A Touch of Palm Springs in Fitzroy

Words by  Irena Brooks
Roger Richardson Roger Richardson

Life has thrown Chad Niwa a few challenges since he started his building company in 2017 at the age of 24.

There’s been Covid of course, but he and fiancee Ginny also married, had two kids, bought and sold their first home, bought and extensively renovated a second one and have just completed building the family dream home.

A vision in white, the Niwas’ new house sits at the eastern end of Barriball St, on the new cul-de-sac there (Te Ara O Ngakeiha), like a bride about to begin her slow walk up the aisle.

Adorned with sleek lines, an array of textures and subtle curves, it echoes the classic mid-century modern architecture of Palm Springs.

It’s an oasis of calm, yet it was born in a time of utter chaos.

Chad and Ginny bought the section in 2020 — shortly after the couple had brought their week-old daughter Indie, home from the hospital.

When Covid arrived, they didn’t have time to dwell on any uncertainty the pandemic might bring to the build and how it might impact Chad’s building business.

“He’s like ‘Let’s do it. What’s the worst that can happen?’” Ginny recalls.


“I remember being in the first lockdown and us having the conversation ‘What is going to happen to building?’ When everyone thought it would go backwards,” says Ginny, “and coming out of that lockdown your (Chad’s) phone didn’t stop ringing.”

The material shortages weren’t really happening then, so when the couple bought the section, those issues didn’t even cross their minds.

“It wasn’t until we got the design done and started budgeting, we thought maybe we should start ordering things in advance,” says Chad. “Before all the Gib shortages there was a timber shortage, and once those shortages started it all snowballed quite quickly.”

They contacted Kyle Ramsay to do the architectural design.

“We gave him quite a detailed brief and he pretty much nailed the concept first go really.

We’d done a lot of research on what we wanted and what he came back with met that but it still had a bit of a twist from him and something a bit unexpected on top of what we really wanted.

Which is exactly what you want from your designer. You want them to push the boundaries. You don’t really know what you can do until someone shows you so we were really happy with what he came back with.”

“We definitely wanted to go two storeys because we wanted to have some yard left for little kids to run around in,” says Ginny.

The brief included two living spaces, outdoor living, four bedrooms, internal access to a large double garage (to allow for Chad’s building van, the family wagon, equipment and sporting paraphernalia), good outdoor living, light and bright with a Palm Springs kind of vibe.

“We just sort of put it into pictures,” says Chad. “We spent hours on Pinterest and scrolling through the internet. We knew what we wanted our house to look like, but the functionality of it, Kyle sort of came up with all of that. He was awesome.”

Kyle recalls the couple were really fond of mid-century modern architecture, and a pared back contemporary look. They also wanted a refined palette, adding interest through texture, light and shadows.

“There’s also a move to biophyllic design — blurring those lines between indoor and outdoor living,” adds Kyle. “People are wanting to create a resort experience at home, so that it becomes your own private sanctuary.”

The overall design was informed by the site, he added. “Making the most of the sun, getting views where we can, providing privacy and functionality.”

Each angle of the house offers a different personality. The western face shows a vertical veil of battens across the upper story, while a tall fence of white palings offers another version of verticality, as do the filmy white drapes downstairs.

Established palms obscure the outdoor living and living areas, while brick cladding beyond the fenceline adds some horizontal elements to the design.

Black capping across the entire flat roofline brings contrast and drama to the overall look.

The northern face, fronting the street is sleek lines and smooth alabaster white plaster.

Clad in vertical weatherboard and complemented by more vertical lines with the garage door, the house is offset by the smooth white boundary wall. It provides a stark background for pampas-like grasses that look to have been transplanted directly from the Palm Springs desert.

The graceful curves flanking the front entry dominate the vision with the vertical weatherboards continuing inside the hall of the house. The white painted wood contrasts beautifully with the herringbone patterned engineered oak that features in all the main living area and up the stairs. 

There are more curves inside … walls, a curved hearth round the fireplace, the en suite shower screen, plus curved seating in the main outdoor area.

Chad and Ginny also wanted to incorporate features that they could show to clients so they can see first-hand design solutions, materials, new products, and colour-ways, that may work in their build.

“I think when you look at this house, it looks impressive but when you break it down it’s actually just clad with brick and timber weatherboard and plaster … they’re all real non-expensive products. Cos we were definitely on a budget so it wasn’t just ‘go for gold’. We were able to do it with products that may often get looked past.”

Again they credit Kyle with this aspect of the build and encouraging them to look outside the square.

“The brick for example, is just brick cladding,” says Chad, “but we’ve stack bonded it vertically to give a different visual effect.

“We’ve made a simple product that you see everywhere, just look a little bit different.”

The batten screens over the upstairs windows are simply aluminium battens overtop of timber weatherboards.

They add another layer of texture to the house as well as adding privacy … the casual observer can’t see in, but the occupants can see out. The battens also impart a bit of shade, helping keep the house cool while still enjoying the views from upstairs.

“Even though I’m in the industry, I still don’t know everything that’s out there,” says Chad. “There’s so many products and different services, unless you actually work with them, you don’t appreciate what they can offer.”

It turned out to be a blessing to have their own build happening during Covid times. 

“We had about seven staff at the time,” Chad remembers.

The initial stage of foundations was pretty much just Chad on the weekends. 

“We threw a couple of months at it just to get the structure to a point we could refine where windows were going to go.

“Then we had to fit it in between other jobs,” and this aspect was a constantly moving target.

“The hardest part I found with building at the end of ’21 and through ’22, outside of the material shortages, was scheduling of jobs. Trying to plan your week or your month, teeing up certain jobs for particular times, there was so much uncertainty. There were days we had to fill when materials wouldn’t arrive or a couple of your guys might have Covid, or your sparky had Covid, or he was short a couple of guys cos they had Covid …

“There were so many curveballs that you had to navigate, so to have this house to work on in the meantime was quite handy.”


The main living area epitomises the feeling of space that permeates the entire home.

This is the heart of the home and the other aspects of the house all branch off from it.

It is around 6 metres to the white tongue and groove ceiling above the kitchen and dining table.

Looking up into the void you can glimpse the mezzanine floor screened with black vertical railings that complement the lines of the ceiling.

The lounge has a lower gibbed ceiling to convey a more intimate space.

Stacker sliders opening onto the main deck from the living area, can be opened from either end.

A feature fireplace offers extra heat in the winter, along with underfloor heating.

Surrounded by white bricks, it’s another example of bringing external design elements inside.

“A few little things like that can change the whole feel of a house,” says Chad.

In summer, well-thought-out ventilation and shading keeps the house cool.

Ventilation is aided with louvre windows throughout the home.

“Kyle is a big believer in being able to cool homes through cross ventilation and clever design,” says Chad.

Chad and Ginny also pay tribute to their kitchen designers, Brad and Annika Rowson.

“They had a big part to play in the kitchen design, material selection and also selection of the textured interior plaster. As this was our second personal project with them, they were quite involved in the build process.”  

A plaster finish that looks like stone has been used on the back wall of the kitchen and the stairwell, creating more texture to complement the sleek gib-lined walls.

The striking granite bench top that tops the kitchen island has been replicated in the laundry and three bathrooms, utilising the granite cut-offs from the kitchen so that none of it went to waste.

Veneer joinery in Chocolate Oak encases the back wall of the kitchen, with a white timber batten effect on the island, echoing the exterior aluminium battens of the house.

The laundry is across the hall from the kitchen and functions as an extension of it.

“We use it like kind of a scullery,” says Ginny, with the fridge and extra storage for occasional use items, all in the laundry area.

It also keeps the kitchen area clean and clear for main meal food preparation and cooking.

That is in fact a hallmark of this home design … adaptability and functionality.

Nearly every space seems to have more than one purpose.

The fourth bedroom is downstairs in its own wing, allowing it to potentially be used as an Air BnB in future years, or for friends and family coming to stay.

At the moment, it is Ginny’s office … she does the administration for Chad Niwa Building.

A nurse by trade, with two children and a builder for a husband, she still gets regular practice for those skills too.

The downstairs bathroom features a spacious shower, toilet and vanity. The walls and floor have been completely tiled. 

“It’s not an expensive tile at all, says Chad, “but it’s just been laid well.” He points out how the tiler has grain matched each tile, to give a flawless look — there’s no beading at all.

Chad’s a fan of ‘simple, done well’.

The second lounge is at the other end of the ground floor.

Deliberately moody, with a deep charcoal paint over the ceiling and curved walls, it’s the perfect room for watching movies, playing games and taking refuge from a hot summer’s day. Ranchsliders lead directly out to the lawn and trampoline, so it’s an ideal spot for kids to play during the day and for parents to retreat to watch a movie at night.

The lighting was another feature of the house the couple is really pleased about.

“It’s something different rather than just putting downlights everywhere,” says Ginny.

“One thing I think I underestimated in building a house was the lighting and the extent of what you can do and how lighting can change the whole aesthetic of the house,” adds Chad. “They came up with things that we never would have thought of.”


There are two hallways at the top of the stairs … one runs directly ahead, to the two children’s bedrooms and bathroom on the northern end of the house. The other leads past the void that looks down to the kitchen and dining area, to the master suite, on the western side. 

Across the void on the south wall, a massive picture window frames the mountain, with another picture window on the northern wall taking in the seaward view.

The master bedroom is flanked by a huge walk-in wardrobe along the inner wall, with dark melamine woodgrain joinery that closely matches the veneer used in the kitchen.

“I wanted it all behind doors,” says Ginny, “so that it’s nice and streamlined and clean.”

Each cupboard has lighting that switches on once a door is opened.

The wardrobe leads to a glorious en suite along the south wall, which you can walk through to the bedroom. There’s doors between all three spaces, so that they are connected, but able to be closed off. 

The ensuite has been completely tiled, and the shower is screened off with reeded glass that has a curved top, to tie in with the curve theme throughout the home.

His and hers basins top the granite vanity.

“We’ve always loved the loop pile,” says Ginny of the luscious carpet. “We had wool at the old house but with having a dog and kids, it didn’t fare that well.”


There are two outdoor living spaces, both directly off the lounge, giving options for use depending on the season, time of day and which way any wind is blowing.

Decks are clad with Millboard — a composite product that won’t warp in the heat and sun.

Crazy paving edges both decks and the lawn, and is used on the approach to the front door.

There’s also a third outdoor area that incorporates the hot and cold water outdoor shower and outdoor access for the garage and downstairs bedroom. The sugar cane palms around the outdoor shower will eventually screen that side of the house.

A fourth outdoor area supports the washing line and raised vegetable beds. Located right outside the laundry and kitchen, it is functional and easy to access.

A mix of Nikau, Kentia  and Mexican Fan palms screen off the inviting lawn from the street. The planting will eventually become dense enough to provide complete privacy.

The landscaping also compliments the swales along this cul-de-sac that irrigate streetside plantings, rather than having traditional kerbing and channeling.

Then there’s the indoor garden.

Sprouting out of the top of the walls that envelop the staircase to the second storey, the plants will eventually spill down the stairway, and also over the other side of the wall, above the kitchen.

This was one of the “unexpected” extras that Kyle threw at them.

The couple vacillated on whether to have an indoor garden or not, eventually deciding to give it a shot.

“If it doesn’t work out, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll just take them out, Gib over the area and plaster it,” says Ginny.

The design to accommodate the indoor garden allows for extra light to reach into the stairway and down into the kitchen and living area. The lush plantings add even more texture to the home and help impart that Palm Springs vibe the couple wanted.


Design and budgeting took around a year, with the build taking another 12 months.

Ginny was expecting their second child in November 2022.

“We had meticulously planned that this house would be done by his due date so we could move in and be settled,” Chad remembers.

It figured that in the Covid-era of delays, their son Bowie would arrive two months early, spending his first month of life in the neo-natal unit.

But by this stage the couple was well-used to taking things in their stride.

It was just another curveball, to a life, and home, full of curves, textures, and the unexpected.


The mezzanine area is guarded by vertical black rails.

“I didn’t want glass and dozens of little handprints to clean,” says Ginny.

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