Exploring the simplicity and appeal of Box Modern home design

Loving Box Modern homes? You’re not alone: this popular look is a modern style of architecture ideally suited to the Australian way of life that just continues to grow in popularity.

Our research as part of the Modern Homes Forecast 2024 reveals that there are two distinct ways in which dwellings interplay with their surroundings, evident in their design and façade – protectionism and collectivism.

James Hardie has collaborated with architect Joe Snell on our Box Modern Design Handbook: the simplicity and flexibility offered by Box Modern offer myriad lifestyle opportunities. Here, he helps us decode this popular look.

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Read on to discover:

  • The key features of Box Modern homes

  • Why is it so perennially popular in Australia and New Zealand?

  • How protectionism is informing Box Modern house design

What are the key features of Box Modern home design?

The Box Modern style is characterised by large blocks or cube-shaped volumes that are stacked, intersecting, or arranged to form compelling, contemporary residences. Think of homes distinguished by sharp geometric shapes that create visually striking exteriors.

“The whole concept is that you don't see diagonal shapes, it's more about presenting a series of boxes that are layered,” explains architect Joe Snell.

“A Box Modern building can be just a single storey, but it can also be two storeys, creating the opportunity to push and pull the elevations or façade of those boxes back and forth.”

One of the key features includes parapet walls that hide the roof line, making it appear flat. The look is bold and modern, with clean lines in panelling or even layouts distinguishing each box shape. It often embraces an achromatic colour palette, leaning into grey, white and black to give a high-end feel. Protruding windows and window hoods are often used to accentuate the boxy form.

Futureflip’s Palm Springs-inspired Brolga project – a home in the heart of Sydney’s Cronulla – is a fantastic example of Box Modern design with a coastal spin.

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“When we were designing this home, we leaned into the ‘box with angles’ style of Box Modern house, which typically incorporates cantilevers to bring a lot of definition with an impressive streetscape,” explains Neil Hipwell, Company Director at Futureflip.

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The right products can also enhance the functionality and aesthetic of a Box Modern design. The Futureflip team knew they had to use products that would align with the show-stopping façade the homeowners were after. The team used Linea™ Weatherboards to strike the balance between a softer coastal feel and the boldness of Box Modern design.

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“The horizontal lines of Linea™ Weatherboard work together to create a sense of geometric cohesion and together really encapsulate the Box Modern style,” Hipwell says.

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What makes Box Modern so perennially popular in Australia and New Zealand?

The Box Modern home has taken Australia and New Zealand by storm, symbolising the rise of contemporary home design, and has been widely embraced by architects, designers and builders.

The reason is that homeowners, renovators and new home builders now have more access to design inspiration than ever before, thanks to our increasingly digitised world. These accelerated digital behaviours are here to stay, with social media and image-sharing platforms showcasing home interiors and exteriors to an ever-growing audience, leading to a true democratisation of design.

The Box Modern style is the epitome of democratic design as it provides a blank canvas look to suit individual preferences. It allows the freedom and creativity to be bold and compelling. Box Modern homes can be grandiose, with multiple boxes on top of boxes, or more humble in approach.

Climate and landscape also play a part. “Another reason we can do Box Modern so successfully in Australia is that it doesn't snow much and therefore you can have a relatively flat roof, which Box Modern requires,” adds Snell.

What is protectionism and why is it important in Box Modern architecture?

We’re seeing a distinct trend in Box Modern homes in how they interplay with their surroundings. Protectionism in simple terms is a fear of the unknown: a desire to withdraw from society and to cocoon in the perceived safety of home.

Many factors are driving this trend in our post-pandemic world – people are simply re-evaluating their priorities, with health and wellbeing coming out on top. Furthermore, lifestyles have changed, with so many more people now working from home, or leaning into multigenerational living. And, Australia is amid a cost-of-living and housing crisis – all of these may be factors in an individual’s desire to withdraw into the sanctity of home for privacy and safety.

Snell agrees that now more than ever before, Australians are feeling a need to control their surroundings, and their home’s exterior presentation may offer a way to do that. “People want to feel safe when they get home, they want to cocoon.”

This can be expressed literally, such as in a bunker-style design, where the exterior might be more dominant, in contrast to the warmth of the interior where a Box Modern expression is simple and pared-back.

The Rainbow Residence in Rainbow Beach, Queensland from Nick Hayes Constructions demonstrates how Box Modern can deliver on this need for privacy and solitude. The exterior is a textbook example of minimalist modern: clean lines, a hidden roofline, minimal windows, and expertly scaled ‘boxes’ that create this home’s unique exterior form.

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Inspired to learn even more about Box Modern design? Download our Box Modern Design Handbook to find out everything you need to know about this popular look.

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