A Fitzroy home has been recognised in the New Zealand Institute of Architects 2022 Awards. Overlooking the beach and taking in sweeping views to Paritutu and the port chimney, this four-bedroom build reflects the owners’ wishes for a connected family base “that’s not too flashy”.
Back in 2015 this family was living in a large international city.
The couple had each grown up in small town Taranaki and yearned to have a similar ‘free range’ lifestyle for their three school-aged children.
They moved back to New Zealand and when a beachfront home in Fitzroy came on the market, the pair pounced.
Initially they thought they would renovate, but with the age of the house, and studying the various ad hoc additions and alterations, they started thinking about a new build.
Their time living in the original home gave them a chance to appreciate sunlight angles at different times of the year, prevailing winds, access, areas that worked and under-utilised parts of the hilly section.
When it came to choosing an architect, there was only one choice – their good friends Anne Kelly and Karl Wipatene of a.k.a. architecture. As for the builder, they chose Gareth Collins – liking his body of work, communication, and that like them, he was raised in small-town Taranaki.
“We all seemed to be on the same wavelength when everyone met.”
“I genuinely think he tries to see what the architect is trying to create,” the husband adds. “During the planning he’d bring up aspects of the design where … any potential issues were picked up real early before they became problems.”
The brief for the build was for 4 bedrooms, not too flashy and easy maintenance.
There were various restrictions to the site, including allowing access to sewer lines, keeping within height-to-boundary constraints and working with allowable daylight angles.
The couple hadn’t built with an architect before.
“You had to accept that the total cost was going to be a certain amount. Then you look at the architect’s fees and you might think on its own, that’s quite a big number. But if you think of it as a percentage of the whole thing, it’s not that bad – it’s like project management.”
Anne devised several concepts for a new build, the couple recall, as well as exploring renovation options.
“She was really, really cool — once things got underway she came up to the site about once a month to check on things.”
“We wanted everything specced before we did anything,” they remember.
“We got all the drawings done … and then Gareth (Collins, the builder) followed on with all the other details.”
With a total floor area of 320m2, Anne broke the project into ‘bite-sized’ chunks for the couple, so that the process didn’t become overwhelming.
“Anne would work through the list of what needed to be done each week, so we only had one or two decisions to make at a time. One week we’d be talking tiles, another week she’d ask us to look at tap ware.”
“We never felt like we were pressured.”
With an expansive view of Fitzroy Beach down to the port, the seaward side was always going to be the ‘front’ of the house.
Access to the property was down a shared driveway meaning the main entry would be at the ‘back’ of the house.
It was this quandary that led to the focal part of the design – a view from the main entry right through the house to the beach beyond.
The sea view is framed with a bespoke glass and elm door in natural tones, while a similarly sized window directly above it reflects the sky and gives the impression of a complete view through the house.
Cedar shiplap weatherboard cladding imparts a beach bach feel with the timber texture apparent and kept with the owners wishes for a home that blended in with the surrounding environment.
“A natural grey seemed like an appropriate response,” Anne says, of the cedar cladding (cedar grays off in time). “We wanted the rear 2-storey form to be a uniform flat paint finish for maintenance reasons. The colour had to work tonally with the cedar so a light grey was chosen.”
Inside, wooden floorboards lead through an almost ‘tunnel-like’ space to the living area.
The couple laugh as they recall the debates about the ‘tunnel’.
“The idea is that it is a transition area between the front entry and the living space,” they say, but admit they took some convincing.
Initially all the owners couldn’t see a need for it, but now concede it was a good idea. “This is an example of an architect designing our home and giving it those unique touches that we wouldn’t think about.”
The area is defined by a lowered dark grooved ceiling, with three large dark wooden storage cupboards on one side and a white painted wall with subtle lighting on the other. The floor also steps down at this point.
Beyond the ‘tunnel’, the home opens up to the massive open plan living area — the hub of the home.
Sun-drenched views are framed in floor to ceiling glass, with sliding doors to access the step-down deck that fronts the entire house. The steps act as built-in seating and having the deck lower than the living area allows for uninterrupted views of the beach.
In front of the deck, a clever garden “moat” about a metre deep, precludes any need for a balustrade (so no cleaning of glass required and no railings in your sight lines), with the plantings providing a gentle privacy screen, and soft landing should anyone step off the deck!
The opposite side of the living area leads to a snug — hidden behind high white sliding doors. The cosy area offers couches, a coffee table and TV, with a bespoke bookcase that boasts display space for family mementoes.
Internal access to the double garage, a well-appointed laundry, guest toilet and separate shower are located downstairs in the ‘back’ of the house, as well as a study which could easily be utilised as a guest bedroom.
A flight of wooden stairs takes you up to the four family bedrooms and main bathroom, with a skylight over the staircase providing natural light and ventilation in the summer.
Three bedrooms line up along the eastern side of the house, while the master suite encompasses the western side.
A luxurious en suite, with a deep bath, sits behind the master bedroom with its stunning views to the beach, while a spacious wardrobe takes up the length of the other internal wall.
At the end of the hallway is a full-length window that looks out over the back of the house and gives a sensation that you could almost step through it.
Demolition of the old home began in August 2018. The discovery of asbestos meant inevitable delays while that was safely removed. The couple had other delays so the site wasn’t finally cleared and building started until late 2019.
Five months in, the pandemic arrived and the long lockdown period during late March, April and May.
For Gareth Collins it was something completely new to navigate — getting the site appropriately sorted so that his builders and the various sub-trades could complete their work while being socially distanced.
The house was just about closed in before the first lockdown in March 2020, Gareth remembers.
“I think we had a day to prepare, but we also needed to allow time for our staff to get their personal lives sorted. This didn’t give us much time to sort the job out we just had to do our best with what we had to make sure the site was secure. Every builder in the whole country was in the same predicament so we just had to ride it out.”
Regular site meetings with the owners and designer provided solutions and discussions for any unexpected things the build team came across.
“The sand at the start of the job was a bit of a challenge as we had to construct a tanapole retaining wall with holes drilled 3.4 metres into the sand. They had to be concreted within 24 hours before the sand would dry out and collapse the holes. The access was very difficult with two neighbours sharing the same driveway – we were very lucky in that they were very nice people! My hat goes off to them as they were very obliging and patient with us coming in and out and blocking the access quite regularly.”
The roof has three different pitches and the outside reflects the inside (known as a skillon roof) .
“The angles were tricky to get right but we spent the time on them to make it all come together.”
Gareth confesses that one part of the build that was tough for him was the incredible view.
“Sometimes it was hard to keep focus on the work at hand – especially when the sea was good for surfing or fishing. You just had to put your back to it and carry on but silently it was torturing you in the background.”
A lot of meetings were had at the pricing stage to clarify construction methods, with most of the plans and consents sorted.
Gareth offered advice on how to substitute and change some of the building materials and construction methods to save money but not to compromise on the quality, design and efficiency of the home, which the clients and architects were happy to take on.
“This is a good time in anyone’s project to do this as any savings found they can use some of their budget into other areas.”
The family have already spent two summers in their new home after moving in for Christmas 2020 and are looking forward to their third summer by the beach.
The house is wearing well and the architectural award is merely recognition of what the family already knows.
“It’s a terrific home. We love it – we wouldn’t change a thing.”