Nestled between the mountains and the sea, the Coffs Coast offers a unique lifestyle unlike any other in Australia. Where else can you enjoy the pristine northern beaches one minute and rafting through granite gorges on the Nymboida River the next?
This undeniable paradise continues to attract more and more people to the region, who want to settle down and stake their own piece of beauty.
One couple who sees this more than most are local builders Rick and Susan Fischer, who in their own words “have the undeniable privilege of helping people create their dream homes in paradise”.
Just this year they have helped settle families from Canada, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane into new homes, as well as many of our lucky locals, including Mathew and Kristle McKinnon, whose stunning beachfront home is featured in this issue.
We spoke with Rick and Susan about their passion for building and their latest “favourite” project.
What do you love about building houses on the Coffs Coast?
It is a very beautiful part of the world here, and we get to experience so many different definitions of paradise. We love hearing why people chose a parcel of land and what their vision is for it. Being responsible for helping someone realise that is very gratifying. It’s not just the building though. There is nothing better than seeing your work transformed from a house into a home.
We love to check out homes we built a year after they are finished, to see how the family has put their signature on it. Whether it be through landscaping or furnishing, there are so many different ways people give their homes real character after we hand over the keys.
What is popular right now in home styles?
The climate in Coffs makes outdoor living desirable and with many properties boasting amazing outlooks, people are willing to spend the budget to maximise these features.
Gone are the days of the basic brick and tile homes; building has got so much more creative now, as everyone wants to do something different. The internet allows so much more research, leading people to explore new ideas and products.
The most popular style though, has to be what we term “resort style living”. While there are entire house designs that can bring it to life, one of the most effective ways to achieve this look is by adding natural elements throughout a home. It’s all about texture. The use of features in natural materials such as wood, stone, cane, bamboo, rattan, leather, cotton and linen create a visual and textural connection with the great outdoors. Colour schemes with lots of whites, creams, greys, blues and greens, the kinds of colours that echo the coastline, are also popular.
Adding height to ceilings and featuring an abundance of glass will ensure you make the most of whatever views you have and allow a lot of natural light and sunshine to fill the home. Creating outdoor areas that merge seamlessly with the indoors are another highlight of homes that achieve this style.
As a local builder, do you have a favourite area within the region to build houses in?
We have built houses all over Coffs Coast in some magnificent locations, and the choice has certainly become more varied for people over the past few years. Developers have seen the potential in the region and pushed ahead with a number of new estates. This has increased interest in new homes and buoyed the building industry and local employment opportunities here.
I can’t pick a favourite area in such a beautiful town but if I was to base the decision on practicality only, we really love the northern suburbs, for nothing else but the simple reason the blocks are flatter and the sites are easier to build on. In saying that though, there are some great new elevated estates open in the southern suburbs, many with beautiful outlooks.
One tip I always share with people considering to build is the more expensive the block, generally the easier it is to build. Steeper blocks, for example, will often be much cheaper, but people don’t always consider that this often leads to a more expensive build, as the style of the home and land works required to ready the site have to be more substantial.
You are consistently winning awards for your work; can you tell us about the ones that you are most proud of?
We’re proud of what we have achieved over the past three years here, and to be acknowledged by the industry for our efforts is certainly gratifying, we won’t deny that.
We have won 13 awards in the past two years, all of them humbly accepted, but becoming a finalist in Housing Industry of Australia (HIA) Project Home of the Year was certainly a highlight.
We won the category for NSW because the judges were impressed with how we incorporated a lot of customised modifications to the original Shoalwater design, one of G.J. Gardner Home’s exclusive designs, to better reflect the personality and lifestyle of the owner. It was a challenging build though, as the property had three access points to accommodate and a pool.
The most recent award we received was in July for Best Exhibition/Project Home $400,001-$450,000 at the recent MBA (Master Builders Association) Excellence in Regional Building Awards. This was for our beautiful display home in Cherry Street. The same home also won Merit awards for Best Kitchen Under $25,000 and Best Bathroom Under $25,000.
We have won all of these awards before in previous years, along with others, but we hope this proves our commitment to quality and consistency in the homes we deliver is real, not just hyperbole.
The awards are valued achievements but they are testament to the amazing work of our entire team, and we certainly share the credit with them wholeheartedly.
There is an amazing house that you have recently completed featured in this publication. Where is the house, and does the location add to the final result?
The house is located at Sapphire Beachfront Estate and enjoys a stunning 180 degree ocean view. The house is a spectacular ultra-modern resort style, designed to capture the outlook from every room in the house. It is one of the most intricate and amazing designs we have had the pleasure to build.
It is a double storey with open plan kitchen, living, study, WC and entertainment area, with a grand deck downstairs and three bedrooms, a midlevel study and bathroom upstairs. With the interior, the aim was to create a space that was refined and elegant, yet with a casual, relaxed feel that is renowned with beach lifestyle. A large imported palm tree graces the alfresco dining area, enhancing the resort ambience of the home.
It was a full custom build, architecturally designed, but we were able to help the owner by suggesting modifications that made the build more affordable, without affecting any significant structural changes or design elements.
Another benefit of this build for our team was that we got to experience working with a wide range of new materials to create special effects on the facades and interior of the home. Inex polished concrete sheeting and Colorbond Shadowline 305 cladding feature on the front, along with custom made Red Cedar garage door and front door.
It is not a big block, but in my opinion it is one of the best, with a jaw dropping outlook that heavily influenced the design. Now with this beautiful home perched on top, it is the envy of the street.
Who was the client, and what did they bring to the table?
Our client was Mathew McKinnon, who owns Accent Bathrooms. We have known Mat and his wife, Kristle, for a couple of years now, as this is actually the fourth home we have built for them. This one was special though, as it was for them personally – not an investment property.
Mat and Kristle were the masterminds behind the design, and they brought to the table an appreciation for unique architecture and a flair for design and feature elements that is reflected in their amazing home.
They love Brazilian architect Arthur Casas, and parts of the design were inspired by his work. They wanted the feel of a ‘70s beach house with a modern twist.
It was also their idea to create an internal feature wall from the Red Cedar. It wraps from the exterior of the house through to the interior, giving a warm finish entering the home, and again emphasising the resort style they were trying to capture. It is their favourite feature of the home.
They were also the genius behind one of the most unique features of the home – the mid-level study. It has generous ceilings and creates an open space to relax and work, whilst also creating a distinctive feature at the front of the house. Mat and Kristle had a precise vision for the style of home they wanted to create, spending considerable time on design, material and fitting selection. This clarity ensured the build process was easier for everyone involved, and the final result speaks for itself. The house can be described as nothing but WOW.
What were the most important features that the client requested?
In every home we build, no matter if the detail is small or significant, every element is important to the client. Treating every request and detail with this ethos in mind is how a project should be handled by a builder and is what builds trust with the owner.
This home had such a unique design; every feature played a part in the overall aesthetic of the building.
Being a professional bathroom designer, it was important to Mathew that the main bathroom, ensuite and powder room had to be show stopping. Based on Mathew’s philosophy for the perfect bathroom, the size of each room had to be big enough to feel luxurious every day. The selection of Italian stone, amazing feature tile, features with Red Cedar and burnished brass tapware was unique, yet classic. They are the most striking bathrooms we have ever worked on.
Achieving a burnished concrete style floor was also high on Mathew and Kristle’s agenda. It is a more expensive flooring option, but perfect for modern style homes like this.
The outside cladding was another important feature, and we worked with material suppliers in Melbourne to ensure each panel was cut precisely and would fit easily when installed. We had not worked with some of these materials before, so it was also a great learning curve for us, and we are grateful Mathew and Kristle trusted our skills to handle it.
How long did the project take to complete?
The house took seven months to complete, and while it was a little longer than originally anticipated, the relationship we had built with our client over the past four years meant we could easily work through any scenario. They understood we always had their best interest at heart and would get the schedule back on track as soon as possible.
Waiting for a new home to be finished is often the hardest part for a new home builder. They have a vision and dream for a new life, in a new home and if that gets delayed, it can be a little disheartening sometimes. We understand this though, which is why it’s so important you trust your builder. We were very lucky with the McKinnons, as this was well established and they were happy to leave us to get the job done.
Were there any hiccups along the way? Did you need to solve any unforeseen problems?
Sometimes what works on paper takes a little more figuring out once the structure is erected. We had to fit around a lot of special design features and we had some extra maneuvering to run lighting along the steel frame.
We also moved a few of the windows during construction, as we realised the perspective of the windows were affecting privacy issues, as some were looking directly into neighbours’ rooms. We also moved windows to ensure the best aspect of the view.
It is a fairly tight estate and while we had easy access in the beginning, once a neighbour also commenced construction, access was more difficult – but we always found a way.
What is your favourite feature of this project?
It is really hard to pick a favourite feature in this home, as there are so many amazing elements to choose from, but the kitchen certainly deems a mention.
It is such a good design – ultra-modern with very sleek lines, push open cupboards and a large functional butler’s pantry. The combination of materials and colours is something I have never seen used before, and the way it is positioned to take advantage of the view is clever.
Like everything in this home, the design is well thought out and while minimalist, still provides a warmth you wouldn’t expect in such modern architecture.
You work with a lot of local tradesmen and suppliers. Do you feel this also helps you get a better result?
We have an amazing array of talented local tradespeople we work with. Coffs truly has some of the best tradies in the country and we’re proud to work with them; we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.
This build took 40 plus people to bring the home to life and while everyone deserves a mention, there are a few specialty trades that really worked some magic.
Marcus Phillips from Designer Living Kitchens, who has worked with G.J. Gardner for the past three years, designed the kitchen and produced the cabinetry. Stoddards lent us their expertise for the roof and installation of the feature cladding on the façade. SGA supplied the custom made windows and glass stacking doors that feature so heavily in this home, to ensure the view is on show at all times!
All suppliers we use regularly on all our homes, so they know the high level we expect, and they consistently deliver.
What are some of the challenges you face when taking on projects of this size?
With a project of this size and style, construction time is really the greatest challenge you face. With so many trades required, the job has to be properly project managed. Sometimes it’s not always possible to hit the deadlines, but we always do the best we can. Working with a number of suppliers from across the country for this job added to the pressure, but if you have good communication with all parties, you can work through anything and find a solution.
We also had to ensure every aspect of the house was compliant with coastal living standards. Homes that are positioned so close to the beach, like this one, require extra support such as stainless steel fixtures and fittings and higher grade roof components. Checks were put in place at every stage of the build to address compliance, along with independent building inspections.
What are the key ingredients to successfully building a project like this? What needs to go right?
There are three key ingredients to ensuring a successful building project, no matter what style home.
Firstly, the client needs to trust the builder and believe in their skills. Builders can help shape a project and make it work more effectively in design and affordability. The sooner you speak to a builder and seek their guidance and advice, the smoother the whole process will be. It’s nice to have a beautiful home drawn up by an external architect, but sometimes the eyes are bigger than the budget. Talking to the builder first will help you get the best result with the budget you have.
Secondly, a builder is only as good as his trades, so establishing long-lasting respectful relationships with local tradespeople is a must. They must align to your values and be willing to execute a job to the standards you expect.
Thirdly, good project management. The flow of trades is so important on any job, to ensure it gets finished on time. Without a good management system, this can quickly derail not only the construction, but the client’s satisfaction and confidence in the builder.
Was this project one of the larger ones that you have completed?
It is not the largest, but it is certainly one of the most amazing homes we have ever built. The design is superb and now that it’s finished, I can honestly say it’s my most favourite home we have built so far.
I think what sets us apart and why the McKinnons entrusted us with this build is that we’re prepared to have a crack at anything. I have a very supportive team that is not afraid to step outside the comfort zone and try something new.
However, I think the most important thing is that we simply love what we do. Seeing the delighted reactions on people’s faces when we hand them the keys to their dream home is a wonderful feeling.
Do you have any more projects like this in the pipeline?
Housing demand for beachside properties continues to rise, so we have been quoting on a few larger residential homes with beach views. Sea changes are more popular than ever, and people are realising they can have their dream home if they are willing to move out of metro areas to get it. The majority of homes we have built this year have been for people moving into the Coffs Coast region everywhere from Canada to quite a few from Sydney. With interest rates dropping again, the market is set for another resurgence, while people take advantage of this record breaking low.
What are you plans for the future?
We want to continue to maintain the exceptional level of quality and craftsmanship in our builds we hope we are becoming renowned for. We love to enter our work into awards, and this home is one we will showcase next industry award season.
What can prospective customers expect if they choose to build with you?
We are a family business that takes immense pride in what we do. We use local trades-people and local suppliers and while we build homes, we also like to think we play a part in building the community that brings home owners, investors and tenants together. When you chose a local builder, you are also investing in their knowledge. They know what’s under the soil, they know the local councils and their businesses are run by people who will benefit from the improved local community they create.
The other benefit is that when you work with G.J. Gardner Homes, there are many options for customers to consider. For people at the very start of the building journey, you can choose from a great range of specialty home designs exclusive to G.J. Gardner. Most designs have a range of facades and options to suit almost any block.
We are also happy to work with people to build a completely bespoke house, or people sometimes already have an architect plan drawn up and are simply looking for a quality builder to make it a reality, like Mathew and Kristle did. No matter the circumstance, we can work with every customer to build the house of their dreams.
We believe we go above and beyond what is expected. Building a house can be a daunting experience, and a lot of customer care is required throughout the process. Being sensitive to our customers’ needs, wants and emotions throughout is key. We always try to remember that while this is one of many builds for us, for them, it is THE build.
Testimonial Mathew & Kristle McKinnon
Having designed, developed and built over the last decade on our beautiful Coffs Coast, Mathew Mckinnon’s latest design/build project of a 1970s beach house with a modern twist was a complete change in direction for many reasons.
Tucked away among the reserve-trees, nestled high overlooking the crystal blue waters of Sapphire Beach, this is the twelfth home Mat has designed with his architect, but this one is different – he is going to keep it.
“With all of my other houses, I knew I would just “flip” (design, build and sell) them but this was different, because it was going to be a forever home,” says Mat, who’s deeply entrenched in the building industry with his business Accent Bath.
For exactly this reason, it took a special moment when he and his wife, Kristle, walked into the estate almost four years ago searching to find our dream beach block, primarily because the list of criteria was long and specific. Firstly, the location had to be perfect and walking distance to the beach.
“I absolutely love Sapphire’s bright blue water, and it’s a must to take our pride and joy, Theodore (Airedale Terrier), walking at sunset – it’s just breathtaking.”
Next on the wish list was a block that was reasonably flat because, “Building on steep blocks hurts, emotionally and financially, “Mat explains.
“The block had to have north and south aspects to engage the sun on seasonal change and this block was perfect; my wife was emotionally attached on day one!”
The house represents a warm, soft, natural tone inside, which is quite the opposite from the bold exterior presence; having a range of unique building materials gives the build character.
With the white palette of the lounge and living areas, it has soft tones of natural Western Red Cedars, vallascapes and a big fireplace to set the mood on the stormy, rainy nights.
Being in the bathroom industry, Mathew has set the benchmark with his bathroom designs:“Antique burnished tapware and freestanding baths where a must,” Mat said.
The kitchen is generous; with an extension of a butler’s pantry within the space and a luxurious Carrara marble bench top, it is now functional and attractive.
The end result is a beach house with a bit of a twist, bringing aspects of a ‘70s beach villa with a bold modern facade.
The process was fun, he says, because it was a different style of house to what he had previously done, but also because they intend to stay in the home this time.Although he admits running his business and managing the beach-house build made life quite busy, the hard work and design juggle has been worth it.
“My wife and I couldn’t be more proud of the house and its many memories to come.”