How do you preserve the heritage and nostalgia in a generations-old family home, whilst making it functional and fantastic for contemporary family life?
Most of us will live in a few different homes over the course of our lives. Not this family. They’re about to renovate the family home, and will be the 3rd generation to take over it, and the running of their 40,000 acre cattle property in far NW Queensland.
UPDATE: Due to her mission to educate ALL homeowners to get it right in their own projects, Amelia no longer provides 1:1 design services. The best way to access Amelia’s expertise, experience, support and guidance (plus get her answers to your regular questions), is via her flagship program: HOME Method. Learn more here.
This presents its own challenges, in preserving memory and heritage of the home – much like a family heirloom. Whilst enabling it to become a home that supports modern family life (as well as the demanding role of running this business and property). Such an exciting opportunity!
In this Spotlight, Amelia worked with these homeowners to help them honour their home’s history, and give it the chance to live on for many more generations.
The Existing Home
The existing home was built in the 1950s. It’s a Queenslander weatherboard cottage that sits on stumps. It’s had alterations over the years, and in the late 1980s, a bedroom extension was added to the southern side.
It’s located on a 40,000 acre cattle property, where temperatures can range from minus 5 degrees in Winter, through to hot and humid conditions in Summer reaching 43 degrees. Views from the north-west to the east look out across paddocks and up the driveway. The northern and eastern sides of the home are pleasant, with gardens and a pool on the NW corner.
The owners also work from the property, and at any one time, can have 6 – 8 staff working on the property and eating certain meals together. Others also visit the property (to visit the business). These meetings occur in the current living / dining area of the home.
So, the home is (and needs to be) a busy hub of activity and lifestyle!
This is the ‘front’ of the home and the eastern side. She’s a gorgeous old girl waiting to have new life breathed into her!
This is the northern side of the home. Here, there is the potential to open up to the outdoors more, with a covered deck that connects to the garden and the pool (which is on the NW corner).
This is the western side, which is actually highly used by staff that work on the property as a way of accessing the home. The office is on this side of the home, and there is undercover storage and a meat coolroom here also.
The existing floor plans shows the layout of the home, and its potential to be reconfigured into a much more functional family home and business hub!
As you can imagine, the homeowners taking on this project are a super hardworking couple, juggling loads of demands! They have 2 young children (and plans for more). Emily cooks dinner for several people each evening, as well as working in the office on the administrative side of the business.
Dennis grew up in this home, so has a lot of attachment to its history and memories. And both feel a sense of responsibility to preserve this in its renovation. Dennis tells me his grandmother fought very hard for the timber archway to be included in the design, so that’s a non-negotiable in the project! There’s even a height record in the kitchen that started in the 1950s.
They will run their extensive cattle business from this home – and also raise their family here. It’s an interesting combination to balance.
They would like to create a house that:
- Is a forever, fantastic, family home for the next 25 – 30 years
- Has practical and functional design
- Is a comfortable place to live and work
- Has space to run the business, plus work for their family (with some separation when required)
- Accommodate the kids as they grow (who will then attend boarding school in high school – so this means an influx during holidays when they bring friends home).
- Makes better use of their favourite parts of the house – the north-east and eastern parts of the home (which capture the breezes and views)
Their wants for the house are:
- 5 beds, all with built-ins and master to have walk-in-robe
- ceiling fans and air-conditioning to all bedrooms
- 3 bathrooms
- main bath with separate shower and bath, and separate toilet to main bathroom
- outside building with shower room and toilet for staff
- better layout for laundry (which is also accessed by staff)
- office with 2.5 working areas, and a small meeting space
- kids’ rumpus / study / school room located near office
- lots of storage – both functional and display storage
- big dining table – both inside and outside
- easy access to the external cold room from the kitchen
- really functional and generous kitchen
$300,000 which is flexible. They have a builder lined up.
Main Observations about the Existing Home and Brief
Circulation happens everywhere
This is often the case with Queenslander homes, and especially those that have grown organically over time. There are so many exits and entries out in and out of the home. That, combined with no clear axis of movement and rooms stacked next to each other, means that circulation is very challenging.
Rooms become thoroughfares – which makes them difficult to furnish, feel peaceful or functional.
The home ‘bleeds’ between inside and outside – rather than flows. Flow happens well when movement is actually directed.
Work and play are overlapping each other at the moment
With a family run business, staff living on site and joining them for meals, and visitors sitting at their dining table for meetings … there is little separation between work life and family life.
And with little ones (and plans for more!), the ability to work (in the business, on the property, or generally around the home) whilst keeping an eye on them is critical for convenience and safety.
So it’s understandable that work and home life will be connected.
However, managing how much they are, and their ability to ‘step away’ when they want to, will assist with creating peace and a sanctuary in their home.
Consideration is needed for how access of work areas, service areas, storage areas for staff-accessed items … is separated from their main living and entertaining areas.
The house is already large
When you take a floor plan that’s a challenge or problem, and enlarge it – we can just make the problem bigger!
This home is already large in size, and to stretch their budget, as well as satisfy their brief, my belief is that the floor plan does not need to necessarily be added to.
This is about rationalisation, and better arrangement of spaces for access, functionality, privatisation and flow.
Some Main Design Aims
When I started preparing the design concept, I had these aims …
- Create functional spaces that feel expansive and spacious by opening up to the outdoors and light
- Design spaces in a way that works with the orientation and will create a thermally comfy home
- Building in flexibility that will you them as the kids grow biger and demand different things from their spaces
- Create a better entry process, so there’s a better sense of threshold to the home – and entries for different uses is also important
- Create a better outdoor entertaining area that connects the living spaces to the garden, and maximises the use of it, and relationship with it
- Celebrate the special elements of this historical home and ensure lots of storage for the things they don’t want to see, but need to be organised!
The Design Options
This design fought me! It always feels like a huge responsibility to bring the dreams of the homeowners into their renovation design. However, given the history of this home, and that this renovation was its chance to serve more generations of this gorgeous family, the stakes felt particularly high!
I created 3 options in this round of designs. After some review, Emily and Dennis had me tweak one option to rework the master suite, and so that is also included below.
Option A Ground floor design introduces a hallway to arrange circulation in the home. The kitchen / living / dining area is arranged as an open plan area, with views oriented to the north / north-east. An outdoor room is added at garden level, with a deck stepping down as a platform (with seating areas and stairs).
When designing renovations I always include these overlay plans. The existing floor plan is highlighted in red, with the proposed as a semi-transparent overlay. This helps homeowners see where the proposed layout aligns (or doesn’t) with the existing. This ultimately assist with visualising the size and shape of rooms, and understanding the disruption to the existing layout.
Option B Ground floor design moves the new hallway further east, in direct alignment with Bed 1 entry. The arrangement of the kitchen / family / dining varies, and the outdoor room is arranged as a deck, sitting 500mm nominally above finished ground level.
Option C Ground floor design also locates the hallway to the east. This option provides a different arrangement of living / kitchen / dining. There are also alternative layouts for the formal dining and family room, and this option gives a dedicated kids’ study / craft area next to the office.
After the homeowners saw the design, they realised there was an opportunity to instead locate their master bedroom on the eastern side of the home (instead of at the southern end where they’d original envisaged it). Option D Ground floor reworks the design to achieve this. It also provides an ensuited Bed 5 for when visitors come to stay. And the existing entry on the south-west corner is retained.
Option E Ground floor design rearranges the master suite / retreat space. This option has less hallway storage, but gains a mud room on the landing into the office.
Both these options had their preferred kitchen / living / dining level.
This is a longer verdict, however I wanted to share as it’s super personal feedback about a home that has so much embedded family history.
We have spent many hours watching the videos and going over the plans. We have spent many, many, many more hours thinking through a lot of things. The package you sent back to us has definitely given us a huge amount to think about. Not so much things such as where should we put this wall or that window, but more big picture things: How do we plan to live our lives? How do we see this room being used? Why is that door there? Things that are really important to designing a home and questions that we really wanted and needed to have asked, but up until now were not!
I guess for me, having grown up and lived in this house for many years, it has been quite challenging to let go of preconceived ideas (most I didn’t realise I had!); it meant I had to really question everything about the layout of the house. I found myself automatically drawn to the ideas that were most similar to how the house is currently used, which although is not necessarily a bad thing, in this instance I had to force myself hard to really approach your designs with a completely open mind, free from any preconceptions. Although it has taken some time, I feel now I have achieved this and I can only thank you for taking me on a very challenging and surprisingly emotional journey. But a journey that I now know needed to be undertaken. I am still quite amazed at what I thought 6 months ago was going to be a relatively straight forward exercise in redesigning a home, has somehow become so much more – I guess this is what you call the “design” process! And we haven’t finished yet!
Initially, I was not looking forward to moving into this home. The rabbit-warren spaces, the dead ends, the darkness, the cold, the heat. It made me shudder to think what we would have to do to make it more liveable. The family heritage that is in every wall, every floorboard, however, is what pushes it over the line to “reno, not rebuild”. We needed to make this home more liveable so that the heritage of the family could continue for generations to come. As I said in our questionnaire, we engaged the services of a draftsman, and this resulted in us having an existing plan of the house drawn but not much beyond this. His ideas weren’t thought out from a design perspective, so we had no choice but to keep looking. When I came across your site, I was excited. And even better, Doug was excited too. An actual architect! Who communicates using technology! Who knows about design stuff! The designs you have sent are beyond amazing – I can actually picture myself standing in the finished product (however many years it may be from actually happening!). And to get me excited about moving into this home is a challenge that you have slayed! Now we are excited about the next step – getting our design to work for us even harder, then beginning the build.
Although your designs were like nothing we could have imagined, it was pleasing to see that a lot of the “ideas” we had talked about and unsuccessfully attempted to get onto paper were incorporated into the plans you have drawn up.
The biggest WOW was your plan for a roof over the outdoor room on the northern end. The thing we love the most with this is your idea for a gable end and the raked ceilings extending all the way back into the existing home – this is bloody fantastic, and we really think it will make a massive difference to the home and the way the indoor and outdoor spaces can be used.
Renovations are underway at Emily and Dennis’ home. Emily is a member of Undercover Architect’s Your Reno Roadmap, so it’s been great to stay up to date with progress via our Facebook group.
And they’ve welcomed a third child in the midst of it all. From personal experience, babies and renovations do mix – right up until the point they start rolling (he he).
Due to my commitment to educating homeowners to get it right in their own projects, I no longer provide 1:1 design services. Instead, you can access my expert guidance and support inside my flagship program, HOME Method. Learn what’s included here.