A renovator’s guide to the Queenslander

For all its glory, this architectural style does have some pitfalls – but the Queenslander home holds buckets of potential, too. With the right experts and guidance, you can create a remarkable home that honours its heritage while embracing our modern lifestyle needs. Words: Thea Rowan

A Clayfield reno by dion seminara architecture

The Queenslander home comes in many guises, from high-set bungalows and federation, pre-war and inter-war styles, often incorporating two or three gables, flanking verandas and sleep-outs. Throughout the eras, it has been a home that was designed with a purpose, aimed to withstand the subtropical heat and protect the home and its occupants against the erratic Queensland weather, as well as keep away nasty creepy crawlies like termites and snakes.

Looking for your own talented architect or builder to help you with your dream home? Discover them here.

Di Henshall Design / Photo: Phill Jackson

Hire The Gurus

Surround yourself with creative, innovative and strategic minds when recruiting your design and build team – they will govern how smoothly your renovation will run, so choose well. There are many architects and builders who specialise in Queenslander home renovations. Be open to suggestions and take into consideration their experience and advice. Their ability to understand the pros, cons, and potentials mean that you can trust that your new home will be in the very best of hands. Whether you look to extend the indoor space by making the layout more open plan or utilise the dead space under the house, thereby creating a multi-level dwelling, there’s plenty of clever ways to bring the classic Queenslander into the now.

Toowoomba’s grand Bunya Park / Photo: John Downs

Dion Seminara is a local Brisbane architect who, among his many contemporary projects for dion seminara architecture, also specialises in the re-design of Queenslanders. He says the key to a successful renovation all comes down to understanding your lifestyle needs and talking to your architect about how best to improve on your home’s unique features. And Dion speaks from personal experience, having lived in, and renovated his own Queenslander. “I recently moved house after 18 years – from a 1930’s Queenslander to a 1920s art deco-style Queenslander home,” says Dion. “We created an open plan layout in our last Queenslander, but with our new home we will maintain the current living space – although we do plan to create a new kitchen with internal dining space beside the external deck.”

Dion adds that, as in all styles of home, it’s potentially better to separate the main living area away from the kitchen – which is where the Queenslander shines. “We have found of late many of our clients are wanting this kind of layout – which is perfect as most Queenslander homes are already set up that way, with the kitchen located close to internal and external dining areas.” Opening up the kitchen allows for much more practical living and layout options.

Related article: Classic Queenslander renovated into a sleek family home

The lovingly restored and renovated Bunya Park in Toowomba / Photo: John Downs

The Check List

Before you purchase or begin your renovation plans, be sure to call a local town planner to check on the relevant building and suburb restrictions. Check if the home is listed on any character or heritage registers. If so you may need to organise permits from the council to allow renovations to begin. There can be many of these ‘grey’ areas to address when renovating a Queenslander, as Nicole Cox and her family found out when they purchased their old Queenslander in Ipswich (the beautiful Pen Y Llewich, a major subject of her blog, The Builder’s Wife). “Having a home that is over 100 years old certainly threw a few curveballs our way, but having a thorough building inspection before purchasing the property meant that we knew exactly what we were in for,” she recalls. “That said, council approval for our ‘history site’ home has proven a little tricky – but it was nothing that couldn’t be worked with. It just meant that there was stricter planning to adhere too.”

And essential before beginning any renovation is a comprehensive asbestos check! Asbestos was used throughout the building of homes up until the mid-1980s and, as with any kind of renovation, you’ll need to make sure that your Queenslander is not riddled with the material. Although not harmful unless airborne, it’s recommended that it’s removed before renovating begins (not during!), by a professional asbestos specialist with an ‘A’ class removal license.

A Quuenslander renovation by dion seminara architecture

The ‘Problem’ Areas

Queenslanders have the ability to lure you in with their good looks, but unless you’re buying an already renovated home then expect to have a large task at hand – these homes are often begging for attention in areas that you didn’t even realise may need it.

“Always have a contingency budget,” states Nicole. “You just never know what is hiding in a Queenslander, and at least this way you will be covered for all eventualities.”

Despite the Queenslander’s feeling of grandeur they are in fact limited in space and (depending on their era) can be limited in temperature control – they can be too cold in winter and too hot in summer, provide limited light, space and storage options, and can be lacking in many key design areas. The floor plan normally consists of only four to six rooms in total and does not allow for the light and spacious living we tend to crave these days. These are all problems that can be remedied with the help of an experienced architect or building designer.

Photo: John Downs / Styling: Tahn Scoon

The double hung windows and traditional casement windows typical of the best of Queenslanders are definite redeeming features, as are the impressive ceiling heights common in those Queenslanders with that much sought after, steeply pitched roof. “The high ceilings that are part of Queenslanders is the main benefit of these homes – and many of the 1920-30s homes have the casement windows which offer direct ventilation into the home. Screening isn’t an issue with retractable screens,” adds Dion.

And Nicole’s one big tip for prospective renovators? “If at all possible I recommend living in your home for some time before renovating. The way most of us live in Queenslanders is so very different to the way we imagine. We have changed our renovation plan three times due to the way we thought we would live being totally different to the way we actually live.”

Related Article: Dion Seminara Architecture Embraces Family Living in Brisbane Home

Di Henshall Design / Photo: Phill Jackson

Period Features

Queenslander homes often feature original heritage detailing – it could be as simple as an art deco door handle or as significant as stained glass windows, French doors, fretwork and pressed-metal ceilings – that are a connection to history and shouldn’t be completely lost to modernism. “Embrace the original architecture and features,” says Nicole. “We are very spoilt to have such unique design qualities to our Queenslanders, which with a little love and consideration can enhance your modern family home.”

Restoring a Queenslander takes blood, sweat, tears and an undeniable love for this style of home. And it’s all worth it once you unveil a space that evokes a sense of history, filled with warmth, charm and a point of difference.

“The greatest pleasure has been discovering the personality a Queenslander has,” says Nicole of her own experience. “There is a real romance to this style of home, from its beautiful architecture to its stunning original features. I don’t think I could live in any other style of house now that this Queenslander has me in her clutches.”

Rylo Building & Design / Photo: Elouise Van Riet-Gray

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