How This Serene Backyard Cabin Was Designed To Survive Floods + Bushfires

When Casey and Martin Johnston decided to build a studio in the backyard of their family home in the Byron Shire, ensuring it could endure anything from floods to bushfires was front of mind.

They purposefully raised the studio above ground and built it from a mix of water and fire-resistant materials. And lucky they did! This clever design – created with help from Büro Two – saved the property from a flood just two months after it was built.

Nestled amongst native trees, the serene and simple cabin is inspired by Japanese architecture and cabins from colder climates around the world – and you can book to stay there!

Christina Karras

Byron St Studio is a cabin and short stay accomodation located in New South Wales’ North Coast. Photo – Andy Macpherson

‘The exterior is clad in hardwood charred through a Japanese old age technique, making it both weather and fire resistant,’ owner Casey adds. Photo – Andy Macpherson

‘Being close to the ocean, we used galvanised steel posts to raise our building along with core-filled, half height Besser blocks.’ Photo – Andy Macpherson

The two-bedroom home is a deliberatly simple and serene escape from everyday life. Photo – Andy Macpherson

The design features materials that were only fire and water resistant to help the building stand the test of time in the ‘rapidly changing climate’. Photo – Andy Macpherson

The decking and balustrade are made from Australian Red Ironbark, another fire and water resistant material that’s also very sustainable. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Owners Casey and Martin Johnston of Martin Johnston Furniture. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Photo – Andy Macpherson

‘We chose not to insulate the flooring and to leave it open in the case of flood water coming in,’ Casey adds. Photo – Andy Macpherson

They used OSB (Oriented Strand Board) across the entire interiors as it’s a water-resistant material that’s also mould free in the event of a flood. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Custom-made box windows are one of the standout features of the space. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Photo – Andy Macpherson

The bookcase cleverly serves as a partition with a wardrobe on the opposite side. Photo – Andy Macpherson

A look into the blue terrazzo-filled bathroom. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Photo – Andy Macpherson

All of the property’s guests comment on how private and secure the home feels. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Casey says the design phase took a few months, while council approval took nine months but the build for both the extension and studio took just more than a year due to covid. Photo – Andy Macpherson

‘I’m proud that all our theories behind the building and design phase worked when that flood came and if we have any advice to a young people out there who plan to build their dream, I’d say doing your research pays off,’ Casey says. Photo – Andy Macpherson

Christina Karras
1st of May 2023

Owners Casey and Martin Johnston created Byron St Studio as a calming backyard escape, designed to ‘stand the test of time’, and withstand a natural disaster.

The couple previously had their family home on a vacant block on New South Wales’ North Coast and when they decided to extend their house a few years ago, they also decided to build a new studio on the same block.

‘We longed for creative space to hunker down and focus on our furniture design work [for Martin Johnston Furniture], but also wanted to have a flexible space that could accommodate an overflow of friends and family,’ Casey says.

As residents of the Byron Shire, they’d seen the devastating floods that destroyed many homes along the region and the Northern Rivers in recent years. Armed with this knowledge, they engaged the architects at Büro Two to help disaster-proof their build from suffering the same fate.

‘With our changing climate, we considered how the bushfires and floods could potentially affect our property,’ Casey adds. ‘So we purposefully raised the studio out of any threat of flood water from the nearby Brunswick River and also cladded our building in a fire resilient material.’

The exterior features hardwood that’s been charred using the Japanese shou sugi ban technique, creating a natural protective layer around the studio, while galvanised steel posts and elevate the building above the ground. Inside, they decided to use ‘very minimal materials’ in the project to keep costs down, opting to use OSB – oriented strand board, an engineered, water-resistant material that looks similar to chipboard – across the studio walls, ceiling flooring and all of Martin’s joinery.

And sure enough, when a flood hit just two months after it was built, their climate-driven approach ensured its survival. ‘Our entire yard was inundated with water yet our house and studio remained dry,’ Casey says. ‘The flood water reached the underside of our deck, and thankfully missed trickling inside the studio by a mere few centimetres!’

She adds that they also chose to use one material to make the small space feel spacious, sombre, and calm. ‘It’s fair to say that we enjoy traveling to cooler climate locations and were definitely inspired by the cabin life! We believe that you really don’t need too much to feel comfortable, so we were true to this philosophy with our layout and simplistic styling.’

The resulting studio features a blend of of grey, black and earth brown that helps it disappear into its natural surrounds. The interiors are perfectly pared-back, which is something guests have commented on since the property was opened up for short-stay accommodation bookings.

‘It’s a retreat away from the hustle and bustle of life and technology,’ Casey explains.

Book your stay at Byron St Studio here.

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