Tropical immersion

Issue 29 Words: Emma Scragg Photography: Jacinta Spry
Cairns, Queensland
  • The compact but airy two-person home is essentially a verandah, with all spaces in the long, narrow floor plan opening on both sides to covered walkways
  • The elevated loft and cantilevered decks deliver a tree house effect, placing it and its occupants well into the canopy.
  • Small, partly roofed decks allow the owners to connect to the outside and to provide a space free of any heat-holding mass.

In the steamy tropics of Queensland, a couple find relief from the heat and nearby suburbia in a rainforest tree house.

When Mandy and Laurence built their home in Cairns, they wanted to feel connected with their tropical surroundings and capture elements of the exotic places they’d visited in Asia. Perched on the edge of rainforest in Redlynch Valley, the sloping site was a drawcard for them and their building designer, Tony Lawson. It offered the opportunity for a tree-house-inspired home to connect with the forest canopy, its cool microclimate and precious lush shade.

The compact but airy tropical house is essentially a verandah, with all spaces in the long, narrow floor plan opening on both sides to covered walkways. When the bifold doors are opened, flexible internal spaces become external as they blend with the deck, minimising floor area yet providing shelter when it’s needed. Decking extends into the edge of bedrooms and living spaces, visually enhancing this connection. In this home, “even if the glass doors are shut, you’re still there on the edge of the house,” explains Tony. “That’s the secret to building a really nice house for the tropics.”

The design also encourages cool air from the rainforest below to move through the home, working as a chimney effect encouraged by the ceilings curving up to the study loft and its high-level openings. As a result, air-conditioning is limited to one bedroom and was only installed because Mandy is a shift-worker and needs to sleep during the heat of the day. Elsewhere, ceiling fans and passive thermal design – good orientation, unimpeded cross ventilation, insulation and shade – provide all the cooling they need.

In Cairns, summer storms can dump over 130 millimetres of rain in a day. With an intense wet season, gutters are often avoided as they rarely cope with these volumes of water, especially in areas where there are tall trees. Tony designed the roof with this in mind. Generous overhangs mean the rain cascades unimpeded off both ends of the house, dispersed by vegetation below and captured by the outdoor spa.

Cyclones are a real and regular threat in Cairns. In addition to the steel framing, bedrooms are braced with ply to provide a retreat in wild weather, while the concrete block bathroom creates a bunker for the most severe cyclones. With its suspended concrete ceiling under a metal roof, the bathroom is designed to withstand high winds and falling trees and provides a toilet, water and sufficient space to sleep.

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Cover of Issue 29
You can read more about Tropical immersion in Issue 29 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Tony Lawson


Chris Blandford Custom Building


New build


Redlynch Valley, Cairns, Qld


$420,000 (inc. professional fees)


House 190 sqm

House with entry, garage and verandahs 270 sqm

Land 1736 sqm.


4 Star using BERS V4.1 2006 by Northern Aspect.

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