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The Building of the Queensland House - Book Review

Renovating our second-hand "Queenslander" removal house has been like a cross between repairing a lovely old piece of handmade antique furniture and an archaeological dig!  The house was probably built around 100 years ago, from locally sourced timber, but has been modified many times since then.  Verandahs have been built in, the kitchen, bathroom and laundry were added later.  When we removed the wall cladding in the bathroom we revealed old doorways and could only guess at how the room was previously arranged.


eight acres: building the queensland house review





As with any sort of repair or restoration work, it helps to understand how and why the house was built the way it was, so that we can do our best to return it to either its original condition, or something that will work for us without damaging the structure.  I have just finished reading Andy Jenners "The Building of the Queensland House".  I bought it for Pete about a year ago, expecting a manual or a step-by-step guide to renovating a Queenslander.  A book like that would have been pretty boring, so I glad that Andy chose to write it as a narrative.  He follows at group of builders in the early 1900s building a Queenslander in the Brisbane suburb of Red Hill.  Starting from surveying the property, he details every step of building the house, complete with historical context.  You are virtually transported to the early days of Brisbane, back when Red Hill was the edge of the city!

The last few chapters of the book, after the house is finished, discuss renovation and maintenance of a Queenslander.  Having followed how the builders put the house together, and the reasons for each step, it was much easier to understand how to maintain the house appropriately.  It has made me think twice about using water based paint (referred to by Andy as "plastic paint") on the exterior of the house.  And I'm wondering how to treat our soft pine floors, as lovely as they look, they were never meant to be exposed.

renovation is very boring for Taz

Andy is an experienced builder by trade and share is knowledge of historical and modern-day building techniques.  The house was apparently a real house that he renovated in Red Hill, but has since been demolished.  Disappointed as I was thinking of trying to find it.

I also got a little booklet called Brisbane House Styles by Judy Gale Rechner (info here).  This book explains the different house styles from 1880 through to 1940.  It looks like our house is a simple "colonial" style from 1880 to early 1900s, but it may not be quite so old as country areas can be a bit behind the big cities.



If you want to know more about the Queensland house, try this radio podcast.

And what are we up to with our little Queenslander?

We have council approval to move in (having insulated the roof, rewired the house, installed ceiling fans and hooked up the plumbing), but of course we want to get a few things fixed up first.  We have replaced the roof with a lighter colour.  We have painted two bedrooms and the hallway.  We have ripped up all the lino and masonite in the house, leaving only the ugly red carpet to deal with.  We have stripped the kitchen and the bathroom (and lowered the windows in the kitchen) and have a few ideas about how we want the final rooms to look.  We have removed nearly all the asbestos in the house (more in the pantry, then we are done) and replaced this with "Easy VJ " MDB boards (sorry Andy!).

here's the kitchen ready to rebuild
and the batthroom


There is so much more to do, but every time I walk in the house I see all the progress we have made and how much closer we are to living there.  We are lucky that we have the opportunity to finish this work before we move it, especially with the lead paint on the walls!

If you are working on a Queenslander, or just live in one, I recommend this book, as a manual for how to look after your house.  What is your experience with Queenland houses?

Comments

  1. Older homes manifest so much more care in their construction (or so I have found) back when every inch of material was not costed to the last cent for the sake of a profit. Also so many renovations strip the soul from these houses too - finding the balance of how to honour the past and still have a practical and modern house is the key probably.

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    1. Yes, I am trying so hard to be true to the original design and the simple materials used. Its a very humble farm cottage and doesn't have the flourishes you see in city houses, as much as I love them, they don't belong in this house :)

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  2. Glad you recommended those books. I'm not planning on renovating a Qlder now, but I have in the past - and I always wanted to know which books were best. There were many about the technical aspects, but not a lot about the "reasons" for the technical aspects. Because the reasons are the blueprint, for any renovation. There's nothing worse than investing a lot of time and resources into a change, that reduces the functionality of the house.

    The problem with exposed floorboards, when we lived in an older house formerly, is the gaps between boards can let in a lot of air. It's wonderful in summer, especially if your house is on stilts, but in winter its terribly cold and isn't very heat efficient. Having lived in houses with carpet though, I think bare floors of any variety, are preferable. I like having rugs on bare floors, because its less carpet to have to vacuum and clean. So whatever the shortcomings of floorboards were revealed in the book, it has to be weighed against how you're actually going to live in the house. If there's going to be lots of dirt, then maybe bare floors and rugs, are the way to go.

    Anyway, as like you, I'm sure - I can't wait to see the finished house. Eventually. :)

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    Replies
    1. I agree Chris, I always need to know "why" :) The floors are a good example, they are made of soft pine and were always intended to be covered by carpet or lino. They are actually too soft for regular traffic. We were originally thinking to polish and seal them, but you end up with the gaps, like you said. Also I wanted to use a natural beeswax finish rather than high VOC varnishes. Now I understand that they are not meant to be polished, I'm thinking about it differently. We are looking at other options to cover the floor, although carpet is not one of them with the dog inside...

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    2. They do make some great lino's nowadays, to even look like wooden floorboards. Although if you had the budget for it, cork would be fantastic too.

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  3. It's really starting to come together, but lovely to see you are doing it with such compassion.
    I don't think I would be able to have the patience or skills to do that.. well done Liz. Cheers Jane.

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  4. Just found your blog... We're on a similar journey up in Agnes Water having moved a 100 year old Queenslander from Murgon. Got the book too!

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