Family beach house moves with the times

MOD: The Wickham Point holiday house was updated by Arcke. Photos by Scott Burrows. Produced with BowerBird.
MOD: The Wickham Point holiday house was updated by Arcke. Photos by Scott Burrows. Produced with BowerBird.

When the owners of this much-loved Queensland beach house decided is was due for an update, they unearthed some rich history about the building. After approaching Matt Kennedy from architecture practice Arcke, they uncovered a set of drawings from well-known Queensland architect, James Birrell.

Birrell, who was responsible for Brisbane's iconic Spring Hill Centenary Pool and the Toowong Library, also renovated this Wickham Point house in the 1960s, a discovery which gave newfound significance to the design and renovation - not just for the owners, but for the architect to do the project justice.

The house had originally been a small seaside cottage with a pyramid-shaped roof. The old concrete backstairs were uncovered during the renovation, as well as two old Singer sewing machines underneath the house.

The owners, a couple who bought the three bedroom house in the late 1970s, lived in it while their children grew, before it later became a rental. The family reclaimed it as their beach house about a decade ago.

The owners always loved the character and design of the house, but as their children started families of their own, it became clear there was not enough space for everyone to come together during peak school holiday periods. At the same time, the 40 year-old kitchen, bathroom and laundry desperately required updating, and as with many homes in coastal areas, door and windows were sticking, pavers were cracked, and things generally needed replacing. The owners also wanted to maintain one level living and limit the number of stairs.

Birrell's renovation happened back in the day when there was no requirement for pool fencing, and the tall timber sliding doors opened up onto the pool courtyard - essentially creating an indoor/outdoor flow well before it experienced peak popularity.

The 1960s kitchen was opened up to take advantage of the ocean view, while the sunroom was replaced by a contemporary high ceiling structure, clad in robust teak to shelter from the west, as well as provide an alternative reading area for adults, or a play space for children.

The pool and patio were updated, with the inclusion of a suspended concrete bench and brick charcoal grill. The under-used laundry was relocated to become accessible to the utility side, adjacent to an outdoor shower ready for swimmers returning from the beach. A ramp was incorporated to access the rear courtyard.

The improvements made were respectful to Birrell's design (which included large sliding doors, dark wood cabinetry and timber screens), but cleverly modernised to provide flexible living spaces. Without extending the total floor area, or decreasing the size of existing bedrooms, sleeping arrangements were created for children, with bunk beds tucked into hallways and daybeds that double as full-sized singles and trundles.

With multi-purpose spaces, it's now possible for 10 people to live in the house in distinct areas without feeling on top of each other. Creating zones for living and relaxing, as well as cooking and entertaining, provides separation and places to come together as a family when required.

Also integral to the renovation were passive design principles. With sea breezes and ample cross ventilation, there was no air conditioning or heating installed. The house has been retrofitted with LED lights, and high quality efficient fans. The plywood kitchen is hoop pine and the benchtops are hard wearing and low maintenance, using 1960s-reminiscent laminate.

The bricks on the front stairs, ramp at the back and barbecue area are from a specialty brickworks in NSW and will maintain their colour and texture forever, while never needing painting. The natural teak cladding of the sunroom "box" will grey off and wear naturally over time.