Bold Interview 15: Tricia O’Donovan from Living Not Beige

You can tell by Tricia Donovan’s business name, Living Not Beige, that she is a kindred spirit, right? I hope you enjoy this conversation with Tricia about her path of eco development and life! Check out her work with the links at the end, and sign up for her newsletter if you’re interested in eco housing, particularly in South Australia.

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At what point in your life did you decide to make eco housing developments – what was the trigger?

I’ve always been interested in where and how people live. As a young mum I felt isolated in suburbia and felt that there must be a better way to design our urban spaces – so I decided to go back to Uni to study town planning.

I joined Urban Ecology and was on the organising committee for the Ecocity 2 conference held in Adelaide in 1992. OMG I’m THAT old! Then life got in the way – I joined a housing co-operative and became the purchasing officer at a time when government was funding tenant managed housing co-ops.

Working alongside government, I spotted several development opportunities for the co-op. We bought and built in (Adelaide suburb/s)* Ascot Park, did an infill development at Plympton, redeveloped an old shop in Goodwood – it was great fun!

At the property where I lived, we pulled down all the fences and established a huge community garden within the boundaries of three of the co-ops properties. Being in a housing co-op taught me how much more housing can be, beyond … a roof over the head: with secure and affordable housing – people have the opportunity to thrive.

I stepped into housing roles at UniSA, Anglicare and more recently Renewal SA and Housing SA. With that experience under my belt, when land at Aldinga became available for sale I thought, ” … what a fantastic opportunity to do something that’s focused on sustainability and community”. I put adverts in magazines like Earthgarden and registered on intentional communities websites hoping to attract the interest of a co-housing group. But I had no luck.

My partner and I played around with different concepts and went to several architects to get some ideas. We eventually costed one scheme only to be disappointed by its outrageous cost. Then we watched Hughes Vilette-Torillec at an Aldinga Arts Ecovillage event. Hughes is an architect and change-maker.

We worked with Hughes to develop a concept and a sustainable housing development model. We brainstormed the name Living Not Beige and worked intensively for months, shaping what it was we were trying to achieve. Living in an ecovillage is of course another education in sustainability and community. Our developments are sustainable and have a community focus – I can’t imagine living any other way and want to facilitate more developments like these where people can thrive.

Trucks and machinery delivering a big concrete water tank

What combination of your background & skill set, personality & nature is a great fit for a project such an eco housing development? How do you stay aware of all the moving parts and people in such a big project (and also somehow remain so calm).

I just love it all so much – is subdividing land and developing eleven eco homes big? The best part has been sharing people’s journeys as they have got involved along the way.  And what a buzz to see it all taking shape now. I do have some tricks to stay across it all – but for me it’s a life project and delightfully easy to keep up.

How do I remain calm?  You ask the poor council planner about me being calm – sadly I had a jaw dropping, roof raising melt down in the middle of all the Aldinga project delays. Not always calm!

Curlicues and lettering made of metal in a pile

Can you tell us about how living in alignment with your values and priorities relates to living a deliberate and happy life?

It makes me happy to see people making the most of their lives and how, in a small way, I’ve supported them to do that.

a row of houses under construction under a very blue sky

How do you care for your creative self?

I’ve just finished a silk scarf depicting the lifecyle of silk worms for my grandsons childcare teacher along with a discovery box of all things silk that his friends can enjoy; I dance, I wrote a childrens book for my grandaughter and I’ve got a long list of projects from jam making to learning the ukulele that I must do when I ‘retire’. And of course doing sustainable property development is creative too, so I’ll do some more of that!

Yellow flags flying leftwards under a green leafy canopy

Do you feel as though you could live anywhere, or is it important to your work and life that you are based in South Australia? What do you like, that’s unique and special, about living where you do?

I live in Aldinga Ecovillage and that has spoiled me – I cant imagine living somewhere where you didn’t know the neighbours, where there weren’t opportunities every day to get involved in something and where there are people around who are ready and willing to share their skills and talents – or excess organic produce! I’ve done cheese making, silk flag painting, leaned how to prune fruit trees – I’ve built using straw bales and managed community events, done raku pottery and sculpture – it’s such a fun place to be.

Two adults and two children sitting together in front of a curtained window.About Tricia

Tricia has managed a diverse range of housing programs for social and educational institutions as well as provided housing policy and strategic advice to government.

Her passion for Living Not Beige gives her the energy to develop project concepts, broker development opportunities, support individual customers, community development, and sales. She is an urban planner, a geographer, a housing activist and a writer.

If you’re interested in Living Not Beige, please subscribe here for updates and details of projects. Or follow Living Not Beige on facebook.


Right up until quite recently I had a fantasy of being an eco developer. Through more contact with Tricia and amazement at her capacity, I’ve decided I don’t quite have what it takes, though I’ll happily support her however I can!
Talk soon,
Love Meg x o


*(bracketed / in italics from me)

PS Click this to check out Tricia’s Pinterest boards!






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