How this couple turned an A-frame cabin into a boho chic beach retreat

First published in Domain, The Age

October 6, 2022

Jimi and Lucy Cordell were in search of a “smaller” life when they bought a 330 square metre block in Torquay, Victoria. Inspired by the tiny home movement, they researched the most cost-effective housing structures to suit their block and their budget.

“We did a lot of Googling, a lot of Pinterest, a lot of YouTube, just trying to really work out what would fit on the block the best,” says Lucy.


 Initially they investigated the option of using a volume builder and having a predesigned townhouse, but this wasn’t really their vibe. Once they discovered that they could modify an A-frame cabin to be a bit more of a home than just a basic caravan park cabin they decided on this.


 The couple spent eight months working out how they could make as much use of the 100 square metre rectangular space as possible, and also make it fun and quirky. They wanted big open spaces, high ceilings, but also to segment it so that it felt like it was a cosy place with lots of different areas to utilise. 

 

They marked the block with spray paint and did lots of planning with shadows. “Originally we had the house facing the other way so that when you walked in you saw the front, which looked beautiful in our minds, but then it wouldn’t have had any afternoon sun,” says Jimi.

 

“We’re sun freaks,” he says. “We flipped it around. Once you’re in, you come around that corner and it’s sunny all day.” 

 

The bedrooms and bathroom are accessed from the main open living room. Wall to wall glass bifold doors, and a mezzanine for extra living space, rather than a closed off room, completed the design. The outdoor deck and garden areas were all designed to be used as living and playing spaces too.

 

Once the house was built to ‘lock up’ stage by professionals, the family moved into what was essentially the shell of their home. The walls, cladding, windows, stairs to the mezzanine, doors, plumbing and electrical were roughed in, and only the toilet and one tap in the bathroom were operational.  

 

After the initial outlay of funds, the progress slowed considerably. The Cordells worked through their list of priorities as their budget allowed.  

 

Jimi laid the floor himself and Lucy built the Ikea kitchen from 185 boxes. After receiving a $30,000 quote for internal and external painting they decided to do the first coats of paint themselves, then engaged a professional for the final coat.

 

“I think we saved about 20 grand, doing two full coats ourselves. It took us months – and lots of red wine,” says Lucy.

 

The Cordells also saved money on styling. Lucy bought preloved items on Gumtree and upcycled them, sanding and painting cupboard doors to create pieces that look like they’ve been part of the decor forever. “We’ve gone with the rustic chic look. If something gets damaged or scratched, it just adds to it,” says Jimi.

 

The last thing to be tackled at the Hideaway was the landscaping. The couple have travelled extensively and taken inspiration from around the world. They used what technically should have been the driveway and enclosed the garden from the front so that there’s more outside living area. “It’s a waste of space, all the way to the end when you could have room for kids and dogs to play and run around,” says Lucy.

 

Aiming to create a welcoming entrance like you would find at a Balinese home, bamboo lines the fence, and a smaller gate invites you in. The landscaping and foliage encourage decompression and a sense of wonder. “Shut that gate behind you and you could be anywhere,” says Jimi.

 

The Cordells always intended to rent the Hideaway as a short term Airbnb during the school holidays but half way through the build, the pandemic hit and the couple decided that once they could travel again, they would take their children, Willow and Piper, and dog, Morgan, on the road permanently.

 

The responses of their guests is a testament to the success of their design. “We have people calling us and asking us to style their homes,” laughs Lucy. “All the time…”

 

The couple are already planning Hideaway 2.0. and are currently searching for a property in the north of Australia.

 

Book via the Hideaway Torquay website.

Tips

 

  • Plan – for the short and long term

  • Go to your block – draw on the ground, assess the light and shadows 

  • Spend once – if you really want something but can’t afford it now, save until you can.

  • Use Facebook Marketplace to source plants 

Think broadly about materials to find an affordable solution – e.g. a painted pine deck instead of merbau.