What’s so great about the Aussie beach house?

To the untrained eye, the traditional Australian beach house is not a thing of beauty. 

It feels an unpatriotic thing to say, but can we be honest for a moment, and consider the evidence? 

Firstly, the blocky silhouette, squat and stubbornly rectangular. Not even a toddler’s first crayon drawings are as basic in design. Indoors, the space boasts too many ants and not quite enough playing cards for a full game of Rummy. Cardboard-thin walls allow the neighbourhood ambience to flood in, day and night, particularly from Boxing Day onwards, when the house next door’s occupancy rises to a festive 17, across three generations. 

Meanwhile, between December and March, the interior temperature renders the house uninhabitable by humans. But who cares? You’ll be outdoors the whole time anyway, enjoying the bindis – sorry, native flora – on that dusty patch of buffalo. 

Australian backyard cricket

The property is a haven for outdoor sports. Photo: Getty

And yet, a new survey from shows that when it comes to holiday rentals, the old-school beach house remains a firm favourite for Australians. That’s where 55 per cent of us prefer to stay when booking a holiday home – leaving country cottages, cosy cabins and city apartments far behind in the popularity stakes.

So, what is it that makes these little boxes so charming? We asked the experts for their thoughts.

Tim Ross, presenter of ABC1’s Designing a Legacy, has long been a fan of Australian architecture – including the iconic beach house.

“I like them simple and old-fashioned,” says Ross, whose tastes steer him away from anything too modernised. “Their evolution to fully air-conditioned palaces saddens me.”

He sees the lack of bells and whistles as fundamental to the appeal of a beach house. 

“I think people need a break. The idea of flopping around a simple house, near a beach – and just stopping for a while – is more needed than ever.”

Natalie Walton, author of Home by the Sea (Hardie Grant), which celebrates the surf shacks of Byron Bay, has a similar perspective. 

“The best ones embrace the principles of simple living,” she says. “They reflect the local landscape and keep the interiors fuss-free, allowing ‘living’ to take centre stage. It comes with that old idea of being able to leave your worries at the front door.”

Her bug bear is when owners go too far with coastal styling. “I prefer when homes aren’t overly themed. Sometimes there are too many nautical references, and it can feel like I’m in a catalogue.”

Philip Fimmano of Trend Union, Paris – a boutique publisher that analyses and forecasts trends in fashion, lifestyle and architecture – doesn’t see the Aussie beach house going out of style any time soon. 

“The Australian attitude of putting health and wellness before work is something the rest of the world has caught up with, especially now that life has changed so drastically post-pandemic,” says Fimmano. 

“Since the Australian beach house is such an intrinsic part of that lifestyle, its appeal is set only to grow as we combat the news, stress, loneliness and digital isolation.”

His own favourite beach house memory is of a midnight skinny-dip with friends, in his high school days. “I’ll never forget that insouciant feeling, and the luxury of being able to take a dip at any hour,” he confesses. “I also love returning to an outdoor shower.”

Outdoor shower

All mod cons. Photo: Getty

Sadly, these little fibro houses are increasingly being swallowed up by developers, keen to subdivide the land – which means the classic Aussie beach house is becoming more and more rare. 

“It’s sad,” says Fimmano. “But what I mourn even more is the lost sense of space. One can accept that in Venice or Amsterdam. But in Australia, with its abundant space, it seems ridiculous that original plots are no longer valued enough to protect all they represent. 

“One knows it’s only a matter of time before they disappear so it always feels special to savour them.”

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