Subtropical design tips

Subtropical design tips

Renovations, Tips and Advice, Lifestyle

With the return of winter’s cooler nights and wonderfully warm sunshine-filled days, I thought I would share 5 top tips for subtropical design which will enrich your lifestyle and your home.

We are so very lucky to have a subtropical climate which lends itself perfectly to an outdoor lifestyle and what better time to consider subtropical design than winter?

Our winters, whilst having the odd chilly day, seldom produce the icy frosts found south of the border. Likewise, our summers lack the intense, dry heat of the southern states, and cooling breezes can be found on most blocks of land in Brisbane.

Subtropical design creates a strong connection between the inside and outside areas of the home, enabling us to enjoy our climate in comfort. It takes advantage of nature’s assets, keeping our homes cool in summer and warm in winter without consuming huge amounts of energy.

In essence, a subtropical design strives to achieve four key goals:

  1. Controlling temperature with orientation design
  2. Managing the flow of air movement through cross-ventilation
  3. Reducing energy consumption by using insulation and designing for best orientation
  4. Creating a link between indoor and outdoor spaces.

morningside renovation dining and living space

There are various ways in which these aims are achieved. Each goal cannot be achieved in isolation and must take into consideration your home’s aspect and location.

For example, the temperature can be controlled by simple measures like ceiling and wall insulation and using roof ventilation to allow heat to escape from the roof cavity. As orientation is vital due to the humidity in our climate, combining these measures with a design that directs natural breezes through the home can dramatically improve the comfort of the home without the need for artificial conditioning of the interior air through air-conditioners and heaters. In our climate orientation is vital due to the humidity.

Subtropical Design Tips

My 5 top tips for subtropical design can have you thinking about how you can maximise your lifestyle through your home renovation plans.

  1. Open Planned Living Areas: Escaping heat and humidity are important considerations for anyone living in Queensland. By creating an open-planned exterior and interior design, it is possible to maximise the flow of air through your home and improve cross ventilation. Brisbane is blessed with cooling breezes so it is important that cross ventilation is incorporated to reduce energy usage and improve summer living. Open planned living areas and correct orientation allow you to take advantage of this cross ventilation.
  2. Shaded Decks: Even though Brisbane’s climate is more moderate than those of other cities, you cannot be sitting directly in the sun for any length of time. Having shaded decks reduces direct heat and captures cooling breezes, creating comfortable outdoor living areas.
  3. Verandahs and/or Wide Eaves: Direct sunlight creates heat in homes, which is desirable in winter, but undesirable in summer. Fortunately, the summer sun travels in a higher arc through the sky than the winter sun does. This means that by designing for best orientation, well-designed verandahs or large eaves can be built in such a way that they keep the summer’s sun off your walls and windows, yet allow the lower winter’s sun to warm your home.
  4. Using Lightweight Materials: When building a home it is important to use lighter materials where possible. Insulating with lightweight materials that do not retain unwanted heat are ideal for areas that receive direct sunlight. A good subtropical design aims to reduce the amount of direct summer’s sun on brick or concrete surfaces.
  5. Garden Design: Planting trees on the eastern and western sides of your home can reduce the discomfort of the summer sun. Reducing the amount of paving and concrete footpaths around your home can also significantly lower your summertime temperatures. Ground cover plants are ideal for this purpose and require significantly less water than grass lawns.

Subtropical designs not only reduce power consumption, they also add tremendous value in terms of lifestyle and liveability. By creating designs that give a feeling of connection with the outdoors you can instantly create spaces that are visually appealing. Relaxing, inviting spaces – where the stresses of day to day life seem a world away.

morningside renovation kitchen subtropical design

Dion Seminara Architect


Hi, I am Dion Seminara, practicing architect and licensed general builder for 20 years as well as an environmental sustainable design (ESD) expert. I graduated from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with honours, QLD in 1989. Registered as an architect in 1991 and registered as a builder in 1992, I am also a fellow member of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). Having received 12 ArCHdes Residential Architecture Awards, LJ Hooker Flood Free Home Design Award and the 2016 AIA Regional Commendation for Public Architecture, my expertise with both residential renovation (to all types of houses, especially Queenslanders, 50s/60s/80s), new contemporary homes and luxury residences has earned me a reputation as one of Brisbane's architectural specialists in lifestyle design architecture, interior design and landscape design.