About Custom Designs

Our Design Philosophy

Behind every great Storybook design is the creative application of design principles and philosophy that we at Storybook really believe in. This knowledge has been passed down in family businesses for generations, and hopefully will continue even further into the future.

Hi, I’m Phil Malcolm Storybook’s senior director. The origin of most of these principals was with my late father Ralph, a truly amazing man, incredible depth of knowledge, a lover of humanity, a philosopher and a teacher to anyone who was in his presence. In respect to philosophy, he believed in spreading what he called “the law of abundance “, I’ll share it with you.

‘’Make all your knowledge available to everyone you meet, treat every person with service and love , and abundance in all things flows to and through you , provided you follow a single caveat - act without any thought of receiving abundance yourself , rather strive to develop the desire and sincerity to simply live this way for its own sake”


As a home designer, (as with all things) Dad was self-taught, his knowledge gained from a lifetime of intelligent application of obsessively absorbing information about everything. In respect to building, his father Emil was a shipwright (a carpenter on board sailing ships) who loved teaching his son how to work with wood whenever he was home. Emil, my grandfather, was a Danish immigrant, a man of striking presence with a strong and forthright philosophy, he taught my father that confidence in knowledge begat confidence in oneself. As a younger man dad tried his hand at almost every trade , I couldn’t believe his knowledge in carpentry , roofing , plastering , tiling , plumbing , painting , concreting etc.. , he mastered all these skills and the use of all the associated tools and equipment ,accordingly , he could build almost anything . This knowledge helped him greatly when he later became a home designer, real estate agent and developer, skills he described as necessary to be able to show people the most reliable way of how to achieve their financial independence. Dad was a strong advocate of learning to “ do it yourself “ and to “ think different “ his influence here induced lasting changes to my thinking and is probably the reason why I’ve always rejected main stream methods in my quest for something better and why I encourage my Storybook clients to embrace Owner building . By my twenty first birthday dad had taught me many practical building skills and I’d already become a licensed real estate agent before I first developed an interest in wanting to learn how to design homes. Of course, I turned to dad who at that time was primarily involved in home design. There weren’t the fantastic computer tools we use today, then it was just my drafting board next to my fathers. I remember watching in amazement as he would quickly pencil sketch a design, floor plan, rough perspectives and site layout (all close to scale) in a flash. One minute a blank piece of paper the next the beginning of a fantastic design already showing attention to detail. How? Of course, Dad understood all the regulations, building and site constraints, but according to him, at `its most basic this skill was achieved mostly because of his intuitive application of what he found to be the ten most important design principals. He insisted that it was this that allowed him to map out the rough design as if by magic. Dad was way ahead of his time in his understanding of what makes a great home design and his teachings remain as valid today as then. In no particular order here are those basic principles that dad was applying way back in the late 1960s.



    Every building site relates to an environment, existing or planned and has its particular orientation to the sun and elements. Everybody loves a bright home that looks out onto something beautiful. Connecting to the outside visually and directly from inside the home whether it be to catch the sun, your decks, garden, views, a water feature or pool, a beautiful tree next door or a sunset, helps give a home its soul. Maintaining or creating a connection to nature in the home is possible even on the smallest sites, dad would have loved the photo of the delightful natural looking waterfall pond next to my own al-fresco deck, in a space of less than 30 M2. (see IDENTIFY WITH YOUR HOME) One of the reasons we present our designs today in landscaped rendered 3Ds is to help illustrate to clients how the garden spaces and environment relate to our layout of their home.



    Basically means, disturb the ground as little as possible leaving the top soil intact for the garden and moulding the home to follow any fall. Obviously, there is usually some site preparations but avoiding unnecessary cuts and retaining walls has distinct advantages. The principals of connecting with the environment (except for the capturing of views) can usually be applied much better the closer the home remains to the ground and the less the vegetation is removed. On sloping land sculpting and layering can create far more interesting design outcomes that maintain the natural relationship with the landscape. Often huge savings can be made especially when this design approach avoids the need for soil to be taken away or for the building of costly engineered retaining walls. Storybook’s renowned success in solving the problems of sloping land owes much to the general adherence to this principal.


    My father knew that the kitchen is the heart of the home and he would continually remind me that the further the coffee is away from a living area the less it will be used. If too far away a deck or lounge room will become a dead zone. Whenever people gather for a length of time refreshment is required, and the closer the better. That’s why the island bench has become so popular and an open servery from a kitchen to an al-fresco feels so great. One of the biggest mistakes to the function and lifestyle offered by a home is to ignore this basic principal.



    The saying familiarity breeds contempt feels awful when applied to our family doesn’t it, because we love them, right. If only that were always true, the fact is we are usually around our family more than our friends and it is exactly that familiarity as families grow and mature that eventually can causes disruptions to the peace. Every family must contend with this. My father realised that a home that is designed to respect the opportunity for privacy greatly reduces this tension. The design should encourage everyone to come together as much as possible yet also provide that they can retreat to an area they call their own. As the family moves away from the baby and toddler stage the requirement to satisfy the need for privacy for every family member increase year after year. Today we call this zoning.


    Although controlling budget is ultimately the client’s responsibility, (they after all set their wish list), the home designers roll, and responsibility should be to provide a design outcome that reflects the client’s requirements as cost effectively as possible. (once you understand the Storybook approach, you’ll see that’s exactly what we do) The balancing act of matching client aspirations and their preferred budgets is incredibly difficult because it’s natural for people to always aim for more than their budget allows. However, what is always possible is careful efficient design that holds fast to client aspersions while avoiding the trap of always giving the client everything they ask for when the result will be an unwanted budget over-run , rather the designer must concentrate on providing a solution employing creative cost saving measures that will result in a design that satisfies all his client’s needs and still delivers the look , feel and perception of what they are looking for . A designer should learn or develop and “hardwire “ an arsenal of cost saving abilities that are then intuitively available to be applied at every stage of the design process.


    So often designers simply ignore how an area is to be furnished resulting in loss of function, the space is just too small , the heater is located in the wrong place , the full length window should have been half height to allow for a kids desk , there’s no place for Aunty Betty’s buffet etc.. The furnishing of every single room must be properly thought through at the design stage. In any event a good designer should always know the minimum practical room sizes and shapes that work for the intended use of all areas and will always make sure that the home is fit for function and furnishing.



    Every family member will appreciate and get excited about a space they feel is specially provided for them. The dream kitchen and pantry for the cooks of the house, an oversized garage and workshop for Dad so he can at last restore that classic car, play room and basketball hoop for the kids, a special make up area for Mum, a nature enclosure for the family cats, etc. and for those who can afford it, fantastic sharing things like a pool, art room, billiards room, gym or theatre room. When I was a kid I remember how fantastic it was when my dad set up a simple brightly lit workbench just for me to make model aeroplanes. No one else could use this space or my speciality tools and paints. Dad firmly believed in the principal that creating a space for something to happen in is the first step to manifestation. At work when he was designing, he would always talk about how he imagined different spaces and nooks he created could be used by individual household members.


    The most tragic thing that can happen to a family is the breakdown of relationships, divorce, estranged children, sibling alienation etc. Why would my father include this objective in his list of design principles? How can the design of a home help? Dad was a very insightful and compassionate man with a great understanding of human nature, he explained that all associations happen in a space and when it comes to home design the relationship of spaces and the provision of properly organised gathering areas, like a fantastic barbecue area or a chess playing nook, greatly effects family communication and participation and therefore personal relationships. Basically in home design you create these spaces for something positive to happen in, there is an objective in every space and a great designer will imagine it being effectively used by the family and intuitively get its placement, shape, size and features right. Central to this mindset is making sure the design encourages frequent and regular contact between all family members because maintaining relationships is ultimately all about communication.



    On tight budgets many designers seem to give storage a back seat because it’s so expensive to provide, it would be better though for them to save every other way they can but not at the expense of storage. The fact is every home even Granny flats must have at least the essential storage requirements. The need for storage increases in proportion to the size of the home and number of occupants. Without adequate storage family homes become a mess with stuff sometimes everywhere in plain sight. Often the use of an area increases the need, an art room needs a place to store the canvases, making jams and fruit preserving needs a larger pantry, a lot of tools requires a bigger workshop etc. As well as robes and cupboards Dad always included cost effective storage areas like pantries, walk in robes, attic roof spaces, under stair storage etc wherever possible.


    Whenever you see a house being auctioned with 200 people out the front, all desperate to buy it you can be sure it’s a beautiful looking home with strong street appeal and high character. Dad understood that both pride of ownership and higher resale value is closely linked to this principal, he insisted that as a home designer the greatest service you can give a client to increase their own enjoyment and financial wellbeing is to design them a beautiful home that captures proportion, scale and balance in a pleasing to the eye artful and creative way . At the encouragement of my father, while I was still a young man, I left the family real estate and design business to develop my own building company exclusively providing such much-needed high character homes. I realised that if I was going to be able to offer all my clients a great home, I would have to create them myself. Later, when our Storybook family business was established in 1990 there was no question that my already established tradition of creating beautiful high character homes of superior street appeal would continue.


    My own contribution to add to dads list of design principles (largely missing from the general architecture of the early 70’s when I started to design)


    THIS relates to my personal love of cathedral ceilings to open plan living rooms, wide openings to useable covered al-fresco living and a preference for light weight architecture. From the beginning these features became a hallmark of my architecture which has carried through to also form the foundation of Storybook’s DNA today.


    With the introduction of mandatory energy ratings home designers are under pressure to keep ceiling heights as low as possible. The standard ceiling height for new homes throughout Australia since the second half of the 1900’s is 2400mm. There has been a progressive general lowering of ceiling heights from 3600mm to 3000mmm to 2700mm in the first half of the 1900’s to what would have to surely be the absolute practical minimum since. For me this minimum height has always been just too low and yet there are sound reasons to reduce the volume of a house, not least of all cost of construction and today the reduction of heating and cooling bills. (For example, just increasing the height from 2400mm to 2700mm increases these costs by over 11 %)

    The amazing thing I found is that by increasing the standard height just a little and designing where possible a couple of major rooms to have cathedral ceilings any claustrophobic feeling seems to completely evaporate, a great compromise. The decision to include cathedral ceilings has a lot to do with the direction Storybook architecture has taken from the start, e.g. you will notice that we often combine two storey and single storey shapes together to enable the inclusion of a cathedral ceilinged area in the single storey part. These are the rooms where we most often include cathedral ceilings, the main living room (essential), secondary living rooms like play rooms or sitting rooms and master bedroom. Almost all Storybook designs incorporate at least one beautiful cathedral ceiling to the main living area which greatly increases the overall perception of space in the home.



    Never underestimate the positive effect on the human psyche of a lovingly created garden embracing a home. It is there to be enjoyed. On a beautiful day, morning or evening, what beats a living area that has a big wide opening into a breezy and protected al-fresco zone, flood lit at night and shaded by day . Surrounded by garden and lawn, a beer or wine in one hand and tending the barbie with the other, it’s the great Aussie way to relax and entertain your friends and family. All Storybook designs, even granny flats, place great importance on providing this garden connection. Today there’s a fabulous range of sliding and folding doors available that offer huge openings, many with hidden fly screen options. The ultimate is to set up your barbie or even an associated outdoor kitchen nice and close to the main living area - watch your lifestyle and relaxation increase dramatically. If there’s one part of the garden that needs to be fabulous, we suggest it should be around the al-fresco area where people love to gather, make sure you spotlight it for night time ambiance.


    In all the time I was under my Dads wing as a budding designer he never designed anything other than brick and tile homes and yet he loved weatherboard iron roofed homes of the past. His explanation was the resistance in the marketplace to the incredible high maintenance of weatherboard at that time. In the late 60’s long lasting acrylic paints and low maintenance colour bond roofing were hardly used just emerging products. Dad designed beautiful architecture mainly by employing creative articulation and was a master at complicated rooflines and asymmetric balance. He especially loved creating high character traditional looking architecture with extensive use of gables combined with verandas. These types of homes in brick were more expensive to build but Dad controlled costs with his superior design skills that provided super-efficient open plan living internal layouts with restricted hallways, maintaining room size but reducing overall squares.

    When l became a young builder, I was like dad obsessed with high character architecture, but I wanted even better cost control and I realised that the time was right to reintroduce the (now lower maintenance) weatherboard home into the marketplace, only my version. I found that everything I had learned from my father could be done better and cheaper by rejecting the sameness of brick and tile and embracing lightweight architecture. (see low maintenance) The cost efficiency and versatility of the exciting new Colourbond roofing developed by John Lysaght in 1966 totally captured my imagination, an Aussie product I’m so proud to promote, I thought then as now that it was absolutely the best and most beautiful roofing ever developed. Colourbond and weatherboard cladding were perfect partners for the complicated attic style dormer window homes I was designing at that time. I loved the relaxed feel and design flexibility of this type of construction so much that although it seemed I was alone in the marketplace in a sea of brick and tile competitors I elected to exclusively design and sell only affordable high character Colourbond roofed weatherboard homes. Seventeen years later our Storybook family business was established. From 1990 to this day at Storybook we have maintained this same preference for LIGHT WEIGHT ARCHITECTURE. This combined with CUSTOM DESIGN forms the temple of our design belief system.

    These design principals have proved to be fundamental in enabling us to consistently deliver fabulous high character and affordable design solutions for our clients.