New openings for a favourite material

Jul 15, 2019

Ross McGravie


The timeless wonder of wood in old and new homes never grows tired for Andy Kouniakis. Together with his brother Tas, Andy operates the family-run Huntingdale Timber Windows in Melbourne's eastern suburbs – manufacturing timber windows and doors using Victorian ash hardwood sourced in the nearby Dandenong area and harvested at Victorian mills.

"It's therapeutic working with timber as you're close to nature every day. It's so easy to work with and so aesthetically appealing," Andy said.

"Timber is warm (also to the touch) and unlike anything else, I can shape it and mould it and essentially do anything I want to it. I feel it's alive - a living, breathing thing and always on the move - not like a piece of steel, because in time it will move and react to the environment around it."

Much of Andy's business revolves around retro-fitting windows or period doors to restore the charm to Victorian and Edwardian residences, but also includes installation of bi-fold doors, french doors, full-height glass sliding doors and timber windows, manufacturing everything in-house with the exception of water-resistant merbau sills.

"Back in the 1970s many people bastardised the look of their home (for the sake of modernity) and went for a cheap, aluminium window that destroyed the whole character of the house," Andy said.

"Now many people are looking to restore the wooden windows, architraves and solid-core panelled doors that were original features to bring back the charm that was intended."

Andy said double glazing on double-hung sash windows was one of the innovations that had transformed period homes in recent years.

"Everything is changing to improve home energy ratings," Andy said.

"Double glazing has been massive in Europe for 30 or 40 years, but with climate change home owners are adopting and it has been really prominent over the past decade.

"Even that has advanced in terms of thermal properties. They'll use monolithic film on one side of the Low E glass, where the UV bounces off the glass. The whole point in summer is to heat up the outside of the window so it's cool on the inside, and it has the opposite effect in winter by keeping the heat inside."

So much so that wood has been shown to be superior to aluminium in preventing the transfer of heat, otherwise known as thermal warming, even with double-glazed windows.

It's another reason, coupled with the resulting energy savings, why wood is often viewed as the ultimate renewable.

Not only can more trees be planted for use by future generations as a sustainable long-term solution to benefit the environment, workplace studies have also highlighted the presence of wood can relieve stress and improve productivity. It's a win-win scenario for you, your colleagues and the planet.

The introduction of timber features, such as full-height pivot doors or louvre windows, have brought a sense of warmth and familiarity to modern homes.

Andy said the enduring beauty of timber was simply a matter of regular maintenance. "The major problem is people don't maintain their windows or doors. They think that once it's painted or oiled, they don't touch it again," he said.

"Every five years or so, they should check the underside of windows for any soft spots and check the underside of end grains that they are painted and primed. "Look after them and they will last and bring you joy for a very long time."

An often-overlooked factor in the longevity of timber is where it is used. "Much will depend on orientation and whether they face north or west at the hottest parts of the day. Another problem is painting in dark colours, which retain heat. It's always best to use a cool palette," he said.

"The timber is a living organism, so it shouldn't be a surprise if it ends up moving or swelling across the seasons."

Andy said the new BAL (Bushfire Attack Level) codes had limited what timber he could use in his work, with Western red cedar increasingly rare in fit-outs. But climatic conditions were often the largest determining factor in what timber Australians could use in their home.

"Here in Victoria we use Victorian ash. In New South Wales they use New Guinea rosewood, and up in Queensland they use softer woods as hardwoods can crack under those conditions," he said.

"I like the idea that we're using sustainable local timbers and we're not logging massive forests that we're never going to replant again. You know it's helping the environment, but the timber also has a lovely calming influence."

It's one reason why Andy always specifies the use of timber when drafting plans to add that reassuring touch around the home. "My father was a carpenter, my father's father was a carpenter, so I've been surrounded by tools and timber all my life," he said.

"It's only natural then you'd want to surround yourself with timber at all times."