Home 1: Open House

Photo: Matt Dennien

Words by Sarah Thomson

Brisbane is full of re-interpreted spaces.
That which once was public becomes private and that which once was private becomes public. Industrial becomes residential. Residential becomes retail. Share house becomes venue.

Take the Teneriffe Woolstores - once a hub of Brisbane’s industrial trade, now converted into apartments for those seeking an inner suburb lifestyle with a history. In nearby Newstead, land that lay empty for years is piled up with soulless cement boxes ready for sale. Real estate. What felt like it belonged to the city now belongs to private investors. Recently our skyline and suburbs have been inundated with garish developments and look-a-like houses that for many just don’t feel like home.

Many Brisbanites grew up in Queenslanders and when it comes time to leave the nest we tend to gravitate towards these familiar spaces, whether by choice or by the lure of cheap rent. Perhaps it is the nostalgia or even the perceived history contained within the walls of a lived-in space that makes it feel like a home with a character and some soul.

The woolsheds prove that any space can be made into a home but something about Queenslanders stirs a deep-rooted nostalgia. The wooden floorboards and VJ paneled walls. High ceilings and encircling verandas. One-bedroom worker’s cottages are built upon, creating odd rooms with no purpose and architectural curiosities. Sunrooms are built in and lino is laid and ripped up. These spaces are re-interpreted - as the studio, the band room, the ‘stuff room’. The backyard plays host to gigs, fire pits, Sunday barbeques. It makes you wonder if the haphazard design or lack thereof of these residential spaces contributes to the open interpretation of their use. Perhaps the space gently influences the way that its inhabitants interact and inform a sense of communality when up to six bedrooms are thrown together to form a house. What once may have been a family home becomes a shared space and the legendary Queenslander share house is born.

The private becomes public as people come and go - strangers and friends and friends of friends. People are warmly invited into this most private of spaces, where all the clues about their inhabitants are on display. Their choice of décor, how messy or clean they are, the books they read and the music they listen to. It becomes public domain. Like flicking through someone’s private photo album, allowing a better understanding of who they are.

The house, like many others of its kind, has a certain oddness that makes it unique and that could never be replicated by a new apartment. As this is being written, the fate of 34 Carl Street is in the balance. Already dwarfed on all sides by boxy grey apartment buildings, this humble, ramshackle home is about to either be picked up and relocated or demolished. Either way, its existence as a student share house has run its course. People will no longer be warmly welcomed to share a private space made public.