New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1998
boxing on — A tiny fifties house built on an equally miniscule budget continues to serve its owners well
A tiny fifties house built on an equally miniscule budget continues to serve its owners well.
Christchurch architect Don Donnithorne was still a student when, in 1952, he designed his family's home, a tiny house built on the smallest possible budget. A simple, elegantly-proportioned timber box with a steeply pitched roof, the house's small scale was highlighted when it appeared in a 1959 issue of Home & Building under the heading "Four Children in 900 Square Feet". As well as a tight budget, its refined design suggests the influence of contemporary Scandinavian architecture on New Zealand's post-war architects.
The only extravagance the Donnithornes allowed themselves when building was the shingle roof. Now, 46 years later, the heart matai floors and tongue and groove rimu that lines the walls also appear rather luxurious. These warm timber surfaces have required little or no attention over the years and still look as good as new.
The dining room was extended in 1974 to accommodate a boardroom table sold to Don on the condition he never resell it.
The oiled rimu board and batten exterior has acquired a dark patina. On the roof, a new layer of shingles has been laid directly over the originals.
Originally, the house sat at the front of a long narrow property. When the Donnithornes bought an adjacent section eight years ago the property doubled in size. The house now sits amid trees in the corner of an expansive garden containing a series of independent structures: house, garage, studio, ornamental pool and pergola. The living room overlooks the pool, as does the studio. Screened from the house by the garage and garden, it is a recent addition and provides accommodation for family and friends. Building a stand-alone studio gave Don the freedom to design in a quite different style, without compromising the house's original design. Doubling the size of the property has also provided plenty of room for his collection of Lancia motorcars.
In his book The Elegant Shed, architect David Mitchell drew a comparison between this house and Christchurch's early cottages and gardens, writing that it was "gracious, unpretentious and glows inside like a polished chestnut". Today this cottage-like atmosphere is even more pronounced.