Thursday 28 April 2022

Why north Queensland’s luxury homes boast a distinct architectural style

Reinforced with storm-proof steel and sitting amid cool, chartreuse rainforests or next to sun-kissed beaches, prestige properties across Queensland’s tropical north burst with a rare architectural flavour born from a unique catalogue of geographical conditions.

Home to one of the nation’s harshest climates, it’s a place where cyclones can rip through the paradisical landscape that at times mimics a sweltering hot house. This breeds not just humidity, but also astonishing design ingenuity.

From breathtaking breezeways that cleverly complement the climate to creative concrete abodes that ooze natural beauty, high-end homes from Port Douglas down to the idyllic Whitsunday Islands often seem to emulate a living treehouse encased in rainforest.
Queensland’s high-end homes are built to endure its climate whilst also including luxury finishes. Photo: Supplied

That’s because those rare geographical conditions don’t just inspire the design, they dictate it, says REMAX Cairns director Ray Murphy.

“Because of our cyclones, everything has to be built to code, so there are a lot of steel frame homes … and there’s a lot of concrete,” he says.

“And if your house is in the rainforest you have to factor in termites. Then you need a pool – it’s compulsory up here.”

These compulsory prerequisites, he says, have led to some of the most innovative open-air living on show in Australia, alongside picture-perfect pools that seem to spill out into the lush greenery while capturing the coveted northerly breezes.

“A lot of people freak out about how our homes are built and about not having screens on every door,” Murphy says.

“But you need to really utilise the breeze so our designs include a lot of indoor-outdoor living.

“I’m selling a property at the moment [where] if you want to get from the kitchens to the bedroom you have to walk outside.”

While the style may baffle those unused to tropical conditions, it’s one that’s rained dozens of national awards down on some of the region’s most innovative abodes – including 5 Planchonella Close at Edge Hill, simply dubbed Planchonella.

The exquisite three-bedroom home is nestled in the rainforest just outside Cairns and continues to be one of the most architecturally remarkable Australian homes ever built.

It was created (and lived in) by Jesse Bennett of the eponymous architecture studio.

He famously used a curving concrete facade designed to increasingly integrate into the landscape over time, which contributed to the property being named Australian House of the Year back in 2015.

Lot ZIC Island View Drive on Hamilton Island boasts incredible views and has been built to last. Photo: Supplied

Equally innovative designs can be found mere metres back from the white-gold sands of Hamilton Island, where the need to build durable, luxury estates that withstand cyclones and salt has resulted in open-air houses more akin to resorts.

One such home – at Lot ZIC Island View Drive, Hamilton Island – recently hit the market for a cool $10 million.

It’s an eye-bulging retreat that brims with unique materials and 240-degree sunrise and sunset views.

Constructed with restored 120-year-old timber from Brisbane’s Thorney Bridge, alongside natural stone, the home’s foundation of pre-made steel was over-engineered to withstand even the most violent of storms, says Wayne Singleton, Whitsundays director of Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Even the glass was over-engineered. So when a cyclone five came by not one thing shook,” he says.

“But here it’s all about views and airflow … even where the barbecue is situated you can enjoy the sunset – and the sunsets are so vibrant here.”

It’s a reason why so many high-end homes are built on elevated blocks across the tropical north, Singleton says, and why much of the interior celebrates the unique exterior.

“It’s all about nice big decks and outside living,” he says.

“The pools here are always designed to capture that [sunrise and sunset] aspect. And this pool has got a beautiful wet edge … it’s quite special.”

Beyond the stunning aesthetics of the perennially popular open-plan style used across the island, designs such as that of Lot ZIC Island View made life in the far north supremely comfortable, says builder Aaron Hemsley, director at Coral Coast Building & Management.

“With most of the houses designed with breezeways, it just makes life bearable … in fact, you don’t even need air-conditioning,” he says.

“But we also tend to use materials that are less susceptible to rot such as cement sheeting, external timber frames that reduce that ongoing maintenance and, particularly in these buildings, natural stone tops alongside a lot of smart stain ranges.

“It’s a harsh environment here and you’re constantly covered in salt.”


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