A guide to architectural styles through time on the Beaches

18 March 2021

We often get asked about housing and architectural styles and what eras they belong to, and it is always fun to look through old pictures of our area and seeing the huge transformation it has had over the years when it comes to property styles. So, here is your guide to property on the Northern Beaches through the ages!

Early 1820s: Scattered settlement began in the Manly Cove and North Harbour areas. Henry Gilbert Smith, an English businessman living in Sydney, saw that Manly – with an ocean beach on one side and fine sandy cove on the other – could provide a great “watering place” for the people of Sydney, as Brighton did for Londoners.

~1822: An early map shows a plan of a proposed township of Manly. Certainly the quiet waters of North Harbour would have afforded greater protection for the small boats that were the only link with Sydney during that period. Fishing was the main enterprise and many shanties were constructed along Manly Cove for overnight accommodation.

1827: The first permanent house was built in Manly. There are no records of exactly where this was but records talk about early settlement of slab huts by fishermen and their families.

1837: Fairlight House was built, this was the era of the Georgian style stone cottage and there were many examples of these along Manly Cove and what was to become along Pittwater Road with many slab hut humpies around the district.

Fairlight House. Courtesy Manly, Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society

1850: Sandstone quarry and workers cottages were built around Fairlight and Manly in the attached and free standing Georgian geometric style.

1880: Ornate Victorian terraces and decorative Italianate Mansions were being built on the Eastern Hill and along the main roads close to the village. Architects of the time had free reign during this booming period and the space, design and details were everything.

1890: Beginning of Art Nouveau period where stained glass was all the rage. This was the precursor to the Federation style that filled in the Eastern Hill as well as the slopes leading up to Fairlight with magnificent homes adapting to the modern functional times being all the rage. The English Arts and Crafts movement also had an influence on the architecture of Australia, from the late 1800s, where the style of building was adapted to the Australian landscape and conditions. Emerging around 1890, the Arts and Crafts movement in Australia flourished until the outbreak of World War 1, (1914-1918).

1900: The Federation period begins, with its ‘heyday’ from 1905 to 1915 – referred to at the time as the Edwardian Period with Queen Anne style. Filigree features and weatherboard bungalow style. These spread from Fairlight to Balgowlah and along the beaches to Freshwater, Dee Why, Collaroy, Narrabeen and Mona Vale villages as the Northern Beaches transport routes opened up. Semi-detached cottages were being built on spec all over Manly, Fairlight and Balgowlah which increased the housing stock dramatically by placing two homes on the one block.

1925: Art Deco started after the First World War in 1920, with the advent of the Californian Bungalow, Old English and Spanish Mission all through the same period. During this time (1925 to 1939) many of the small Manly 4 to 8 unit blocks were built as well as more semi-detached cottages. The bigger blocks of Balgowlah and Seaforth saw the construction of larger homes in these styles as well as big homes gracing the escarpments of Curl Curl, Dee Why, Collaroy and Newport with a smaller mixture of mansions popping up in Avalon, Whale beach and Palm Beach as holiday homes for the Mosman and Eastern Suburbs set of the roaring 20’s.

1930 –1940’s: The P&O (cruise liner) style is the most noticeably Art Deco style with it’s rounded corners and flat parapet roofs during this period as well as the advent of the depression era “Austere” style where cost was a big issue so design , style, space and finishes were sacrificed. Many of these are seen in the lower Balgowlah Heights and Seaforth areas as well as Dee Why and Mona Vale.

1945 -1950: With the advent of WWII, building almost ground to a halt and the austere period took over with very simple double or triple fronted brick or weatherboard homes being built. Post War from 1945 onwards, the size of homes were limited and the mass produced brick or fibro homes appeared everywhere in Manly Vale, North Balgowlah, Allambie, North Manly, Narraweena and Collaroy Plateau etc. This was also the period of massive Social housing construction on the Northern beaches through the Housing Commission. This was the beginning of the Mid-century style of architecture where architecture was being revalued.

Warringah Road and Wakehurst Parkway intersection, c.1950

1960: This decade saw a very modern style appear into the second coming of the Modernism period, but at the same time the mass produced red texture brick veneer appeared. There were new subdivisions across Sydney such as Allambie Heights, Beacon Hill, Wheeler Heights, Killarney Heights, Frenchs Forest and Cromer. This was also when most of the 3 storey walk up unit blocks were built all over from Dee Why, Balgowlah, Fairlight, Manly Vale, Freshwater and Collaroy. Avalon, Newport and Mona Vale were booming with construction of all types of property from the modest to the majestic and the multitude of waterfront locations were being snapped up as opportunistic ventures for yachtsman’s paradises. The high quality homes being built in the new subdivisions of Balgowlah Heights and Seaforth led the way for the ‘jetset age’ which was closely followed by high quality homes on the Collaroy slopes at Long reef and the opening of the Elanora Heights subdivisions.

1975: It was boom times and the subdivisions of Sydney’s green belt bushlands (Crown Land) were opening up in Frenchs Forest , Belrose, Davidson, Allambie Heights, Cromer, Bilgola Plateau and parts of Seaforth. The project home was all the rage and the Petitt and Sevitt was the star, with split levels for steep blocks and even steel framing. This was also the period when the high rises of Fairlight, Manly and Freshwater were built under controversial circumstances. This is also when the townhouse becomes popular with the retiree generations of the 70’s with Fairlight and Balgowlah being the most popular areas for them.

1980: The advent of the ‘Pop Top’ renovation/extension appeared as a cheap and nasty way of getting more space out of the 1920’s to 1950’s smaller homes, as well as a change to a Tuscan styled more traditional style façade on new project homes. It is seen as a mixed decade as there were no real outstanding styles to emerge as everything old was new again and as such much of the positive design elements were absent

1990: The project home made a big comeback with the mock Federation Style following on from the renovation mayhem of the 70s and 80s that saw the older 1920’s homes much desired and fixed up. Dual occupancy was all the rage and back yards were turned into cash with new homes being built and either sold off or used as a retirement home or investment. Good design was a bit missing during this period but by the end of the decade architecture was making a comeback.

2000: Modern Architecture is now everywhere and good taste is back in style with stunning new homes being built all over Clontarf, Seaforth and Balgowlah Heights as well as the views based suburbs on the upper Northern Beaches. New apartment developments in Manly along the beachfront and the new peninsula development in the Village are setting new standards of apartment living which is flowing onto Collaroy and other locations.

2005: The McMansion is now the favoured building style for new areas and the Project builders are putting quality back into their product at last and old 50’s and 60’s houses are being demolished throughout the region being replaced with new homes. There is a new wave of better quality apartment building happening in Dee Why, Collaroy and Narrabeen as well as Mona Vale and Newport as opportunities open up for retirement living as well.

2010: The new Stockland development in Balgowlah was a game changer and the urban consolidation movement gained momentum with massive redevelopments in Manly and lots of new developments across the beaches. Sepp5 or aged housing (over 55’s) is also prominent in many locations and the favoured architecture style is becoming very contemporary in a beachside living way in most new homes and developments. Project builders are offering a whole new variety for the Northern Beaches that didn’t exist 5 years earlier.

Stockland development in Balgowlah

2015: The popularity of the so called “HAMPTONS” style of project home takes control on the northern beaches. It is probably better referred to as ‘Modern Coastal Australian’ than Hamptons as it is based more on Colonial tropical styles seen in tropical Queensland. Despite this misconception the style has been a game changer in the knock-down rebuild space that has seen the fear of over capitalisation almost disappear.

The Hamptons/Modern Coastal Australian trend has been very popular on the Beaches.

2015 – 2020: Another big shift has been the proliferation of very high end architecturally designed trophy homes on the NB with $10million + sales becoming common place. There is no fear in going all the way in capitalising on outstanding sites on the region. Along with this is the advent of the high quality, high priced apartment developments all the way along the beaches where space, light, design and indoor/outdoor living was the focus. Renovations are happening everywhere with a building boom that is transforming the streetscapes of the Beaches. This, along with a shift in the way we live and work in our homes through Covid-19, has had our area recognised as one of Australia’s premier lifestyle locations.