Grand Designs House

Star Quality Shines On TV. Partners Daniel Leipnik and Andrew Preston always imagined their dream home would be great for entertaining. But over two
million people? Who would have thought…? Their Asian inspired tree top home at Trinity Beach in north Queensland was featured recently on Australia’s Grand Designs TV series, with around 2.1 million people being given an intimate view of the spectacular vistas and meticulous detailing of the home.

So what makes this place so special?

“It looks and feels like a resort,” says Mark Granger, senior designer with Chris Vandyke Designs. “The house has Asian influences definitely, especially with the use of the timber (New Guinea Rosewood) and the shingle style roof, but it’s still very much in the Queensland vernacular.

“I think when people say Asian in an architectural sense, they’re generally thinking about a resort they might have been to on holiday in Asia. They are usually pavilion style, and in many ways, people want to recreate that feeling at home – a relaxed, care-free lifestyle in the tropics.”

Hidden features
Located on a two-acre bush block high on a hillside bordering World Heritage rainforest, and with panoramic ocean views over the Coral Sea, the home features
extensive indoor-outdoor flow with a series of pavilions connected by covered walkways.

“The views were hugely important and the pavilions were arranged so that just about every room had a view,” says Mark. “The master bedroom and the living rooms, the dining room, kitchen and the pool all have stunning vistas through the bush out to the ocean.”

One aspect of the home that Mark believes is crucially important is something that is not immediately evident, but affects the living environment in a significant way. “The house is orientated to pick up the south easterly breeze with the use of full length louvre windows and a gap between the living and guest bedroom pavilions. This allows for cool winds to blow into the courtyard benefiting the outdoor sitting area and the master bedroom.

“We always try and design houses so people can minimise the use of air conditioning, unlike a lot of homes here, that don’t take natural ventilation into account. They have one big roof over a house with basically four walls and all the rooms are within that. The inner rooms, you can’t get airflow in there, not efficiently.

“That’s why our houses are generally one room deep so each room has windows on more than one side. The pavilion design works particularly well because
the breezes can blow between the pavilions.”

Reducing the visual impact of the home in such a pristine bush environment was also a big factor in the design process and the selection of materials, particularly the roof.

“When you look up the slope of a mountainside, you don’t want to see houses that stick out and sully the landscape. We recommended a Gerard pressed steel tile roof because it not only gave us the benefit of a shingle look that is very Asian, but also because of its non-reflective finish and the specific
shade of grey.

“When you look into a rainforest, it’s not just green. Overall, there’s a lot of shadow. If you put a green roof in the rainforest, it would stand out, but if you put a dark grey roof in there, it looks like shadow and blends in.”

Tight schedule pressure

Daniel and Andrew’s home was chosen for the Grand Designs TV show for a number of reasons: The ambitiousness of the project, the ground breaking design of the house, the many technical challenges of the location and the difficult access described as a “goat track”. Furthermore, the budget and timeframe were very tight, and the owners had decided to project manage the construction themselves, even though they had no previous experience with building.

It might make great TV, but all these pressures and the ever-present video cameras made the project stressful at times.

Mark recalls: “Kevin Reilly, the builder, was brilliant. He is quite an unassuming man and I know he was very worried about the television thing and the effect it would have on his workers and subbies, and the potential for it to slow things down when the schedule was already extremely tight. But he was great, he took it all in his stride.”

The owners had a timeline of just six months to complete the project. They started in May and it had to be finished by December to beat the  wet season.

What made it most difficult was that the owners were based in Melbourne and had to try and project manage everything from 4000km away.

Daniel and Andrew: “We had to be in by Xmas because we were selling our house in Melbourne, so it had to be finished. If not, we told the builder we’d be moving in with him.”

During the project, Daniel and Andrew made regular visits to the site, but it was arduous. They had to leave their home in Melbourne at 4am and didn’t return from Cairns until around midnight – a gruelling 20-hour day.

Sticklers for detail

The owners spent considerable time in the research and design phase when planning the internal aspects of their new home and were meticulous about the products they chose, and wanted “everything to be exactly as we imagined.”

There were inevitable delays due to weather, plus numerous changes were made as construction progressed. There was a last minute change to the kitchen plans, as the original design to be made in Germany couldn’t be delivered in time.

Midway through the project, one storm dropped more than 20cm of rain in one day, which caused significant erosion on one part of the site, but thankfully no major damage to the house.

While Chris Vandyke Designs didn’t project manage the construction, Mark nevertheless took time out to personally monitor progress. “We made site visits every two weeks or so to check with the builder. We wanted to make sure it turned out right; we wanted to see it through to completion. It was a difficult process, but worth it. I still love it as a house.

“When you’re designing a home for someone, it’s a very personal thing. You get really involved with people right down to the nitty gritty.”

Weathering the storms

While the weather in northern Queensland is nearly always balmy, it is subject to extremes with heavy monsoonal downpours and the occasional tropical cyclone.

Says Daniel: “As far as the roof was concerned, it had to be cyclone proof, that’s the code, and it had to be zero maintenance. But most of all, it had to complement the aesthetic aspects of what we were trying to achieve.

“They put the roof up really fast – in about three days - and I think that’s valuable in an area like this when you can have big downpours that can last for days.

“There was a lot of really positive feedback after the programme went on air and a lot of people singled out the roof as a feature.”

While the style of the roof was a major factor, Mark reckons performance is also a key consideration.

“We’ve used Gerard Roofs for many years, and lately on several projects in this area, particularly at Mission Beach, and all of them survived brilliantly through cyclone Yasi. It’s a brilliant product from that point of view.”

Chris Vandyke Designs

Winner of 7 National, 4 Premier and 19 State design awards, Chris Vandyke Designs specialises in open plan buildings that draw inspiration from Tropical, Asian and Mediterranean influences creating a distinctively Australian style.

They are passionate about creating low impact buildings with a small environmental footprint, utilising passive solar design, shading and environmentally sustainable materials.

The focus is on indoor/outdoor living with an emphasis on water features. Working in close consultation with clients the outcome is a functional and livable internal environment that minimises the need for mechanical heating and cooling.

Design: Chris Vandyke Designs
Telephone: +61 7 40 383 000

Builder: Kevin Reilly
Telephone: +61 7 40 450 678

Roofing: Gerard Roofs
Telephone: 1800 249 616

Profile: Gerard Corona Shake
Colour: Charcoal