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The sand castle

Visitors to WA’s Margaret River region can often be heard declaring they never want to leave. Known for its wine, food and beautiful beaches, ‘Margs’ is a major drawcard for both international and domestic tourists. It’s a favourite weekend getaway from Perth, with many city dwellers renting or purchasing beachfront holiday homes and soaking in the Indian Ocean sunset from atop the steep sand dunes. Armand Lizee, a builder and keen surfer from Perth, was one of those frequent visitors before deciding to call Margaret River his home nearly 15 years ago. “I was attracted to Margaret River for the great surf, but it’s just a beautiful place,” Armand says. “We kept coming down to visit on the weekend and never wanted to go back. So eventually we decided to make the move.” A carpenter by trade, Armand wanted to claim his own piece of paradise while making the most of a healthy custom home-building market. “There are some really nice houses down here. Often the intention is to build a beautiful holiday home, and inevitably people end up loving it so much they move permanently.”

A castle in the sand

In 2005, Armand started Paradigm Construction, which has earned a reputation for building exceptional quality homes in the South West. Paradigm recently won Western Australia’s top building award for a breathtaking oceanfront home in Yallingup, about half an hour’s drive from Margaret River. As well as being named Top Home at the 2019 Master Builders-Bankwest Housing Excellence Awards, the project took out Best Country Home and a slew of trade awards for plastering, paving, ceilings, plasterboard linings and external finishes. Resembling a medieval castle set high on a hilltop, the fortress-like home is built to withstand the coastal elements with its formidable exterior dominated by concrete and stone. A heavy, studded double front door leads to interior features including huge wooden exposed beams and a tower staircase. Designed by Spanish architect Javier Barba, it’s a building made to last centuries, yet the level of precision achieves a distinct luxury feel. “The house sits very quietly up on the hill,” says Armand. “The scale of it is huge but you don’t realise it because it’s so tucked away.” That deceptive ‘tucked away’ feeling is achieved by building the house into a sand dune, a technique which presented the project’s main challenge. “Almost half of it is actually underground, so we had to move the sand dune, build the underground part and then bring the rest of the sand dune back to its original position.” Other challenges included building a pool fence out of 20-tonne granite boulders, and importing 3000 tonnes of granite from across the South West. But none of these challenges were enough to put Armand and his team off. “As soon as I found out the architect was Javier Barba, I had to be involved,” Armand says. “His work is really special.”

It’s all about quality

Armand and his team are “fanatical” about quality and the trades they choose to work with are equally proud of their work. “We generally work with the same trades on every job, so everyone gets used to working together. Trades are chosen based on whether they can work well with the team and whether they ‘get it’. It’s not just about price— it’s about delivering a quality finish every time.” Supervising multi-year, multi-million dollar builds means Armand can’t be everywhere at once—so he relies on his team to identify any issues that arise. “It’s a bit like coaching a football team,” says Armand. “If your players have never played alongside each other before, how can you predict the result? Rather than swapping in five new players every week, we work with trades we know and trust and who share our commitment to quality. That way, we can deliver consistently great results.”

A people-first approach

Despite the growing list of prestigious awards, Armand says his proudest achievement is nurturing the careers  of those around him and watching them grow. “I’m just happy to see our tradespeople doing well and becoming experts in their respective fields,” he says. “The plasterer who did the Yallingup house is a young guy whose boss had injured his knee and couldn’t continue, so he took the job on and ended up winning Plasterer of the Year for it. Moments like these make me really proud.” Armand is driven by doing the best job for both the client and himself—and it’s proving a winning formula. “A comfortable home is such an integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating a happy life, and I enjoy helping people build homes that reflect who they are,” he says. “When a client thanks you because they’re genuinely enjoying life in their new home, that’s a great feeling.”

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