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Tropical wonder

Rhiannon Simcocks & Property Shots

Tropical wonder

Rhiannon Simcocks & Property Shots
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After running their building and design business for more than 15 years, this husband-and-wife team created a sunny hideaway that won the 2024 HIA Australian Outdoor Project Award.

Kerryn Ramsey

Senior Content Coordinator

In Far North Queensland homes, the outdoor area is king,’ says Liam Gilligan, owner of Liam Gilligan Builders in Cairns. He should know that as his firm took out the 2024 HIA Australian Outdoor Project in May.

Since the event took place in Liam and the team’s hometown, the awards night at the HIA-CSR Australian Housing Awards gala dinner was an unforgettable experience. ‘It was so special being here for the event and mixing with members from other states,’ says Liam’s wife, co-founder and design leader, Hyaesil Gilligan. ‘And it was a real thrill when we won the big award.’

Onyx Project, winner of the 2024 HIA Australian Outdoor Project.

For Liam, he felt almost relieved when the award was announced. ‘Onyx was one of our most challenging but satisfying projects,’ he says, referring to this build, which is one of 11 properties at a boutique development. ‘While a well-designed building can make a real statement, the outdoor zones take it to another level.’

Located in Clifton Beach, a coastal suburb in Cairns, the home evokes a Mediterranean beach style. Its individuality, liveability and outstanding craftsmanship are a testament to the collaboration between Liam Gilligan Builders (LGB) and its visionary clients.

Beyond a deliberately unassuming entry, the floorplan of the house wraps around a 100,000-litre pool to create the aesthetic of a private resort. The design enhances the garden and mountain aspects of the space at every opportunity.

(L-R) Liam and Hyaesil Gilligan, who run Liam Gilligan Builders, with landscape architect Andrew Prowse.

According to Hyaesil, ‘This tropical garden creates a relaxed and elegant private oasis. The use of natural materials enhances this aesthetic.’

Onyx utilises every inch of space with great intention, blurring the connective lines between interior and exterior. This delivered unified alfresco living at any time of the year. The shapely swimming pool was incorporated seamlessly into its surroundings. Off-form concrete walls and seating overlook the garden, creating an inviting reading nook or an ideal place to sip pina coladas at sunset.

‘The clients came up with a brilliant idea of incorporating a low wall into the pool design using copper spouts as a water feature,’ says Liam. ‘It works wonderfully well.’

LGB is run by this dynamic duo: Liam brings 25 years of carpentry and building experience, while Hyaesil is a low-rise building designer and interior designer/stylist. The Cairns-based business offers a concept-to-completion service with in-house building, interior design and styling.

From inside the house, each room is positioned to take advantage of the natural light through an abundance of windows. Generous banks of louvres capture the prevailing breezes. ‘Throughout the house, natural light filters in, gently adding to the concept of bringing the outside in,’ says Hyaesil.

The separate master suite overlooks the pool, outdoor gazebo and outdoor bathroom, evoking a luxurious tropical hideaway. Advanced technology is discreetly positioned, including security cameras, in-ceiling audio, 18kw solar and electric car charger.

According to the HIA judges, LGB’s use of high-quality materials and fine craftsmanship stood out. The attention to detail and workmanship of the outdoor zone is a real credit to Liam, Hyaesil and their team.

The floorplan of the house wraps around a 100,000-litre pool.
Liam and Hyaesil knew they had produced something truly special.

‘The biggest challenge we faced was repercussions from COVID,’ says Liam. ‘Material prices were increased significantly. On top of that, we used a lot of new materials that were not common in Cairns. Although all the subcontractors were extremely busy during this time, we managed to lock them in. Everyone involved in the project was committed and dedicated to finishing this build.’ 

Building for the tropical climate of North Queensland provides a unique set of challenges. Like LGB’s other projects, Onyx Project was planned to withstand the high wind speeds of cyclone activity. ‘Even in the early stages, blocks were assessed for the ability to cope with large amounts of stormwater run-off,’ says Liam. ‘Shading was also taken into consideration with this design. If your building is not designed correctly, you risk having a hot home that’s expensive to keep cool, particularly over the long, hot, humid summer.’ 

In the design stage with the architect, a weatherproof outdoor area appealed to the clients. ‘In the tropics, well-designed outdoor living areas are often the most popular ‘room’ in the house,’ says Liam. ‘It should have an insulated roof, be well ventilated, achieve shading by smart gardening and generously sized eaves. It’s all about bringing the outdoors in.’

Muro 41 tiles in Olive from Ace Stone Tiles makes a strong statement.
Onyx utilises every inch of space with great intention.

At the completion of the project, Liam and Hyaesil knew they had produced something truly special. To share this achievement, they entered the 2023 HIA – Pioneer North Queensland Housing, Kitchen & Bathroom Awards for their project Onyx build.

Following the state win, they topped it off with the 2024 HIA Australian Outdoor Project award. ‘Often, the regional winner proceeds to the state or national awards without the ability to compete with major cities,’ says Hyaesil. ‘But not this time! We are humbled and honoured to receive this prestigious award.’

Onyx Project at a glance


Liam Gilligan Builders

Interior design & styling

Hyaesil Gilligan – Studio 29


Circa 2000

Landscape architect

Andrew Prowse


2024 HIA Australian Outdoor Project

Partnered by

Toyota for Business


Clifton Beach, North Queensland


Award: 2024 HIA Australian Outdoor Project 

Partnered by: Toyota for Business 


  • Timber joinery: Johnson Joinery 
  • Exterior tiles: Travertine from Stone Style; outdoor area and pool coping with tumble finish, waterline filled and honed 
  • Paving: Helidon sandstone as stepping stones from Stone Style 
  • Feature wall: Celosia for outdoor barbecue and shower and gazebo feature walls from Ace Stone + Tiles 
  • Outdoor shower feature tiles: Muro 41 Olive from Ace Stone + Tiles

First published on 10 July 2024

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