Each year the Houses Awards – a celebration of the best designed contemporary homes across the country – shows us inside very differently designed spaces, introducing us to elegant and forward-thinking ways to approach residential living.

This year the top gong went to Brisbane property Three House by architect John Ellway. The understated suburban home is designed to accommodate multiple generations and can, in the future, be adapted to create three individual dwellings as household needs change.

The House of the Year was chosen by a jury of architects and designers, and announced on July 30. Jury chair Katelin Butler, editorial director of Architecture Media, says the winning houses tell us as much about where we are as a country as they do about an individual family’s needs.

“The last year or so has reminded us to not take anything for granted,” she says. “The winning houses are exemplary built works, but the real skill is in the careful consideration of how to improve the daily lives of those who live in these homes. In particular, access to private outdoor space has certainly been given even more emphasis since the onset of the pandemic.”

Melbourne’s 8 Yard House, by architects Studio Bright and Peachy Green, collected the Garden and Landscape award for its creative courtyard design. The jury noted as much design attention was given to external spaces as to internal spaces. True to its name, the Fitzroy home has eight yards, each with a different mood and function – some flat and open for play, and others leafy and landscaped for private outdoor dining.

In Sydney, the revived Hat Factory by Welsh and Major architects was named joint winner in the House in a Heritage Context category. The Newtown factory was left partially derelict after a fire, and before that the building was a high-profile squat. There was a fear any development would erase its past, but the jury celebrated the architects for honouring its history and retaining original, deteriorated surfaces in the new residential property. The industrial staircase even got a special shout-out.

The award was shared with another Sydney building – SRG House in Balmain by Fox Johnston. The ’70s semi is one of a pair formerly owned by architect Sir Roy Grounds and his son Marr. The development retained the existing structure and its connection to surrounding bushland, adding new windows to open the house up for more natural air circulation. They also converted the 1983-built garage into a grandparent annex – another example of inclusionary design for multiple generations.

Sustainability was a recurring theme in the 11th year of the awards, the prize for which went to Peter Stutchbury Architecture for Blue Mountains development Night Sky. The building produces its own energy, collects water and is made from recycled materials. It has low-toxic finishes and fittings and low-water gardens planted with indigenous species. The jury said the home enabled its occupant, who lives with disability, to feel connected and at ease in the environment. The majority of its materials were sourced within 120 kilometres of the property, too, showing how Australian-made materials can be at the forefront of accessible, compassionate, environmentally friendly design.

See all the award winners at the Houses Awards website.