Built by Hand
STORY BY RICHARD CORNISH
Nick Andrew is a Beaumaris boy. He has that air of a kid who grew up by the sea. He has limbs slightly worn from battling against the windsurfer and a big upfront voice from talking against the wind. But Nick was an observant kid and took in all those canter levered block houses in the sand dunes as he rode around on his BMX. Those preposterous Australian modernist creations with floor to ceiling windows, flat rooves and mixed mediums where brick, steel, wood and aluminium collided to create a new form of Australian architecture. He saw it all. He saw it all when his family moved to Asia for his dad’s work. Shop houses in Singapore, the kampungs and the tower blocks of Hong Kong. It is no wonder he is one of the most sought-after builders in Victoria. A laid-back dude with an artisan’s eye for detail.
Nick has built some of the most beautiful homes and accommodation destinations in the region. Where he is different from other builders is his skill in communication. “I am brought in at an early stage of the design,” he says. “I’m bought in to liaise with the client and architect.” He is known for his ability to work with budgets and keep the essence of design and detail whilst making sure the integrity of the architects’ vision is maintained. Some call him a miracle worker. Nick simply calls himself a builder.
One of his recent builds is Oikos. It was designed by Robert Nichol and Sons as a short stay retreat at Breakneck Gorge near Hepburn. Cloaked in rusted Corten steel it sits on the side of the ridge amongst a nest of granite rocks. When hit by the first rays of the early morning sun it glows a beautiful deep gold.
The dark wood floors flow seamlessly into the bare hardwood planks that form the outside deck creating the feeling that you are living in the outdoors. It is a dramatic building.
Nick studied architecture at RMIT but moved across to construction. “There was this seminal moment when I was boy, playing with tools and building a box,” he says. “I realise that I was always going to be a builder.” He honed his skills working with Justin Abrahams of retail store Husk fame, constructing a harmonious interior using many different materials.
Readers who watch Grand Designs Australia may have seen another of Nick’s builds The Longhouse, by architect Timothy Hill of Partners Hill. This is a cooking school set in a massive greenhouse of a building where fruit trees thrive next to an Aga embedded in a central brick wall. It’s a masterpiece in combining wood, brick, stone, plants and bringing the natural world into a beautiful barn of a building. Holiday accommodation will be offered at The Longhouse from early 2020.
“I love solving problems,” says Nick. “I realised a long time ago that life is short. You work hard. So, you may as well be doing something you love.”