Classically Beautiful

The Queenslander

We remember rambling houses whimsically perched high above the ground and graced with wide, welcoming verandas. French doors and windows are flung open to catch the lazy, summer breeze. The peaked, iron roof is shaded by a mango tree and surrounded by the fragrance of Frangipani. The charming features of these traditional homes celebrate the ingenuity and lifestyle of the region’s residents and have made the Queenslander an important part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

Queenslanders were first built during the 1840s. The distinctive architecture remained popular until the post WWII era and was common throughout the state, from the tip of Cape York in the north to Brisbane in the south. The first examples, erected by early settlers, were little more than rough timber huts. These simple structures slowly evolved into the ornate, multi-gabled homes most often associated with this type of housing.

Queenslander homes come in many different styles – including Colonial, Victorian, Federation, Art Nouveau, and Interwar – but typically, they share several key features in common. As a general rule, the houses are made of timber, highset on timber stumps, and have spacious verandas as well as corrugated iron roofs. Many utilise single-skin cladding for partitions (and often external walls as well), display decorative features to screen the sun or ventilate the interior, and are surrounded by a garden with palm trees or tropical fruit trees enclosed by a picket fence.

Most of these captivating features are rooted purely in practicality. Indeed, the Queenslander’s design was governed by what materials were affordable, available, and easy to use, and by the region’s hot, rainy climate.

Iron was an obvious roofing choice because it was tough enough to withstand fierce tropical storms. The durable material could also be transported long distances throughout the colony. Sawmills were established in the region in the 1850s, so timber was also readily available and relatively inexpensive. The availability and affordability of both iron and lumber helped cement the Queenslander’s popularity.

The high heat conductivity of the metal roofing combined with the poor insulation of the timber walls made ventilation crucial, and the Queenslander’s open verandas, generous windows, and double doors kept the air flowing during those stifling days before air conditioning. Windows were often lined up across from one another to allow maximum circulation. Louvers, fretwork, and fanlights could also be incorporated into the home’s design to increase circulation even further.

The Queenslander’s veranda provided a sheltered escape from sweltering indoor temperatures and the heavy rains that often fell on hot, humid afternoons. The veranda also blurred the line between indoor and outdoor space and encouraged a more laid back lifestyle. The shaded retreat offered a relaxing alternative to the ridged formality of traditional living rooms and stuffy, Victorian furniture. Indeed, the veranda became such an important part of the region’s tropical lifestyle that it soon secured a place in Australia’s architectural heritage as a crucial feature of Queensland’s housing. To many, this relaxing space – lined with white posts, decorative brackets, and balustrades – symbolizes a lost, and romanticised, era. Unfortunately, the veranda fell out of favour after the Second World War, when changing times and lifestyles led many homeowners to enclose this area in order to create more internal living space.

The interior of the Queenslander could still be a highly structured space in spite of the informality promoted by the veranda. By the 1890s, Victorian domestic ideals were all the rage, and homeowners strove to showcase their success, respectability, and social status via their homes. Ideally, a Queenslander house during this period would boast delicate wallpaper, rich panelling, luxuriously upholstered furniture, and expensive ornamentation.

The drawing room was particularly important during this era. This was where visitors were received, so the space was designed to display the homeowner’s wealth and status. Another important Victorian interior space was the dining room. This area was typically considered a masculine domain and was decorated to display formality and dignity. The master bedroom, seen as a feminine domain, was a private space decorated in soft pastels and delicate florals. The kitchen was a purely practical space, simple and unadorned. The bathroom was almost an afterthought, relegated to a back corner or an area underneath the house.

Queenslanders of all styles and eras were raised off the ground so that the air could circulate underneath the floor to cool the interior. The light frame construction materials did not retain heat, so the house responded well to this natural air conditioning. The raised design also created an extra “room,” which was used for a variety of purposes, from dying the washing to housing livestock or even extended family members!

The home’s height also enabled rainwater runoff and protected the ground floor from flood damage. Building on stumps also meant that the Queenslander could be quickly constructed on sloped terrain, an attribute that is well demonstrated among the steep hills of Brisbane’s Paddington, Bardon and Ashgrove suburbs. Lastly, Queensland’s timber homes were always vulnerable to termites, and the stumps could be plated to help deter these pests.

The Queenslander’s airy, open design did, however, provide easy access to a host of flying insects and small animals. To help ward off these unwanted intruders, the trees and brushwood that might shelter them were cleared from the yard. Homeowners did not want to be surrounded by bare ground, however, and frequently replaced the natural vegetation with a traditional garden.

For the most part, Queensland residents based their gardens on English fashions. However, the temperate plants long favoured in the UK were poorly suited to the region’s tropical climate, so homeowners were forced to find substitutes. As a result, these gardens were a unique blend of English formality and tropical flora. Popular styles included the rigid Geometric or Squared style; the minimalist, hedge lined Federation Style; and the more irregular Picturesque and Gardenesque Style.

The Queenslander’s glory days came to an end during the housing boom that followed World War II. The focus during this period was on constructing as many homes as quickly as possible, leaving little room for style, tradition, or climatic concerns. After Queenslanders fell out of favour, they were threatened by gentrification and development. Many were demolished in the name of progress. In recent years, however, there has been a renewed appreciation for these distinctive houses.

Today, Queenslanders are being lovingly restored and often sell for top dollar. Some restorers try to recreate the home’s original design as much as possible. Others work to capture the essence of the traditional Queenslander while making significant alterations that they believe will be a better fit for the 21st century. In these renovations, the external shell and its most popular features are left intact, while the interior is remodelled for contemporary tastes. Builders are also constructing brand new Queenslanders throughout the state. These homes are modified for today’s lifestyle and environment, yet still retain the most significant traditional features. In modern times, the most relevant feature is arguably the energy efficient design. Indeed, many environmentalists, builders, and architects are eager to promote a renaissance for this much loved structure – both to celebrate the local heritage and to create sustainable housing designed especially for the environment.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

January 27, 2021, 1:05 AM AEDT