Our homes have always been designed around our living needs but as these needs change, have our floorplans? We speak to the experts to find out more about the changes and trends seen in Australian homes today.
From Victorian terraces to workers’ cottages, art deco apartment blocks and Californian Bungalows, Australian streets are a reflection of the changing styles of our homes.
Over the past 25 years alone, many homes have undergone dramatic changes in design and functionality. Gone are the formal living and dining rooms in favour of more open plan living and entertaining spaces that better suit our lifestyles.
A matter of size
While today’s families are generally smaller, houses are getting bigger. The average Australian house today is the largest in the world at 241 square metres – US homes follow at 222 square metres while the average Canadian home is 181 square metres.
Architect Genevieve Lilley, who practices from Sydney and Hobart, says the size of our homes reflects Australians’ social aspirations. “Houses are far bigger than they need to be, and most people insist on air-conditioning without considering other natural ventilation options,” she says. “Kids don’t share the main living room any more, or bathrooms, because they have their own. Most older houses used to have one ‘good room’, but today new houses have more rooms than they can possibly use.”
Sydney-based architect Ben Giles agrees, saying many of his clients ask for media rooms as well as a second living area. “The general trend is that things are getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “Although I find that in social situations, the adults are usually entertaining in the kitchen while the kids are in the media room. So a lot of those other rooms are redundant and more to do with status than functionality.”
While 25 years ago Australian homes commonly featured formal lounge rooms and dining spaces, separation between formal and everyday living is now a thing of the past, according to Giles.
In addition to media rooms, home owners today are more likely to devote space to what is commonly referred to as a ‘parents’ retreat’ – a master bedroom with walk-in wardrobe and ensuite, which doubles as a tranquil escape for parents.
“A lot of people want parents’ retreats,” Giles says. “It’s a bit of luxury and ‘me’ space away from the kids.”
Australian began blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor in the early part of the 20th century, aided by our moderate climate in most parts of the country, which makes year-long outdoor living possible.
Giles says the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces has become increasingly prominent in the past 25 years with the rise of the ‘outdoor room’ and the decline of vast expanses of grass. “The back garden has become an outdoor entertainment area rather than a play space or a garden,” he says.
An ‘outdoor room’ today is likely to incorporate a covered deck, a built-in-barbecue or full-blown outdoor kitchen, hot tubs or even fire pits for the cooler months. Large glass bi-fold doors can help open up the indoor living space to the adjoining outdoor space for a seamless transition.
It’s not just the layout of Australian homes that has transformed in recent years. The materials we are using to construct them are also looking different.
“We are seeing a lot of lightweight materials being used – there’s a lot more choice today as technology has developed and new materials have come onto the market,” Giles says.
Rather than using bricks, new builds today feature fibre-cement cladding or metal cladding, which Giles says are cheaper and quicker to build and can still be well insulated.
Is the future looking tiny?
The trend for bigger homes, however, may not continue into the future as affordability issues converge with people’s desire to live closer to the city. The global trend towards ‘tiny homes’ is beginning to make an impact locally as well.
“Some of the project home builders are starting to develop smaller terrace-style houses,” Giles says. “Australians are realising that people in other countries are living in much smaller spaces and it can work. In smaller homes, rooms become multifunctional and, if well designed, can provide a more efficient use of space.”
Among the proponents of tiny homes in Australia is Kevin Doodney of LJ Hooker Land Marketing, who is promoting the Smarter Small Home design, a smaller family home that can be built for less than $150,000.
Whatever their size, Australian homes will no doubt continue to evolve to suit our needs and budgets while making the most of available and affordable materials.
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