Architecture and Renovation, trends in Brisbane property

What’s the future look like for the Queenslander home?

I’m not sure about my relationship with Queenslanders. Not the people – I was raised in small town North Queensland where our blood runs maroon! But the old timber houses, those character-filled dwellings that light up the eyes of so many Brisbane home-buyers? I think I’ve fallen out of love.

Brisbane City Council wants us to tell them what we think about these landmark buildings that line our inner-city streets and define so much of Brisbane’s streetscape. Their new consultation is, “your opportunity to contribute to a set of design principles that will guide future extensions and adaptations to Brisbane’s Queenslanders and other traditional designs.” Which I think means – “What elements of their character are essential and should be enforced on renovators?”

I think we can all agree the façade and street appearance is critical in preserving their iconic style. But what of the dwellings’ interiors or what might be changed away from the eyes of passers-by? When should a home owner have the freedom to change the property to suit their needs, and when are they a ‘custodian’ of a part of our heritage?

Last time we wrote about the pros and cons of preserving Queenslanders  there were strong views on the need to ‘hands-off’ this much-loved architecture. And we’re definitely not suggesting bulldozers – we see first hand the huge demand for them and we firmly agree they’re a special part of what defines Brisbane. But we are questioning how far limitations on renovations should reach.

Queenslander homeMany Queenslander homes need significant adapting to modern lifestyles. I love their decorative street presence and so much of their designers’ attention was spent on those sprawling open verandahs and their balustrading, posts and brackets. But there’s a lot about their floorplans and design that fails today’s home owners. Their internal layouts with the one bathroom tacked onto the back? Surely a renovator should be allowed to reconfigure their layout to add an ensuite and change the internal floorplan? So close to our city heart they’re inevitably expensive, so few owners choose to leave them open on the ground level. Is enclosing them unsympathetic to their heritage?

Our Sales Manager Rebecca is a heritage house fanatic, owning and renovating many over her real estate career with her tradesmen family. She says modern additions can often spoil the charm: “Renovations and adaptions made to an original Queenslanders should remain sympathetic to the style eg. Car accommodation or extensions added by raising the home keeping the same lines and style, or adding a carport to the front of the home with the same style gable and roof angles.” Rebecca is great at selling character homes because she loves their unique style and ‘gets them’. “It would be good if council could have a clear Character Housing Design Guide to assist with owners, buyers and renovators so the keys design features are not lost to our future generations.”

Like a lot of Brisbanites I’ve owned them before and struggle to keep my enthusiasm through the expensive maintenance and constant upkeep. I find them hard to love. Many home owners though will happily accept this trade-off for the charm and soul of a well-renovated Queenslander. But unrenovated or with a design that doesn’t offer our modern comforts? How many will continue to spend the money needed to preserve them?

In 2006 I bought an old boot factory in South Brisbane. Built in 1897 its 2 storey construction was rudimentary and raw because it had been a factory for much of its life. We carried out a careful and sympathetic (and expensive) renovation and turned it into unique and comfortable offices that could provide a useful life well through this next century, preserving this rich and interesting part of local history by adapting it. But adapting was essential to its value and its future.

Please share your thoughts on the future of the Queenslander home here and at the BCC website. Their future, a critical part of Brisbane’s character, relies on us all having sensible input into Council’s rules.