Only a handful of prestige rainforest or beachfront properties trade hands each year within the surrounding suburbs of Cairns and the neighboring high-end holiday hub of Port Douglas in Australia.
A true international city with a melting pot of cultures, the Cairns property market is being recognized as much for its relaxed beach and hinterland lifestyle as it is for its exceptional value.
As the jumping off point for the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, its physical beauty yet challenging climate—wet, tropical with the occasional cyclone—have resulted in exceptional and architecturally rewarding homes.
Blessed with a world class lifestyle and natural beauty, many Cairns high-end homeowners have spared no expense when it comes to the designs and construction of their homes.
A mix of architectural styles, predominantly influenced by the natural environment, can be seen in the region as owners make the most of sprawling beachfront blocks or the panoramic views available from hilltop hideaways.
Inarguably one of the most striking—and lauded—is Planchonella House, the concrete, glass and rosewood masterpiece completed in 2015 by young Australian creatives, architect Jesse Bennett and his wife, interior designer Anne-Marie Campagnolo. They have since put their home up for sale.
“Living in the house is so peaceful and relaxing,” Ms. Campagnolo said. “It’s so connected to nature it has this effect on you that’s hard to describe.”
Described by the 2015 National Architecture Awards’ jury as “an architect/builder/inventor and an interior innovator at their combined best” the home represents Mr. Bennett and Ms. Campagnolo’s “total design” ethos, encompassing the architecture, landscaping and interior design.
It won Australia’s top architectural honor with the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture in the 2015 National Architecture Awards and has been referenced alongside the world’s finest “tropical” and “forest homes” because of its surroundings.
“We were so passionate about producing something of our own and something that we imagined architecture should be,” said Mr. Bennett, of Jesse Bennett Studio.
“The constraints of the site made it a challenge but we took it in our stride,” he continued. “We were so driven by the project and wanting to bring that to fruition that we didn’t let that restrict us.”
Following a four-year design and construction phase, Planchonella House, their dream home and an ode to living in the tropics, was completed in 2015.
Designed to “create a series of joyful spaces,” Mr. Bennett says, its simplicity and pared back palette of materials provided the couple with their own “personal wellness retreat.”
The solar passive design, on an excessively steep site with terrible access, connects to the surrounding heritage rainforest with minimal obstruction.
Responding to topography and climate, there’s an abundance of space, natural light and privacy, all while providing a visual connection to the rainforest surrounds. Two organic-shaped concrete platforms form the roof and floor, appearing to sit within the tree canopies.
The L-shaped flexible floorplan wraps around the central courtyard space, with up to four bedrooms, an open-plan living area, cantilevered breakfast booth and courtyard.
Tropical foliage spills indoors and covers the oversized rooftop, which has been designed to combat the wet, tropical weather, spanning an area twice that of the floor and windows.
“With such a harsh climate, you can’t ignore it so it’s best to work with it,” Mr. Bennett says.
“A lot of the design solutions are purely based on really simple passive design principles, low tech designs with the sun and wind patterns in mind. The roof acts like a big tree canopy above the house, so it encourages the air to circulate and even during the rainy season you can leave the windows open and the rain doesn’t come in.”
Despite their love and passion for the home, the restless creatives are ready to pursue their next challenge, and Planchonella House is for sale, listed with Modern House Real Estate agent Marcus Lloyd-Jones.
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Offers between A$4 million (US$3 million) and A$4.4 million (US3.3 million) are being sought.
“It’s an emotional thing, to let go of a house you’re very much attached to, especially one that required 12 months camping onsite and carting bricks uphill,” Ms. Campagnolo said.
Buying in Cairns
A popular destination for a respite from winter, the Cairns housing market has outperformed other major central and north Queensland cities in the past year, with a median house value of A$399,552 (US$299,190) to the end of March, up 1.5%, according to analysts CoreLogic RPData.
Palm Cove, a suburb of Cairns 27 kilometers north of its center, had a median house value of A$552,500 (US$413,917)—up 3.27%—in the 12 months to March.
Port Douglas, the region’s beachfront village renowned for its community sensibilities, boutique shops and restaurants, had a median house price was A$565,000 (US$423,363), according to CoreLogic’s figures.
Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty Port Douglas agent Barbara Wolveridge describes market conditions as slow, but she said she is getting strong interest from genuine, qualified buyers ahead of the peak winter season.
“Prices are stable but I still think we are fantastic value for the homes you can buy between A$3million and A$10 million, we’re certainly better priced compared to anywhere else in Australia,” she says.
Homes With Tropical Settings
Significant listings in the area include Port Douglas’s most prominent home on the most northerly point of Wharf Street, which comes with a price tag of about A$12 million (US$8.8 million).
Only a tropical garden stands between the rear of the property and the Coral Sea, with the five-bedroom, six-bathroom home large enough to host parties of up to 100 guests.
Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty
In Palm Cove’s Beachfront Mirage gated community, local builder Andy Taylor of Prime Constructions has listed his family estate for the first time since completion about a decade ago.
Within the confines of Palm Cove’s classified integrated resort development, which allows international buyers to purchase without requiring foreign investment approval, the listing includes three homes, spread over four blocks of land.
Including a combined total of 16 bedrooms, multiple pools and a tennis court, the homes are surrounded by palm trees and tropical landscaping. The asking price is A$10.95 million (US$8.24 million).
Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty
Ms. Wolveridge said that “pretty much everything” with a view sold last year to a range of buyers that came from Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand and South-East Asia.
“These are big-ticket items, they’re usually second or third homes, and people are specific about what they’re looking for,” she said.
“High-end properties take a lot longer to sell here than anywhere else in Australia,” Ms. Wolveridge said, “but when you have qualified buyers milling around, you know you’ll have a good season.”
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