Individual Builders

Seaside breezes

Sitting harmoniously in the creekside surroundings, these modern-look townhouses let the outdoors in and pay homage to the seaside views.


Philip O'Brien

Craig McPhan of Individual Builders in Victoria is well aware of the many issues to consider when building on the Mornington Peninsula, having worked in the area for two decades. His latest award-winning build had all the usual challenges, as well as a stunning but flood-prone location.

‘There are general factors such as the corrosive effect of the salt air as well as the constraints of bushfire regulations and energy considerations,’ he says.

‘And there was the specific challenge for these two townhouses of being located beside an active creek that can flood.’

As such, the building makes skilful use of the site by allowing potential floodwaters to run through the building at sub-floor level, he says. This was achieved by siting the townhouses on deep foundations using 35 screw piles, some at a depth of 18 metres. Recycled ironbark poles, from Far North Queensland, were then placed onto the screw piles to support the structure with some feature poles running through both levels of the townhouses.

Individual Builders - kitchen
Smoked grey mirror splashback – ‘Why not look at a terrific view in the reflection instead of a tiled wall?’
Individual Builders - bathroom
Materials and colours in harmony with the surroundings

Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne, is a popular holiday destination which attracts millions of visitors annually to its beaches, water sports and wineries. The unique location, between Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait, is sought after by holiday-makers and residents but does present challenges for architects and builders.

Craig McPhan is a specialist in the region and has built extensively there. A recent project, to build two architect-designed townhouses on the Mornington foreshore opposite Mills Beach demonstrates his skill in addressing both the opportunities and challenges of its location. The resulting dwellings recently won the HIA Australian Townhouse/Villa Development award for 2018.

In selecting Individual Builders for the award, the judges were impressed with the way the townhouses present a modern façade which uses the site well, with materials and colours in harmony with the surroundings.

‘The eastern townhouse has a large entertaining deck, with living areas looking out over Port Phillip Bay,’ Craig says. ‘The western townhouse is based on an upper level comprising sleeping and open plan living areas around an internal courtyard with a northern deck and large windows facing the water.’

The unique location, between Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait, is sought after but does present challenges

A unique feature of the building fabric is that much of it has been constructed using a modular panel system manufactured by Australian company Habitech.

‘The walls were constructed using Habitech’s Structural Insulated Panel (SIPs) system,’ Craig says.

‘These 170mm-thick panels provide the structure, the high performing insulation and the cladding of the houses. They’re also eco-friendly.’

The flooring is a pre-finished engineered board, he says. ‘First, we put down a particle-board floor then put the engineered floor over it. The engineered board is a more stable material so it won’t shrink or expand like natural timber.’

While the clients had definite ideas about design and choice of materials, Craig says that he and his company were able to offer the benefit of their experience of building on the Mornington Peninsula.

Specifically, he was able to recommend the best materials to counter the effects of sea air and water.

‘We always use stainless steel hinges in the area, even internally – instead of the usual zinc-coated hinges – because the doors are often open and the salt air flows through the rooms.’

Individual Builders - townhouse villa development
The building makes skilful use of the site by allowing potential floodwaters to run through the building at sub-floor level
Individual Builders - exterior
Recycled ironbark poles support the structure

Although Craig observes even stainless steel suffers from a ‘tea-staining’ effect caused by salt air, which looks like rust. So, for those façades of the townhouses which were meant to be stainless steel, he substituted Colorbond® steel and for the roofing Colorbond® Ultra steel, a thicker material.

There was then the choice of splashback in the kitchen. ‘This was originally tiled but I suggested a smoked grey mirror because, sitting at the island bench, you have a terrific view of Port Phillip Bay. Why not look at it in the reflection instead of a tiled wall?’

The HIA award judges were also impressed with the project’s environmental sustainability featuring high levels of insulation, double glazed composite windows, hydronic heating system and rainwater storage tanks.

A qualified carpenter with more than 30 years’ experience, Craig says that his time now is mostly taken up with project management and client needs. Yet, occasionally, he manages to get back ‘on the tools’ and work alongside his team.

‘For this project, that included working on the pre-fabricated walls and the roof in 40-degree heat,’ he says.

‘I take on every project personally, caring about it and thinking about it, often in the middle of the night’

‘Carpentry is what I’ve always wanted to do. My grandfather had a sawmill where I used to hang around from the age of five. Now, at Individual Builders, I take on every project personally, caring about it and thinking about it, often in the middle of the night.’

Craig is extremely proud of his hand-picked team who pride themselves on their quality of service. This approach has seen Individual Builders earn HIA awards in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2017 and 2018 at the recent national awards in Singapore.

‘I’m very pleased with this award, not to big-note myself, but as a recognition within the trade and the industry. It’s an assurance to clients that we’re achieving our aims.’

Indeed, Individual Builders enjoys an excellent relationship with its clients. ‘My wife and I spent a week in Singapore for the HIA awards and were thrilled to have our townhouse clients with us. Once back in Australia, they invited us and all the tradies involved for a great night at their place. I guess it’s the emotional effect of what we do. In giving people their dream home you’re adding to their quality of life.’

At a glance

Award: 2018 HIA Australian Townhouse/Villa Development of the Year

Partnered by: Brickworks Building Products

Builder: Individual Builders

Location: Port Phillip Bay, Victoria

Energy Rating: 6.1 stars

Completed: June 2016

Construction: Habitech Systems modular panel system and structural insulated panel system (SIPs)

Inclusions: Rainwater tank, under-cupboard rangehood, LED lighting, PV system, ezy-reveal window architraves

Materials: Ceramic floor and wall tiles, timber overlay flooring, stainless steel benchtops, stone and timber (American oak) benchtops, folded steel awnings, Colorbond® steel gutter finish, concrete fireplace, bathroom and kitchen tapware in silver, exposed steel framing.

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