A winner – now and zen

10 years after he won HIA’s Australian Home of the Year, builder Ryan Stidwill has learnt that friendship, the love of nature and the search for inner calm is what keeps him inspired every day.


Anne-Maree Brown

An hour north of Sydney is a little stretch of paradise, a water-only access atoll by the name of Scotland Island, situated in the Pittwater estuary just off Church Point. With only 350 properties dotted along its hills and foreshores, the homes range in style from the bucolically simple to the lavishly designed.

Ryan Stidwill of RW Stidwill Constructions had come to know the island well. After moving from the Riverina area of country NSW in his early teens, he soon fell in love with the upper Northern Beaches, with its tapestry of natural wonders and lifestyle purpose of relaxation over hustle. He decided to not only live and raise his family there, but create a building business in the area, specialising in hardwood homes.

‘I’ve always loved timber,’ Ryan says. ‘The way it feels to work with, its textures and diversity, and the way you can breathe new life back into old timbers. I love turning a big structural post from a wall or bridge into something beautiful for a home.’

There was so much about the Northern Beaches Peninsula that suited working with timber, in particular the offshore areas and bays, so Ryan set about building custom designed homes focused on conveying the beauty of the location and the materials.

In 2010, Ryan had just completed one such build, a pavilion-style home constructed from Sydney blue gum, northern box and recycled ironbark. The deep-water escape comprised five bedrooms and bathrooms. With wraparound entertaining decks, two jetties, private sandy shores, swimming pool and spa, the home was set to be impressive from the outset. But on completion Ryan and his wife Monique knew it was something quite special indeed, maybe even award winning.


Monique, who has been helping to build the business ‘from day one’, decided on a whim to take a stab at entering the home into the HIA awards program in 2010. A major regional win then secured their chance at the HIA Australian Home of the Year accolade in 2011.

‘I actually apologised to the judges when they came over on the boat,’ Ryan says. ‘I really thought that maybe I was wasting their time. We went into the night itself not expecting much, and when we won both Home of the Year and Custom Built Home of the Year, I was really gobsmacked.’ 

While establishing themselves as a ‘go to’ local builder, the win gave the business a distinct advantage. ‘It really helped us in a competitive situation with [an] owner or architect to have the leading edge.’

Soon the win catapulted Ryan and his team on to more bespoke projects, more accolades, and more opportunities to showcase the natural environment and the materials he loved to work with. But, on deciding whether to expand or retain the volume of his business, the choice for Ryan was not what others would expect. 

‘We only do two to three homes a year so I can form real relationship with my clients, to get to know them, and develop trust with them,’ Ryan explains. ‘It’s incredibly important to have a sense of understanding with one another, and it really makes it easier to put your heart and soul into creating something for them.’ 

Ryan adds that, for him, the journey of home building doesn’t always end with hand-over, with some of his clients now considered personal friends. Maintaining a simpler, personalised approach is something he values, and has shaped his career direction.

‘I wanted my family to have a life, I didn’t want to travel too far for work and I also wanted to provide stability for our trades and contractors. I even rented out my factory on the mainland and worked from my boatshed just so I could concentrate on what was important to my business, and be productive without distraction.’


Even still, Ryan has been able to maintain his team and take on apprentices every year, a part of running his business he feels truly passionate about. ‘My motto is: I can teach you how to be a great tradesman and a great bloke, but the only thing I can’t teach you is trust. You bring me trust then I will give you everything I’ve got, all of my time.’

But, he adds with a laugh, he also makes sure he is market ready: ‘I might not want to be the biggest builder out there but I still make sure we keep entering awards; it helps to keep our portfolio fresh. When we feel we have a worthy project we make sure we enter it.’ 

When looking at what gives Ryan joy, it comes back to his country boy affinity to hard work and the physical satisfaction that building with timber brings. ‘In the country we have a saying, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. Working with timber is heavy work, but at the end of the day I get a thrill out of feeling knackered and my muscles tell me that.’ 

He also finds the balance between body and brain that is most satisfying. Or maybe it is best expressed as the spiritual connection between the body, mind and the world itself that resonates most with Ryan. 

‘I take time every day to remind myself what to be grateful for,’ Ryan says. ‘Yoga reminds me of my link to the world around us. I also think it helps me stay connected and in love with building with natural materials.’

And on the topic of what he is looking forward to in the future, it is a case of ‘more of the same please’ – the continual pace, passion and collaborations he’s enjoyed so far. 

‘I feel so lucky, and I’m looking forward to even doing more creative personal projects, working with sandstone, or rammed earth homes using the burnt ochre clay from the Pilbara, are at the top of the list.’ 


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