Tribe Studio director Hannah Tribe sets a new standard for durable and cost-effective prefabricated beach houses with her sustainable holiday home on the shores of Gunyah beach, New South Wales. 

Bundeena is nestled in New South Wales’ Royal National Park, a quaint hamlet known for being the gateway to a series of lagoons, private beaches and nature trails. And while the secluded sanctuary feels as though it’s ‘eons’ away from Hannah Tribe’s primary residence in the Sydney CBD, it’s only an hour and a half away by car or ferry. It’s here where Hannah chose to design a prototype weekender home for her and her family, drawn to Bundeena for its year-round swimming weather and slow pace of life. Respecting the humble fishermen’s cottages in the area, Hannah has created an environmentally-conscious kit-home that can be replicated in any environment, be it in the bush or by the beach.

The U-shaped home is cleverly planned around an internal courtyard, comprising three bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen, living and dining space and two bathrooms, wrapping around the courtyard and facing north to the large rear garden. Instead of a formal mudroom, a combined laundry and bathroom at the entrance provides a place to shake off sandy towels and toss wet bathers before moving through the home. 

The kit home’s framework is simple; a concrete slab, modular timber framing and structural ply timber ceilings. Instead of plasterboard, the walls consist of vertical timber battens (certified plantation) painted an unsaturated orange – a choice Hannah says was the most time consuming of the whole design. “We tried about a hundred soft hues to find the one that feels like a big, shady cuddle – the internal grey paint is actually a very pale orange,” Hannah explains.

While the home is close to the water’s edge, Hannah says she opted for a single-storey home to create a more affordable and versatile kit-home that could better be replicated in different settings. “We could have had glorious views from a second storey. However, we felt that reinforcing the local vernacular of single-storey timber cottages was important and that an introspective garden diagram was preferable to outward-looking in this context,” Hannah adds. 

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“There are always wet footprints on the floor and wetsuits hanging in the bathrooms. There are books everywhere. We have sharp cooking knives and nice salad bowls. It reflects what’s important to us – family, friends, connection with nature, cooking and reading.”

– Tribe Studio director Hannah Tribe

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Furniture in the home was chosen for its durability, like the Coco Flip Sequence table in stainless steel. Artwork by Australian artist Gemma Smith.

The home has an immersive connection with the courtyard and surrounding garden designed by Fieldwork Associates landscape architect Christopher Owen. The native courtyard garden aims to provide respite to local birdlife, including kookaburras, tawny frogmouths, cockatoos, fairy-wrens, and sea eagles. Hannah calls it the ‘food bowl’ of the house.

In the surrounding garden around the home’s perimeter, Hannah inherited a 40-year-old Queensland Bottle Tree. “It’s like a sentry and sculpture at the same time – we are under strict instructions to keep it healthy,” she says.

Inside, Hannah established a relaxed interior palette with minimal furniture. The concrete flooring was deliberately left unpolished, so wet and sandy little footprints aren’t a worry, and built-in joinery quickly conceals mess without taking up any precious floor space.

Hannah approached the furniture selection with a ‘less is more’ approach, with special finds like the electric blue vintage school chairs. As a result, she says her home feels like a complete shedding of excess. “We have hardly any furniture, so the boys can skateboard and rollerblade inside,” she says. 

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The U-shaped home is wrapped around a native courtyard garden that aims to provide respite to local birdlife including kookaburras, tawny frogmouths, cockatoos, fairy-wrens and sea eagles. Any plant that isn’t native in the garden is edible.

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The home is purposely designed with the absence of any steps.

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Adjustable shading on the east and west windows reduce solar gain.

When reflecting on the concept of prefab homes, Hannah admits it’s a long-held architects’ dream – ever since Le Corbusier’s modular Dom-Ino House, designed in 1914. “How we apply the logic of the industrial age to domestic construction to deliver better quality for lower cost is a seductive idea that has tempted generations of architects,” Hannah says. 

In recent years, there’s been an increasing shift to a prefabricated way of working, where windows and doors are often manufactured off-site and joinery brought into a new project almost finished. “Our house seeks to extend this logic into the pre-cutting of timbers and pre-machining of joints to allow all-timber construction in remote sites where architectural building craft may not be available,” Hannah explains. “It’s designed to standard grids and lengths to avoid cutting and waste – it is very humble but still resolved.”

Hannah Tribe’s Bundeena house is a blueprint for the next generation of prefabricated homes, emphasising what’s most important in a holiday house – the company you keep. “There are always salty footprints on the floor, wetsuits hanging in the bathrooms and books everywhere.” Hannah reflects. “Our house represents what’s important to us – family, friends, connection with nature, cooking and reading.”

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Hannah says the 40-year-old Queensland Bottle Tree has turned her into a ‘mad gardener’.

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An outdoor shower is perfect for washing off the day before getting into the house.

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Tribe Studio director Hannah Tribe