visit Homeful and Designful to experience more of Jane’s work.

Opening image: Designful’s Golden Valley Small Home in Tasmania’s north prioritises “enoughness and refinement.” Photo Natalie Mendham


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