You spin me right round, baby, right round, like an Australian beach house, baby

Mornington, Australia – Holiday homes, and particularly beach houses, are often a breeding ground for residential innovation — it’s the combination of unruled space compared to urban locations, the lack of functional constrictions due to the sporadic use of these residences and just the fun of it. We’ve already featured some refreshing residential work by Austin Maynard Architects — see, for example, this terrace house renovation and this multigenerational home — but this beach shack on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula shows just how much fun the firm and the client were willing to have.

The owner of the house recognised that Australians holiday houses are increasingly becoming carbon copies of the suburban home

For starters: the St. Andrews Beach House is a home with no corners and very little in between the sand and the parquet. While round-ish houses were a thing in 19th-century North America and mid-century-modern Pinterest boards everywhere, this Aussie iteration is far more structurally modest than its brick-and-concrete predecessors. ‘The owner of the house recognised that Australians holiday houses are increasingly becoming carbon copies of the suburban home, so he challenged us to design him a bach — that is, a New Zealand word used to describe a basic shack,’ explained architect Andrew Maynard. 

The secluded lot, about an hour’s drive south of Melbourne, isn’t surrounded by a shopping strip or hip restaurants, but instead sits on sand dunes on a picturesque foreshore. The house stands alone, with ‘no neighbouring forms to respond to.’ The architects took advantage of this by designing an object for the landscape: the round shape of the house was a response to a simplification of the interior spaces, with no corridors and a spiral staircase at its core. The ground floor fits a kitchen, a living room a dining room, a bathroom and a laundry space; the upstairs sleeping area is a casual bunk zone, separated by curtains, that can double as a game room. When guests overflow the available space, they can pitch a tent on the sand and still feel like part of the house.

That indoors-outdoors feeling was also part of the brief. On the outside, with no dominant orientation, ‘the house is all front.’ So, instead of the typical Aussie beach house veranda, a deck was eroded out of the form itself, creating an intelligent liminal solution.

And as much as it is round, the house is also somewhat circular: a large cylinder tank collects rainwater to be reused for toilets and in the garden. Beyond that, solar panels with micro inverters cover the roof so the house runs with no fossil fuels and no gas. Bachs were usually built from found and recycled materials; while that wasn’t fully possible here, the robust timber frames they used are designed to patina and weather, like the wharf houses of yore. 

‘Beach houses exist for simple relaxation, and should provide contrast from day-to-day normality, be super low maintenance, relatively self-sustaining and basic, but not without simple creature comforts,’ explained architect Mark Austin. How did this project fare? Check. Check. Check. Check. And check.

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