The great Australian the dream has long had two components: home ownership and independent housing in the suburbs. Despite the hype surrounding the densification of Australian cities, the suburban house remains the predominant house form. Additionally, Australian homes have stood out for much of this century by being the tallest in the world. Interestingly, however, this coat has now moved elsewhere. The size of the Australian home peaked in 2009 at 247 square meters. The United States now has the largest homes in the world – at 249 square meters – with Canada coming far behind at 181 square meters and Denmark at 137 square meters.1 There has not been a systematic analysis of why this change is occurring. It would be reassuring to see this decline linked to a growing environmental awareness or a desire to adapt the size of houses to the size of households – which has been decreasing since the 1960s to reach an average of 2.6 people per household.2 The reduction in house size has been accompanied by a decrease in the size of housing blocks and a slight increase in the number of dwellings per hectare, as local governments seek to ease the costs of providing infrastructure and developers to maximize returns. The evolution of the average size of houses is also linked to the increasing densification of our cities. In 2006, 74.6 percent of Australians lived in single-family homes, but by 2011 that rate had fallen to 73.8 percent. The remoteness of the suburban single-family home is more pronounced in larger cities, where, for example, Sydney has 27.6 percent of its population living in apartments.3
While there has been a slight decline in the overall size of housing and the number of people living in suburban homes, there has also been a reconfiguration of who lives there and how. Looking inside the house, there is an increasing ethnic and family diversity. In 2016, there were six million Australian families, up from five million in 2011, and among these, the most common was the childless couple (37.8%), followed by the couple with dependent children under the age of fifteen. years (30.6%). Single-parent families made up almost 16 percent of households, and there were also step families (6 per cent), step and gay families, as well as 60,000 families headed by grandparents.4 Such diversity of households should result in more design variation.
The ethnic diversity of the Australian population is expected to generate an array of house designs as well as very different uses and meanings attributed to their internal spaces. However, it’s rare to see anyone’s private space – beyond the designers who illustrate their homes in lifestyle magazines – let alone those of non-Anglo-Celtic descent. University of Queensland PhD candidate Maram Shaweesh interviewed and observed a Lebanese family at their relatively large suburban home in Sydney. Shaweesh details how this family chain migrated with many others to escape the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s and ultimately bought and reconfigured their home. The redesign ensured separate entrances for young men and women as well as separate spaces internally where divergent activities across generation and gender divisions could be conducted. An essential item was a large dining area and a table that could accommodate up to fifty extended family members for meals. In addition, the complex issue of privacy – vis-à-vis strangers and visitors around whom formal behavior was required or not – involved particular arrangements of walls, walkways and curtains. The problem of strangers looking at family from the street necessitated heavy curtains and the location of the family living space at the back of the accommodation. Additionally, food preparation had to take place out of sight of male guests, again in separate spaces. Domestic spaces here have therefore become an expression of Lebanese Muslim culture.5
The homes offered to suburban buyers are an expression of a more generalized Australian culture. If you have modest means and are looking for a new home, you will likely visit one of the many homes featured in the Exhibition Villages that dot the outskirts of our major cities. Alternatively, you can access the websites of mass builders and designers for contemporary home plans. Here, further information can be obtained about what is desired and perhaps increasingly accepted as the standard in the suburban home.
A study of 1980s house plans by Kim Dovey found that, compared to the 1960s:
“The informal dining area has grown into a huge informal area that has… become the new ‘heart’ of the house… The backyard has been segmented and integrated into this new ‘heart’. The kingdom of parents has grown and detached from children and family spaces. There has been an increasing global segmentation of the home… Formally multifunctional places such as the kitchen and living room have become more monofunctional. There is a place for games and television, and it is not the living room. There are two places to eat and neither are in the kitchen.6
A review of homes built by Carlisle Homes and King Homes in Point Cook and plans currently offered online by the AusDesign database, Fairhaven Homes and Coral Homes indicates that many of these characterizations persist. In particular, the kitchen and associated spaces remain the center of the home, while the separation of children (often with their own play space as well as bedrooms and bathrooms) from parents is always a theme (sometimes with a third quarter, presumably for a living grandparent). The master bedroom suite has huge wardrobes and bathrooms.
What has been added since the 1980s is an outdoor or open-air living space (which now takes over entirely from the backyard and the service yard), a multimedia room / theater and, for some. , an “IT hub” or an office (which is a and often delocalized study). Another addition, which hasn’t been seen in homes since the 19th century, is a butler’s pantry. The Home Beautiful website elaborates on this extension of the walk-in pantry:
“The secret to an impeccable kitchen is a little help behind the scenes. We have adopted the ‘open plan’ as a way of life with combined living, dining and kitchen areas. But what to do when a pile of dishes starts to pile up halfway through dinner? The emerging solution is a butler’s pantry. This artist’s dream can be used to tidy up household appliances, prepare food, and tidy up the mess in the middle of dinner.7
As homes and households have become smaller and more diverse, the layout and use of household spaces have changed. There is now a certain allowance for extended families. There is also an apparent new emphasis on food – its preparation (more elaborate than ever but now hidden), presentation (on gigantic kitchen benches), and consumption (in one of the many possible spaces, at the inside and out) – perhaps recording changing gender roles as men walk into the kitchen and shop. This reconfiguration of the domestic space indicates that the dream of the suburban house continues to come true, but in an unprecedented way.