Today’s great beach shacks
Australians have a close relationship with beach houses, something that’s gained momentum since the simple fibro shack started to appear in the 1950s. Since that time, the humble shack has increased in size. And rather than just a few rudimentary spaces ‘stitched’ together with a front verandah, today’s beach houses come with all the ‘bells and whistles’.
However, even if the scale of and budgets for these beach houses have increased, there’s still a strong connection to the coastal scrub and those fortunate to have water views.
Architect Tim Spicer spent many of his childhood years with his family on the beach. And more recently, he transplanted a 1960s timber house from a clients’ site for his own use as a beach house at Phillip Island. “We were originally going to relocate this timber shack to the edge of my clients’ property as guest quarters (at Flinders, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula). But that would have diminished the outlook of the garden,” says Spicer, who initially worked on the scheme with the late and eminent architect Col Bandy.
The owners of the Flinders property, a couple heading towards retirement, were keen to have a more permanent style of home, one they could live in 80 per cent of the time. “The site feels considerably larger than it is (three-quarters of an acre) as the wire fences surrounding the property take in views of neighbours’ back gardens, with one of the houses designed by architect Peter Maddison (presenter of Grand Designs) a number of years ago,” says Spicer. Low maintenance yet contemporary also formed part of Spicer’s clients’ brief, together with generous light-filled spaces. “Their city abode is a terrace in North Carlton, with the rooms being fairly dark,” he adds.
The new two-storey house at Flinders features a steel portal frame, suspended concrete floors and double-glazing. Generous glass sliding doors link to north-facing terraces. And on the western elevation is a corten structure with fixed stainless steel screens for privacy. To ensure separation between family and friends staying over, the guest bedrooms and bathroom are located at ground level. And on the first floor are the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas together with the main bedroom and ensuite. One of the finest views is from the main bedroom with eastern views over Bass Strait. “You could say that it’s a fairly refined house, but it still includes aspects of the more simple beach houses, such as an open fireplace (separating the dining from the living area). The house is also strongly positioned for alfresco dining and having that indoor-outdoor feel that we’ve become accustomed to,” says Spicer. The butterfly-shaped ceilings in the living areas also loosely reference the 1950s, but in a more contemporary manner.
Architect Walter Barda, director of Walter Barda Design, has designed a number of beach houses at Pittwater and Palm Beach in New South Wales. He recently completed a multi-level timber house at Bilgoa, on Sydney’s northern beaches (an hour’s drive from the CBD). While the cliff-side property offered impressive views of Bilgoa Beach and the Pacific Ocean, the block’s 45-degree slope required a design that would attract northern light. The result is a design that includes northern-orientated courtyards. “We were also mindful of creating protected nooks from the winds,” says Barda.
While the incline of the property is steep, access is from a road that leads to the garage, described by Barda as ‘buried’ due to the garden that covers the garage roof. There’s also a lift at this level that takes you to a couple of bedrooms, including the main bedroom and ensuite. The main entrance/lobby is also located at this point.
Walter Barda Design also included a sculptural timber staircase that leads to what’s referred to as ‘the great room’. The kitchen, dining and living room has been thoughtfully delineated by the central courtyard. And while the focus is on the outdoors during the warmer months of the year, in winter there’s a sense of cocooning with the home’s chunky timber ceiling beams. However, while the Bilgoa beach house evokes some of the vernacular timber beach houses built in the post-war period along the coast, this beach house includes contemporary finishes such as a black-and-white tiled kitchen with marble benches, framed by dark-stained timber joinery. Barda worked closely with interior design consultant Justine Hugh Jones to create another layer to the home. Industrial- style light fittings and eclectic furniture and objects create a unique and personal environment.
“Beach houses have come a long way since the simple fibro shack. But today’s homes still focus on the outdoors and the seamless connection to the coastal bush,” adds Barda.
About the Author: Stephen Crafti
Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.