Trio of timber cabins get back to basics on the Tasmanian coast


Shack culture is not unique to Tasmania with beach shack communities in W.A and Queensland achieving heritage status in recent years however it is firmly entrenched in the state’s history. Almost everyone with a family history on the island state has had access to a shack somewhere on the coast. Many have been handed down through generations.

Constructed between the 1950’s and 1980’s these simply-built holiday homes were constructed using any materials to or off-cuts from other houses and were added to over time. They provided shelter from the elements and acted as a base from which fishing, swimming, hiking and large family gatherings could take place.

It was this tradition of simple, functional, pared-back dwellings built from uncomplicated materials that inspired architects Taylor and Hinds when designing a trio of coastal cabins at Denison Rivulet close to Tasmania’s East coast.

This dynamic young Tasmanian architectural practice prides itself on delivering “memorable environments for people” and anyone lucky enough to stay at Denison Rivulet will not easily forget the experience. The compact guest accommodation suites accommodate couples and are conceived almost as, in the words of architect Mat Hinds “pieces of fine timber cabinetry in a larger landscape room”.

Seen from afar, the cabins sit confidently but modestly within the landscape without any sense of dominating it. The unpretentious exteriors are clad in Silvertop Ash however the focus here is on the wonderful interior spaces which create a sense of shelter and experiment with the play of light, and the relationship between each space and the wild, exposed landscape outside. The client brief allowed for a high degree of freedom to experiment with materials but was specific in a desire for there to be no “plaster, plastic or paint”. The rich, self-finishing timber used throughout the interiors lends a soft glow and warmth.

It was also the preference of the client and the desire of the architect to use only Australian certified timber and materials that were readily procured and sustainably managed at the source. In Australia certification can be provided through Responsible Wood and the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) internationally.

The many species of timber used in this project included Silvertop Ash, Tasmanian Oak, Victorian Ash, Radiata Pine and Spotted Gum and as Responsible Wood CEO Simon Dorries explains; “it is the easiest way for architects to specify timber with undisputed sustainability against the Australian standards either for chain of custody or forest management and because Responsible Wood certifies over 8 million hectares of forest in Australia there should be little reason to use timber from an uncertified source.”

There is a stark contrast between the expanse of the landscape and the small, beautifully detailed rooms in each cabin. Continuity of material palette and a high degree of craftsmanship throughout, add to the experience of the interiors. Architect Mat Hinds believes “integral to the Tasmanian tradition of shack spaces is a looseness, but a high degree of purposefulness. Shacks are a very interior realm.”

Hinds continues: “Such spaces are couched in the nature of a physical experience of the environment – of returning home after a day at the beach, drying off by the fire, living a life tangibly connected with the landscape and exposed to its weather patterns. The result is a very particular relationship between the indoors and the outdoors.”

Proportions are varied according to function, for example, the high 3.3-metre ceilings feel in proportion to the vast external landscape whereas the they are compressed to 2.4-metres in the upstairs sleeping quarters. While some rooms offer floor-to ceiling double-glazed windows others, such as bathrooms offer no view at all, while allowing only natural light and are about feeling immersed in a material rather than a view. This is distinctly different to a strong trend in Australian contemporary architecture to focus on the exterior or “bringing the outdoors in”. Mat Hinds explains their approach as: ‘we don’t go in with a view to only facilitate what already exists on a site, rather we are actively making spaces for people to live in.”

The architects also decided to heat the cabins only with a wood stove, requiring guests to prepare and light a fire if they feel the need to warm the cabin during cold weather. At a time when so much accommodation markets itself on the technology and gadgetry on offer, Denison Rivulet offers a luxury of simplicity and opportunity to get back to basics without compromising comfort in any way.

The Dension Rivulet project has been short-listed as a finalist in the 20th Australian Timber Design Awards in Melbourne on October 17. Responsible Wood is the sponsor of the Australian Certified Timber category.