The North Stradbroke Island beach house
When the pressure of designing a home on your favourite place on earth pays off.
15 June, 2017
Ron and June have also been long term ‘Straddie’ residents and at the time, were living at one of the best points on the entire island. This prime location meant their home was a popular destination for extended family and soon it was bursting at the seams.
Acquiring a site just 20 meters away, Ron and June had visions of a home that would allow them to spend more time on North Stradbroke Island as they entered early retirement. With a background in property development and building, the pair had begun drafting up ideas for their new residence to replace the dilapidated post-war shack that sat on the site.
It wasn’t long before they approached Shaun, openly admitting that they might be heading in the wrong direction with their design. As an architect, Shaun was no stranger to designing and building houses on North Stradbroke Island. At the time, he had completed four houses including his own and was familiar with the idiosyncrasies that came with building on the island.
Straddie, like so many islands, has a tendency to be relatively parochial. If you fight the system you become an outsider and it takes 20 years to become a local. People that choose to build there are doing so because they love the place and want to become a part of it.
Ron, June and Shaun are like many ‘Straddie’ locals who want to embrace the character of the island. Beyond a brief for enough bedrooms to comfortably sleep their kids and grandkids and a living space upstairs to capitalise on the incredible ocean glimpses, designing a home that fitted in with the tin-roofed and fibro shack narrative was important.
A starting point for the design was meeting the ‘Straddie code’ of building homes as pavilions. “There is a slightly ramshackle spirit to the homes built there,” says Shaun. The Straddie code was put in place to avoid McMansions disrupting the scale of original architecture and as such, the house was composed of a series of smaller pavilions built around a central courtyard.
From the street, a huge screen that joins the courtyard provides a degree of privacy, yet still retains the open feeling that is encouraged on the island. “You don’t even build front fences,” adds Shaun.
Gardens spill into other people’s gardens
This screen element includes a gate that totally opens or closes off a public space. It provides privacy and sun control to the adjacent bunk room and architecturally, it presents an aesthetic that’s engaging.
References to the character of the island were continued throughout the design. The ‘Morning Glory’ blue painted under the eaves is a familiar colour of traditional beach shacks and the prominent Catholic Church nearby. Subtle references were also integrated into the design, like the greying Spotted Gum timber used on the façade.
With extensive experience in building homes, it would be easy to think Ron and June would be the type of clients to dictate the project’s direction. It was quite the opposite. From the very beginning, the clients put full trust in Shaun saying they wanted him to go about this project as if it was his own home. “It was quite an extraordinary leap of faith,” says Shaun.
“We wanted to be challenged with materials and with colours, and we were,” says Ron and June who advised Shaun they would pull him back if he was going in a direction they were uncomfortable with.
Incorporating the natural stone into the home was a concept Ron and June hadn’t at first considered. Shaun explains: “The stone is not so typical of the houses of Straddie.” However, the public boardwalks around the island are currently being laid in porphyry stone and its raw, natural qualities added another texture to the palette.
I’m not supposed to have favourite projects, but this house is Definitely one.
As an architect, Shaun tends to steer away from projecting his own design personality onto clients as he’s not designing for himself. However, this project Shaun says has a heavy flavour of what he would do if this was his own home.
“Natural materials are common to all of our work,” says Shauns, who regularly uses the “holy quad” of stone, timber, concrete and glass. It’s a combination of the natural and robust, the smooth and textural that inspires him to incorporate them into his building.
Ron and June are equally pleased with the materials and colour palette Shaun adopted for their home saying they reflect “the ‘natural’ landscape of ‘Straddie’, its casual lifestyle and of course, the beaches.”
Another aspect of the home Shaun says is a great success is the courtyard space located in the middle of the home. “The nature of beach living is that the house is full of people. People are going back and forth to the beach, the screen is open, people are under the outdoor shower, there are surfboards in the garden and towels lying around,” says Shaun. In the day-time this space feels open and public, flanked by the pavilions.
Come evening, the screen is closed and the courtyard becomes a private, intimate space where people gather with a glass of wine and cheese, the fire going in winter. Shaun explains this is one space that wasn’t a part of the original brief that now the entire house operates around it.
“The clients initially didn’t understand the concept, but they were happy to go with it.” Shaun says: “Everyone thought we were mad putting a fireplace in a beach home.” For the five times a year that fire will be used, it’s become a very special place for the entire family to come together and relax.
“The house as it is perceived and as it has been built is down to the letter of which we proposed,” an outcome which Shaun says is a rare occurrence.
It’s a massive endorsement on their level of trust right through to the end and it’s been a humbling experience.
Throughout the process, a collaborative relationship formed. Living just a short stroll from the site Ron and June had the opportunity to keep a close eye on the build and with Shaun regularly staying at his own beach house nearby, there’s no doubt he went beyond the role of an architect.
“I feel a massive sense of responsibility building on Straddie,” says Shaun. “It’s my favourite place on earth.” The pressure must have been immense as not only was Shaun building a home for his clients on an island he greatly admires, nothing happens on ‘Straddie’ without everyone knowing.
“Everyone on the island has an opinion about what you’re doing,” explains Shaun, who regularly received friendly advice from the locals. Although some were apprehensive about the scale of the build, once the scaffolding had been removed Shaun was relieved to hear they loved the outcome.
Shaun tries to get back to ‘Straddie’ every weekend and when there, he regularly walks past Ron and June’s new house. “When we stand back and look at the home, we’re ecstatic with the result,” he says. It could have been a totally different story.
“This was a builder that had never built one of our jobs, a client who spent 40 years of his life building houses and it’s built on an island without the usual day to day access,” Shaun explains. Architects often talk about a great house is the result of a great brief. For Shaun, Ron and June not only provided a great brief but the way in which they delivered it gave his design team the latitude to question how that brief played out.
For Ron and June, this is more than just a beach house on North Stradbroke island, it’s home.
Photography: Scott Burrows Photography.
More images of this North Stradbroke Island project can be seen here.