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The "Queenslander" House Design

Updated on October 25, 2018
Rangoon House profile image

I am an idealist, an optimist, a romantic, often a traditionalist. My writing mostly revolves around the beauty in our lives.

What Is A Queenslander House?

"Hughesville", designed by my great great uncle and built in 1892/3.
"Hughesville", designed by my great great uncle and built in 1892/3. | Source

The "Queenslander" is my favourite style of residential architecture, and I live in what would be described as a "typical Queenslander".

I think my love of this style and era of building is in my blood, because my great great grandfather and great great uncle were architects of some of Queensland's finest residential and commercial buildings of the late colonial period in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I have however only become aware of this titbit of information decades after my love affair with Queenslanders began.

The design qualities of Queenslanders suit the sub-tropical and tropical climates of the northern state of Queensland in Australia. There isn't one specific architectural design blueprint, but generally the houses feature timber construction, wrap-around verandahs, high-pitched iron roofs, and are perched on timber stumps. All these design features were adapted to tolerate the Queensland climatic conditions of heat, rain and cyclone in a temperature range of 23 to 36 degrees Celsius (73 to 97 Fahrenheit), and some were further refined for maximum comfort in the colder and hotter regions of the state.

Queenslanders come in all different sizes - some are merely worker's cottages and others were clearly built for the upper social echelons with a more distinct sense of grandeur. They come in all different colours and with all sorts of different architectural decorations. One thing is a constant, and a particular source of joy for many modern families in towns and cities all over Queensland - they are particularly "renovatable". They are timber framed and timber clad, which offers enormous scope to 21st century home owners and designers, to either return Queenslanders to their former glory, or completely revamp and update them to accommodate modern lifestyle demands.

The Story Of A Late Colonial Queenslander - "Hughesville"

"Hughesville" before renovation in 1995 (left) and after renovation in 2005 (right).
"Hughesville" before renovation in 1995 (left) and after renovation in 2005 (right). | Source

This grand Queenslander, "Hughesville", was designed in the early 1890s, by my great great uncle, George Thornhill Campbell-Wilson, who worked from his architect offices in Queen Street, Brisbane, with my great great grandfather, George William Campbell-Wilson.

"Hughesville" was built in 1892-93 for the Hughes family, who continued ownership of the house for over one hundred years until 1994. (1) Over time, as is sadly often the case, Hughesville fell into a state of serious disrepair, but luckily for her, she was heavily embedded in the hearts and minds of the local community, who came to her rescue with an active conservation campaign, before total dilapidation stole history from their district. The community lobbying of government and historical associations led to the 2004 Queensland Heritage Council approval of a development application to divide the extensive Hughesville property into two lots - one for the development of 15 townhouses and one to accommodate "Hughesville" in its original position.

The private owner had previously applied to relocate "Hughesville" to a more ambient location than the busy motorway intersection that the original 1892 farmland location had become, but approval was denied due to heritage law restrictions. The hectic location was however fortuitous for "Hughesville", because her neighbours and passers-by were regularly confronted with her deterioration. The successful community action to subdivide the land and develop townhouses, allowed the funding opportunity for the then owner to restore the community gem. The restored "Hughesville" was sold for $500.000 in August 2005, resold for $1,000,000 in October 2007 (2), and was listed again for sale in 2016 (3).

"Hughesville" is now considered to be one of Brisbane's most significant late colonial residences, and has been listed on the Queensland Heritage Register since October 1992, for its cultural significance to the state, including its importance in (a) demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history; (b) importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural place; (c) its importance because of its aesthetic significance; and, (d) its strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons. (4)

Source (1) - http://www.qldheritage.org.au/assets/files/time-and-place/time-and-place-11.pdf

Source (2) - http://house.ksou.cn/p.php?q=Eight+Mile+Plains&sta=qld&id=419937

Source (3) - http://www.mvrealestate.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/259-MVRE-News-August-17-16.pdf

Source (4) - https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600191#

Architectural Features Of A Queenslander

Modern commercial floor plan of "Hughesville".
Modern commercial floor plan of "Hughesville". | Source

This is the floor plan of the modernised, commercially fitted "Hughesville", to which she evolved in 2004. Many of her architectural features remain true, but some significant alterations from her original 1892 design can be easily identified. These types of alterations are common, as 21st century owners are passionate about the colonial Queenslander blueprint, but want to live or work in these buildings in a modern context. The Queensland Heritage laws would have prevented any significant structural change to the original "Hughesville" footprint.

The Queenslander Construction

Queenslanders are timber-framed houses, usually clad externally with timber chamferboards and lined internally with timber tongue and groove boards, although some are of unlined, single skin construction.

Many were built on tall wooden stumps for several reasons - a) to allow air ventilation to cool the house from below; b) to avoid flooding; c) to avoid unwelcome animal visitation (snakes); and, d) to avoid termite infestation by metal capping the timber stumps under the floor frame. The spaces between the tall timber stumps were often screened with timber battens, and the under-house spaces could be used for laundry facilities, storage, extra living space, and car parking in more modern times.

Some houses such as "Hughesville" were built on short wooden stumps, and in this particular case, was probably due to it's elevated position on a hill, which reduced the threat of flooding and enjoyed the benefit of more cooling breezes.

The Queenslander Verandah

Verandahs are one common architectural feature of all Queenslanders - they encourage air circulation throughout the house and offer a cool respite during hot tropical summers, saving the sanity of many Queensland families over the generations.

One of my favourite things is to sit on my verandah in the midst of a torrential monsoonal downpour, revelling in the relief from barometer-bursting humidity and watching my tropical garden grow in front of my eyes! Otherwise, the verandah is a relaxing place to capture breezes, savour the dawning of a new day and watch the sunset at the closing. My front verandah is an additional sitting room enclosed with open lattice and my back verandah is an additional dining room enclosed with open lattice - they are integral parts of our daily living and extend seamlessly from the internal structure of our home to the outside.

"Hughesville" is surrounded by wide verandahs and according to the Queensland Heritage Register description in 1992, has "step-out sash windows opening from every room" to the verandah. (5) These door-like windows would have invited much-welcome cross breezes and cool ventilation to all rooms, in an era when ceiling fans and air-conditioning were unimagined modernities. The front and side verandahs were decorated with delicate cast iron balustrading supported by slender cast-iron Corinthian columns, which contrasted with the square timber posts and timber balustrading of the rear verandah. (6)

The step-out sash windows are still evident on the modern "Hughesville" floor plan (above), but the rear verandah referred to in the heritage description no longer exists, illustrating that this back area of the house is where most reconfiguring and renovation has taken place.

Sources (5) and (6) - https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600191#

The Queenslander Roof

Corrugated iron roofs are another common architectural feature to all Queenslanders. They are generally steeply pitched, allowing space for high ceilings and greater cooling ventilation inside the house. The iron material is durable against cyclones and also resistant against fire, and one will often notice slowly revolving tin cylinders on the roofs of Queenslanders - another weather-beating design innovation to extract the hot air from ceiling spaces.

The original house designs in Queensland were truly innovative in their combatant attack against harsh weather patterns (which were largely unexperienced by the often English-bred architects, except perhaps for an odd glimpse of colonial India, Africa or Hong Kong). The quintessential Queenslander design has proven to be "green", at least a century before a global concern about energy consumption and sustainable design.

"Hughesville" boasted a pyramid-shaped roof and a widow's walk, with cast iron cresting and corner finials. (7) Apart from the steep pitch of the roof, I am guessing that these other mentions were purely decorative for "Hughesville". A widow's walk is traditionally where wives would look out for their seafaring husbands returning home from sea. I am uncertain if "Hughesville" has a view of the ocean - it is possible given it's location and hillside aspect, but the original owners were horse people, not water people - unless it was built for Mrs Hughes to check for her husband and horses? "Hughesville" was positioned on only eight hectares of land, so I think Mrs Hughes had only to yell loudly or listen carefully to check her husband's whereabouts. The widow's walk may have been George Campbell-Wilson's architectural fancy.

Source (7) - https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600191#

The Queenslander Interior

The Queensland Heritage Register described the "Hughesville" interior in 1992 as having a central hallway with mirror-imaged front and back doorways (each with a cedar fanlight); from which there was a front parlour (with bay window) and dining room to the right, and three bedrooms to the left. The interior joinery throughout was of red cedar, as were the floorboards, and fireplaces in both the parlour and dining room were surrounded by cedar mantlepieces. (8)

Source (8) - https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600191#

The Queenslander Servants' Quarters

Well, not every Queenslander has a servant's quarters! Hughesville did, and it can still be recognised on the above floor plan, even if not referred to as such anymore.

"A servant's entrance leads from the dining room to a gable-roofed timber kitchen house, with servant's room, attached to the rear verandah. It is unlined, and retains the original brick fireplace." (8)

Source (8) - https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600191#

The Queenslander Grounds

All that remains visible of an early garden layout are two camphor laurel trees, one on either side of the front path, and a large mango tree. Several outbuildings, including two stables, a buggy shed and harness room, are no longer extant, and less than one hectare of the original property remains.

Source

A traditional Queenslander garden could typically have any, some or all of the following - a mango tree, a poinciana tree, a jacaranda tree, a frangipani, bougainvillea.

My garden is not a traditional Queenslander garden. It is tropical and more like a Balinese garden, but it still has frangripani trees and bougainvillea.

True "Queenslanders" - 1890

Queensland House
Queensland House

Trevaskes family home, West Ipswich, Queensland, circa 1890.

Photograph Courtesy - commons.wikimedia.org

True "Queenslanders" - 1895

Queenslander House
Queenslander House

McGrath family home, Kalbar, Queensland, circa 1895.

Photograph Courtesy - commons.wikimedia.org

True "Queenslanders" - 1906

Queenslander House
Queenslander House

"Braeside" in Bowen, Queensland, 1906.

Photograph Courtesy - commons.wikimedia.org

True "Queenslanders" - 1907

Queenslander House
Queenslander House

Cooyar Station Homestead at Cooyar, Queensland, 1907.

Photograph Courtesy - commons.wikimedia.org

© 2012 AJ

Do You Have A Favourite Architectural Style?

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    • Rangoon House profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ 

      2 years ago from Australia

      Thank you so much for visiting. They are gorgeous houses. I live in one and there is a very special character well worth maintaining.

    • Rangoon House profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ 

      2 years ago from Australia

      Thank you for dropping by MsDora. I think there is a lot of similarity in gardens and flowers between where you and I live. I absolutely love the poincianas when they flower at the beginning of our summer. They are planted in avenue style down some of our city streets and grow wild on mountains near where I live - the summertime red is just stunning.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I love your focus on things beautiful. Not knowledgeable about architectural design, but the queenslander view is breathtaking. The fences are so attractive. By the way, the poinciana is my national flower. Thanks for the uplifting images. I'm following.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      What gorgeous houses! Fascinating stuff.

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