New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1998
From waters' edge to mountain top, the homes featured this issue offer their owners a unique relationship with their natural surroundings. Distinctly New Zealand houses, they balance the need for modern comforts with a desire to remain in touch with the land. Quite simply they are houses with soul.
An Auckland family's central Otago Retreat Carves a strong sense of place from simple forms built of weathered timber, Plaster and Stone.
at first sight the location for this Central Otago holiday home was nothing more than an exposed paddock. But with its wide views of snowcapped peaks and rolling pasture, all day sun, and elevated position it was just the environment an Auckland couple sought for a retreat that would transport them far from their normal experience of seaside living.
With grown-up children off their hands and more time to indulge in holidays, Chris and Judy James wanted a place they could comfortably disappear to for long stretches and use as a gathering place for friends and extended family. Most of all they wanted a holiday home that lacked pretension and fitted comfortably into the Central Otago landscape.
Having worked happily with Auckland architect Leo van Veenendaal on renovations to their seaside Auckland villa, it was only natural to involve him in the design of their holiday retreat. van Veenendaal, of the young Auckland practice van Veenendaal Rosnell Architecture, remembers well the day he first laid eyes on Chris and Judy's chosen hill-side site. "It had a wonderful outlook but it was a pretty exposed piece of land." With an uninterrupted view from Walter Peak to the Coronet skifield came exposure to a biting southwesterly, as well as a steep climb from the road to the prime house site. Another constraint was the time-frame in which Chris and Judy wanted to begin building. Having already endured a lengthy planning battle with the local council, they were itching to proceed.
From the start, van Veenendaal's guiding principle was to create a house appropriate to his clients, the majesty of the alpine landscape and Central Otago's characteristically simple buildings. More used to designing for Auckland's benign climate than one subject to the extremes of scorching summers and winter snow, he enthusiastically set about responding to the region's climatic challenges and rugged physical character.
Heavy timbers, schist and plaster combine with simple gable forms and a generous layout to create a strong sense of place. The decision on where to position the house was driven in large part by an existing pond. The most spectacular view, however, was in the opposite and most exposed direction.
The double-height guest wing has its own casual living area. A bridge connects a staircase with two upstairs bedrooms.
Generous openings from all the downstairs rooms enhance the experience of the landscape, while the use of plaster, timber and schist lends the house a rugged simplicity in keeping with its alpine context.
The kitchen is at the hub of the house, connecting the main living areas with the guest wing. Its soft sage green cabinetry echoes the colour of dried lichen on the weathered timber ceiling beams.
Recognising the importance of creating a welcoming arrival in such an open landscape, van Veenendaal formed a sheltered entrance courtyard between the house and a garage wing, so visitors would drive in and immediately feel contained. From here they approach the front door, sheltered by a narrow stretch of roof that forms a gateway between the house and garage building.
While the house is a protective force, generous openings provide plenty of opportunities to experience the landscape, even on the coldest winter day. French doors embrace the view on both sides of the main living/dining space, and there are direct connections to outside from all the downstairs bedrooms. Mindful of capturing as much winter sun as possible, van Veenendaal raked the roof on the main body of the house to the north and created window seats at this end of the house for winter lounging.page break
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Inside, the plan is effectively divided in two to allow the house to adapt to different occasions. When Judy and Chris are in residence on their own the double-height guest wing can be closed off, leaving them to occupy just the main living areas and their private bedroom wing. Connecting the two parts is the kitchen, which is also within easy reach of the outdoor living court where a timber and stone table is permanently set up for al fresco dining.
Furnishing a house from scratch is a big undertaking, so Judy and Chris involved interior designer Ron Cox in the selection of furniture, fabrics and colours for walls and cabinetry. Taking inspiration from the massive timber beams and schist fireplace in the living space, he has chosen furniture that is generous in scale and which has a relaxed, homely feeling.
From the weathered timbers and craggy schist through to the choice of upholstery, nothing is precious here - just restful and inviting. HBpage break
A band of high windows on the northern face of the house floods the living space with sunlight. The lounge chairs are from Robert Terry Design (09-302 2972) and the coffee table and shelving unit are by Michael Draper Design (09-376 5800).
Photography: Patrick Reynolds
Delicately slotted into Auckland's tree-clad Waitakere ranges, Graham Wrack and Neale Gover's house comfortably wears the label of a 'tree house'. It seems to grow out of the bush floor, thrusting its roof skyward to catch the sun's rays. Although its roots are firmly planted in the ground - the piles were driven down 7m into the wet earth-all its movement is upward towards the leafy canopy.
It was Graham's dream as an architect to design a house in the bush, an environment which he says lends itself to experimentation. Friend Neale added the necessary experience and enthusiasm to help make the dream happen. Rather than building to a particular client's needs and fancies, the pair decided to create the architecture first, then find someone to fall in love with it. This meant they were limited only by the site and their budget.
The site, alone however, set up some enormous challenges. After looking at a dozen sections in and around Titirangi they settled on a steeply sloping piece of land covered in bush, with a very wet substrata and a large hill to the north.
"Obviously it hadn't been built on because it was a difficult site, but during that initial half-hour walk around, I could see how a house could fit between the mature trees," says Wrack.
After a local environmental protection officer helped map out the big native trees, he set about designing a house that would comfortably stand amongst them. A soaring kahikatea is so close to the house you can reach out and touch it from the balcony and an old puriri with a trunk over a metre in diameter stands on the front boundary, its branches laden with epiphytes.
The hill to the north necessitated a house that faces south, so Graham angled the roof to follow the slope of the site and inserted a band of high windows to capture the sun. Sun floods the living space from midday in winter and all day in summer, while Graham points out that surrounding houses get no sun at all during the winter months.page break
Inside, an architect's attention to detail is demonstrated. The idea of a tree house is expressed by partially exposing the structure. Floor joists and herringbone blocking are exposed in the ceilings of all but the main living area, where Fijian kauri plywood highlights the sloping ceiling. The exposed timber is plantation grown Lawson cypress, which fills the house with a lovely spicy aroma. This approach created its own challenges though. Without a ceiling space to conceal wiring and plumbing, track lighting had to be used and some clever plumbing.
Bands of floor to ceiling louvres and high windows in the upstairs bedrooms emphasise the bush experience by framing views of spectacular kauri, rimu and rewa rewa trees. Windows at either end of the hall allow a view the length of the house and out to the bush in both directions.
At ground level, a door opens from the back of the house to a wooden bridge and shell pathway which winds away through the bush. Here, Graham and Neale have planted 250 trees to ensure total privacy. In place of conventional spouting, 'chain drains' direct water running off the roof toward the roots of trees sheltered by the house's shadow.
Rather than imposing itself on the landscape, this is a house that resides in a symbiotic relationship with it. "The challenge," says Graham "was firstly to disrupt the bush as little as possible and secondly to produce something which was not just housing, but architecture on a tight budget". It's a dream definitely fulfilled. HBpage break
A Northern Hemisphere Family Cross the World to Recharge at their Rural South Seas Escape.
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New Zealand's wide, open landscape and sun-kissed beaches are Mecca to Europeans seeking a south seas bolt-hole where they can escape the rat race. Environmentally responsible and with an aesthetic groomed by exposure to centuries of European design, such clients provide local architects with a chance to reinterpret the New Zealand holiday setting.
So it was when Auckland architect Megan Edwards was approached by a German couple to design a family retreat for them and their two children on a rural peninsula north of Auckland. While the house was initially to serve as a base for the family on their occasional visits to New Zealand, there was a chance they could decide to live there permanently in the future. Edwards admits her brief was outlined in the broadest terms and, with her clients contactable only by fax or phone, it was left to her to resolve much of the house's detail.
One stipulation, however, was for a self-contained upstairs floor, complete with its own living area and kitchenette, that could be used by visiting guests. Another requirement was for the house to have a view of the sea, which meant removing a shelterbelt of pine trees and making an already exposed site even more open to wind.
Edwards' solution was a steep mono-pitch roof that echoes the slope of the land and maximises the upper floor's exposure to views and afternoon sun. Viewed from a distance, the house bears strong similarities to a chalet and sits as a crisp form on its exposed site.
Light floods the hall from skylights above. The upstairs walkway leads to a storage room within the roof, but could in future access another bedroom.
The upstairs guests' sitting room has Fijian kauri plywood ceilings. The rug is by Kate Wells (09-817 9399).
Inside, the same sensitivity to outside views sees rooms painted Dulux 'Designers White', with eucalyptus saligna floors and rimu cabinetry adding background texture. The massive chimney that contains fireplaces in both downstairs and upstairs living areas, has a rugged simplicity in keeping with the house's rural character.
Living areas downstairs are split into open and more intimate spaces with different levels of connection to outside. In the casual family area adjoining the kitchen, a large dining table serves as the focus for most social activity in the house. A generous window seat is positioned for maximum sun and a sloping plywood ceiling emphasises the room's height. The more enclosed living area, a level below the rest of the house, is by contrast cosy and snug.
Though from outside the house does not appear large, inside there is a richness of space. Cleverly, Edwards draws people through the house along a double-height hall flooded with light from above. From here, views open up to the sea and across surrounding paddocks, creating an over-riding sense of spaciousness.
Along with practical concerns such as durability and ease of maintenance, this house delivers what every holiday retreat should; peace, comfort and a chance to connect with one's surroundings. HB
A Seafront Guest House Offers Auckland Architect Simon Carnachan the Chance to Indulge in Some Nautical Whimsy.
Architect Simon Carnachan is a firm believer that you don't need a lot of space to live well.
Though the homes he designs are generally substantial, his personal preference is for a living environment on a modest scale.
Imagine his delight, then, when asked to design a diminutive guest house for an Auckland couple that could serve as temporary accommodation while their new home, also designed by him, was built next door.
With a site fronting a seaside promenade, the opportunity was presented to indulge in some nautical whimsy. On a trip to the US, the owners had admired the architecture around Cape Cod and so the idea of a Nantucket-style boathouse was born. "What I really enjoy is that it's a bit of fun and people genuinely like it," says Carnachan.
The building has been christened "the yacht club" by local residents and the boathouse theme is carried through in every detail. Portholes puncture two cedar garage doors and a flag-pole rises from a prow-shaped deck enclosed by stainless steel railings - "we were under budget until we put those on," the owner laughs.
A Fritz Hansen dining table and chairs complement the nautical look of the interior.
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In order to make what is essentially two small rooms serve initially as a fully-functioning home, a lot of thought went into the practical details. In the upstairs living space, open shelves were carefully proportioned to accommodate a television and stereo, for example, while the compact kitchen was designed to fit an oven, dishwasher, fridge and microwave. Downstairs, a full-sized wardrobe is effectively concealed in a narrow space behind the bed and a tiny ensuite bathroom slots between the bedroom and stairs.
With bi-folding doors opened to the deck, the living area effectively doubles in size. But thanks to the generous harbour views on three sides, even with the hatches battened in a storm the compact interior manages to feel surprisingly spacious.
"We thought we'd be living on takeaways," says the owner. "But we've had plenty of dinner parties." In fact, after almost a year living in tight quarters, they can't quite imagine having 200m2 of space to play with in their new home. HBpage break
Nestled on a Northland Hillside, this Weekend Farmhouse Provides the Perfect Escape from the City.
When the parents of architect Belinda George came to build a weekend farmhouse about an hour's drive north of Auckland, the debate wasn't so much about who they would use to design it, but whether an architect would be engaged at all.
While Belinda had previously worked with Noel Lane on a new home for her parents in the city, she admits it took some persuading to convince them an architect was required for what was intended to be a simple, country retreat.
However, her concept for a house that was equal to the landscape prevailed. "There were compromises on both sides," says George. "But I think what's important is that the original idea of a simple, functional house still came through."
Sited on around 40 hectares of farmland at Mahurangi, the house was intended to serve as a gathering place for all the family - parents, siblings and grandchildren - and needed to be the kind of place family members could easily arrive at and leave.
The house site, a grassy knoll overlooking stands of native bush, had been earmarked for some time. With its elevated position came wide views and all day sun, but also exposure to frequently strong winds. Another potential problem was traffic noise from a nearby highway, which the family knew would only worsen with a planned bypass. With this in mind, George chose to nestle the house into the side of the hill, rather than place it at the very top, thereby gaining sound protection from the grassy bank behind. The house's linear arrangement of spaces - essentially one large communal living area and a bedroom wing-stretch across the hillside, maximising each room's exposure to the sunny north-east.
A macrocarpa table designed by Belinda George and made by her cabinetmaker husband, David White, is a focus of the communal living area. Kauri benches and a polished concrete island add warmth and texture to the farmhouse-style kitchen made by De-Bruin Judge Furniture (09-443 0296). Wicker dining chairs from Katalog (09-379 5041).
A courtyard captured between the main living pavilion and garage wing provides a sheltered outdoor living spot complete with an open fire.
Macrocarpa milled on the property was used to make the vanity bench and a Japanese-inspired step. An oval bath tub with a shower above sits within a curved, mosaic-tiled recess.
"I always envisaged this as a space that would be used by lots of people," says George. "Someone can be in the kitchen preparing a meal, someone else can be sitting by the fire reading, and another couple of people can be sitting around the table talking without getting in each other's way."
In keeping with the house's functional brief, George chose, where possible, to leave materials in their natural state. The precast concrete panels, which are poured off-site and then simply raised into place, are left exposed on walls inside and out, while floors in bathrooms and the communal kitchen/dining area are sealed concrete. In the living area, a monumental stone fireplace imbues the interior with rich texture. Kauri benches and a macrocarpa table designed by George bring the kitchen/dining area to life with their warm, golden tones.
To emphasise the idea of the house rising out of the hill, George raked the roof over the living 'pavilion' to the north slightly, and then floated it clear of the walls on glazing to enhance its light-weight appearance. This has the added benefit of garnering extra winter sun and, when the sun is higher during summer, provides shading.
Keen to enhance the opportunities for "living with the landscape", George created a sheltered courtyard between the house and a separate garage wing, where an outside fireplace is used for barbecuing as well as offering extra warmth on cool summer evenings. Softening the transition from house to paddocks are a series of raised lawn terraces across the front of the house that also keep wandering stock at bay.
With its rich variety of inside and outside living experiences, set in an intoxicating landscape, this house provides the perfect setting to bring family members back in touch with each other, as well as allowing each of them a means to escape. HBpage break page break