Architectural & Solar Smart Homes
A BOXED SET
Sometimes you have to look beyond the gorse, the possums and the winding gravel roads to discover your dream story: Lise Strathdee l photographs: Matthew Williams
The desire to counterbalance a busy inner-city lifestyle with some pastoral downtime brought advertising exec Kate Heatley and her architect husband Matt Brew to the far north in search of their slice of paradise. Pristine coastal views and "enough space to wander around in" were at the top of their wish-list and friends and circumstance soon lured them off the beaten track to the Hokianga Harbour, further north of their first hunting ground around the Kaipara. On a weekend recce up north, the couple spotted an ad in the paper for a subdivision and, although it wasn't an idea that really inspired, they went to have a look anyway.
Upon arrival they were thrilled to find that the average size of the sections for sale was eight hectares. And there, jutting out at the end of a winding gravel road that meanders through farmland and kiwi country, lay their dream site. "It was a stormy day but, even so, when we got there it just grabbed us," says Matt. With a wide-angle view looking out over the water to Motokauri Pa, this hillside section – with its track past an ancient puriri tree and down through a nikau grove to a pebble beach – was the ultimate getaway they both had in mind.
These pages clockwise from right: Matt Brew, holding baby Tallulah, and Kate Heatley look out over the peaceful Hokianga harbour. Three sides of the open-plan dining and living area are glass, maximising light and views year-round. The concrete fire surround is a strong point of visual interest in the living area. The kitchen is contained in a simple single structure. Previous pages: The couple's Bach Box, designed by Matt, is tucked unobtrusively into the hillside on the eight hectare section.
Undeterred by the rampant gorse and toetoe dotting the terrain, Matt began by literally camping out on the land. He soon realised that the existing clearing intended for a house site at the top of the hill would be far too windy.
So he decided to shift the house site downwards, finding a spot where he could tuck a building unobtrusively into the hillside.
Inspired by the rectangular shape and "lock up and go" potential of a shipping container, Matt came up with the idea for his Bach Box. It expands on the container concept and references the classic Kiwi bach through its elegant metal chimney pipe and 21st century version of the corrugated roof. "The powder-coated metallic silver cladding reflects the sky and water and is low-maintenance," he explains. In the interests of getting a little more space inside, he added width and length, "because the inside of a container isreally narrow". And what is the result?
It's a beautifully simple open-plan kitchen, dining and living space with a short corridor leading off to two bedrooms and a bathroom. At the back end of the dwelling is Matt's "bloke shed", with separate access.
The size of the interior space is almost doubled by a slim sea-oriented veranda that merges with all the rooms – including the shower. More outdoor living comes via a sun-drenched, lowlying deck that projects itself out into the horizon like a ship's prow.
Decorative elements, such as the floating cement box for the fireplace, which is in the style of American minimalist artist Donald Judd, are kept deliberately spare. The oversized spherical wooden bowls and jars that grace the decks were brought back from a trip to Bali. "We thought these round shapes would contrast well with the straight lines of the building," says Kate.
Full-height glass doors and windows throughout the bach frame the surrounding landscape. It takes a good dose of conviction and a fair amount of determination to complete an ambitious prototype project in such a remote location. The pair operated as a team, with Kate handling finances and Matt working closely with a great local builder introduced to them by a mutual friend. Other help was also at hand: the neighbouring farmer lent his tractor on occasion and the building team embraced negative detailing with a vengeance. It took two and a half years from buying the land, followed by two crucial decision-making Christmases camping out on it, to finish the building.
Naturally it wasn't all plain sailing but the bumpy parts are now recounted with great peals of laughter. The biggest surprise, according to Matt and Kate, was "how fast the weeds grow compared to all the natives we planted".
The ongoing maintenance (which includes keeping numerous possums at bay, though they may yet learn to keep out of Matt's way) could have overwhelmed them but they've developed a pragmatic philosophy. The weed trimmer is pulled out on arrival and the overgrown lawn at the front of the house is quickly knocked back into shape.
During their downtime, Kate and baby Tallulah love lounging outside under a huge umbrella, absorbing the breathtaking views.
Page above left: Every room in the bach has access to the outdoors including the serene master bedroom.
Page above right: Double doors in the bathroom open out from the shower onto the front lawn.
This page clockwise from above: Elvis (in curtain form) greets visitors to Matt's shed. The bach exemplifies hassle-free holidays. The north-facing sun deck has spectacular views over the Hokianga landscape.
Other sections at this subdivision have since sold and Matt has been asked to design Bach Boxes for a couple of neighbours.
"It is not a prefab design but rather a design concept that is low cost and totally site-specific," he explains, as he gets out of his four-wheel drive and ambles down to a celebratory roof party.
Earlier in the afternoon there was talk of wanting to find a way to balance time spent in the city with time up north and Matt says he's keen to expand his architectural practice in Northland, based in the Hokianga.
"We love it here and feel that there is no place like it – both spiritually and geographically. It has become more than just an escape – we feel a strong connection to the land."
Back to Basics
A simplicity of form and materials has long defined the classic Kiwi bach. The modern interpretation further streamlines these elements.
It's about as close to nature as you can get without sleeping under canvas. But the contemporary Kiwi bach is also about comfort and simplicity. Simple architectural forms and pared-back interiors are the order of the day, as this project illustrates. For architect Matt Brew of Cantilever, designing a beach house for his own family was an exercise in restraint – a simple, modernist design was the most practical, aesthetic and cost-effective option. "The house is placed half-way down a hill, so that it nestles on an elevated ridge, but is buffered from the southwest winds," says Brew. "A simple, timber-pile foundation makes the house appear to float above the ground – an effect enhanced by the cantilevered deck that stretches out towards the Hokianga Harbour and the view to the west." The house itself is not unlike a shipping container, with both the walls and trapezoid roof wrapped in powdercoated, long-run steel. "The matt, metallic silver of the cladding is quite a soft colour that reflects the sky and the water, which helps the house blend in with the landscape," says Brew. "Opting for the powdercoated cladding and anodised joinery was also a way to ensure the house would be low maintenance." Brew provided a courtyard beside the entrance on the southwest side of the house, which is sheltered from the northeasterly winds. A fireplace is also positioned on this side, its concrete form pushing out beyond the wall. "The concrete mass of Preceding pages: With its streamlined container-style architecture, this new Hokianga bach appears to wrap around the interior spaces, providing a simple, yet comforting retreat.
Above left, top and lower: The powdercoated steel shell is punctuated by large expanses of glazing. The west-facing doors open to a cantilevered deck.
Above right: Light-coloured wood flooring flows throughout the interior.
The fireplace is an additional volume that breaks up this elevation, adding visual interest," says Brew. "It was also a way to keep the flue outside of the roof, which helped reduce building costs.
Another feature of this elevation is a timber bridge that leads across the courtyard – its form reinforcing the sense of a floating platform.
Inside, the open-plan living area, bedrooms and bathrooms all open up to the view. The sloping ceiling, which follows the roof line, helps bring extra light inside and enhances the spacious look of the interior.
"The house was designed to catch the light all day," says Brew. "With doors and windows on three sides of the living area, there is also plenty of cross ventilation to keep the house cool in the summer."
Far left: Sculptural pots and vessels, like much of the furniture in the bach, were sourced in Bali.
Left: Even the master bathroom opens to the outdoors. To maintain a seamless look, the shower area is separated by clear glass. A cantilevered vanity contributes to the spacious look, while concealed storage is provided behind the mirror.
Architect:Matt Brew NZIA, Cantilever (Auckland)
Kitchen manufacturer:Terra Firma Joinery
Doors and windows:Vantage from Bay Aluminium
Cladding and Roofing:Longrun steel from Dimond Industries
Flooring:Woodworks oak accent 3 strip from Jacobsen Creative Surfaces
Kitchen cabinetry:Silver Haze Melteca
Oven, cooktop and dishwasher:Indesit
Bathroom vanity:Custom timber
Basin:Sourced in Bali
Bathroom tapware:Caroma Liano
Wall tiles:Heritage Tiles
Toilet:Vitra from Franklins
Photography by Jamie Cobeldick
The desire for simplicity is reflected in the fixtures and fittings. The kitchen, for example, is simply a bank of cabinets positioned against one wall – the benchtop, sink and cooktop are recessed within the silver Melteca cabinetry. A large stainless steel splashback with integral display cabinets reinforces the strong horizontal lines evident throughout the house.
Brew says the wood dining table provides additional work space if needed, and outdoor barbecue facilities beside the kitchen are most commonly used for cooking.
"The house has been pared back to provide the most simple, basic living arrangement. It is still a bach in the traditional sense – a very casual, carefree place where the family can unwind."
Top Left:Balinese water hyacinth furniture enhances the casual look of the open-plan living area. The large fireplace extends out beyond the wall, ensuring it doesn't encroach on the space inside. The kitchen, on the far wall, features silver Melteca cabinetry, and a stainless steel splashback.
Bottom left:A gently sloping roof line allows more light into the house, and provides a more expansive view.
Right:The bach is nestled on a ridge below a private road. Steps lead down from the car parking area to a bridge across a courtyard. Architect Matt Brew designed the house so it appears to hover above the ground – an effect reinforced by the semi-cantilevered decking.
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