Winning Design Set In Stone

Words by Victoria Matsunuma and Irena Brooks

Well thought-out design and a perfect blend of functional and form has resulted in a New Plymouth home winning the Residential section of the New Zealand Institute of Architects’ Western Region Awards 2020.

Under a canopy of tall, established oak trees, the exterior of the one level home complements the natural surroundings using a combination of stone and vertical cedar weatherboards.

Designed by Tim Bland, a director at Ardern and Peters Architects, the outstanding home offers a meticulous well-considered layout and design, with expert construction using premium materials and technology, commented the New Zealand Institute of Architects’ judges.

Elegant design is consistent throughout the home interior — the light-filled living area with high ceilings opens fully to the outdoor living area. Tasteful furnishings tie in colours and textures with the central feature of the home — a stunning Taranaki stone wall that runs like a spine through the centre of the house. 

Handcrafted by stonemason, Andrew Benton, each stone is hand chiseled and stacked using minimal exposed mortar, creating an attractive linear aesthetic.

The stone wall delineates the public and private zones of the house.

Finding The Site

The owners of the house are the architect’s parents, Geoff and Charmaine Bland.

“It was by chance that we found the section,” Charmaine recalls. “The property guide was being delivered as I went to the bank. I opened it and my thumb went straight to the page with this property.” Little more than an hour later the couple had viewed the site and decided to buy it. 

Located on the rural/suburban cusp of New Plymouth, the 1400 sqm site featured a number of established trees and shrubs including a Pin Oak, Kauris, magnolias, camellias and a row of evergreen oaks on the northern boundary.

“It’s rare to have an established area of growth,” Tim reflects. “Usually, it is subdivided and you’re creating the outdoor environment at the same time as the house, planting trees and landscaping, whereas here it was all here. Immediately the trees make the property feel like an established area.”

Before the build began, time was taken to rescue the multiple rhododendron shrubs that were growing on the section and these have now been replanted along  the rear boundary, while at the front of the house, white roses contrast beautifully against the greys of the Taranaki stone and black window joinery.

The Design

Plenty of time was spent considering the elements and their impact on the atmosphere inside the house. The orientation of the 320 sqm home shelters it from the worst of seasonal winds and the whole property has a rare calm on windy days. 

The home is north facing to optimise the sun.

Large eaves ensure the house doesn’t overheat in summer but sunlight can reach inside during winter and give the added bonus of preventing fading of interior furnishings.

“We wanted to keep control of the sun by making light-filled space without direct sun — unless it is low in the winter. In houses with a lot of glass you need to avoid overheating,” Tim says. 

By installing louvres over the outside entertainment area, the family has the advantage of using the space year-round. Days can be spent under the shelter of the louvres in all conditions with an outdoor fire keeping the area warm during cooler evenings. On sunny winter days, the louvres can be opened to embrace the warmth and solar gain.

Geoff and Charmaine enjoy entertaining and the large open plan living, dining and kitchen area reflects that. Major engineering was needed to allow for two stacker doors to meet at the corner of the room. When these are pulled back there is a seamless connection to the outside area and expansive lawn. Birdsong fills the entire house, adding to the calm ambience of this secluded home.

The main living area has a stud height of 3.6 metres with the northern side almost completely glazed, as well as a good portion of the eastern side. This height immediately gives the home a sense of space and light. 

Above the stacker doors are clerestory windows, which can be opened and closed electronically, as can the associated blinds. Between the clerestory windows and the stacker doors a pelmet runs the entire circumference of the room. The pelmet allows for discreet uplighting that provides the main lighting for the entire space — no downlights are needed. They are all individually controlled so you have the flexibility of using just some of the lights or all, and varying the intensity. 

The pelmet provides a place for the electronic blinds to recede into, creating a completely seamless look and preventing any banging or flapping of blinds or drapery.

Oak Markant floorboards run throughout the main living area, with the natural material adding warm tones to the space and emphasising the welcoming feeling.

A separate lounge is off the main living area, connected, yet apart — it’s another example of the clever design that permeates this home. With a lower ceiling height than the main living area and lush carpeting underfoot, a cosier, more intimate atmosphere is created.

The Kitchen

Tim worked with his mum to create a kitchen where she could bake with her grandchildren or entertain around the large kitchen island. 

The kitchen also includes an open scullery for ease of use and integration into the main kitchen space.

There are two brushed stainless steel sinks — one on the kitchen island, and one at the far end of the work bench, with a dishwasher drawer installed by each sink.

“It makes it so easy to clean up as you go.” says Charmaine, and essentially gives her two separate work spaces.

Similarly, she really thought about the pros and cons of having a pantry — and decided she’d be better off without one.

“With a pantry there’s always a need to use a kitchen stool to reach the back of the top shelves,” she points out. So she and Tim came up with a better plan.

All her pantry items are kept in three easy-to-use drawers under the kitchen bench where she prepares food. “Everything’s right at my fingertips and it works so well.”

Instead of a splashback, there are two windows that provide natural light on the benches, while providing a framed view of the white roses in the front garden. Even better, she can slide the window right back and enjoy the scent of the roses as she works.

All the cabinetry is by Blum with some electronically operated, with everything softly opening and closing. There beautiful wood feature finishing looks streamlined and timeless.

The Private Side

Another intriguing design feature of this home is the lack of doors between rooms.

Just as the lounge isn’t closed off from the main living area, neither is the private area of the house. The stone walls, the change of texture underfoot and lower ceilings create a natural demarcation, imbuing a more intimate mood.  

Tiles and timber flooring have been used in the entrance, two hallways, mud room and laundry, while plush charcoal carpet quietens the office and bedrooms on this side of the house.

Soft closing pocket sliders are used throughout the home. Unless in use, they are generally left receded into the walls, adding to the feel of space and openness.

With no swinging doors, it means when a breeze comes through there is no unexpected slamming. Plus every room maximises space without having to accommodate a swing space for every door.

Two guest rooms come off a hallway on the west side of the house, with a beautifully appointed bathroom located between them.

Bespoke wardrobe and draw cabinets are built into each, designed to maximise usage and space. A large sliding door obscures the wardrobe, and when opened, it neatly covers the draw cabinetry.

“We didn’t want large bedrooms and these doors give the rooms a feeling of spaciousness,” says Charmaine. As too do the ‘floating’ beds with their support structure tucked well beneath them allowing you to see more of the floor.

A section of American Oak ‘fins’, at the end of the north hallway offers a degree of separation for the home office, while allowing natural light to spill into both spaces. A wide 600mm high window runs the length of the office at seat height above the engineered stone desk. It beautifully frames the back yard and outdoor living area, and allows you to see into the main living area, so you still feel connected. 

A large picture window on the northern wall showcases the rescued rhododendrons and structural form of the impressive oak trees beyond the boundary fence.

Next to the office, at the far end of the house, is the master bedroom.

Large sliders open out onto the lawn and garden, while light filters through the oak trees into the room. 

The wardrobe is set behind the headboard wall, with a luxurious ensuite behind that. A spacious shower is at one end of the long vanity, while American Oak fins offer a degree of separation for the toilet — a strategy employed in all three bathrooms.

Like all the rooms in the house, above the vanity there is a visual connection to the garden with a high landscape shaped window framing a magnificent magnolia.

THE TECHNOLOGY

Premier Heating installed a premium underfloor heating system in the concrete slab throughout the entire home (see story page 39). The heating system, lighting and windows are all digitally automated and can be controlled from a tablet on the wall in the kitchen. 

A home automation system from Control4 supplied and fitted by Adam Smith at Switched Electrical eliminated the need for numerous additional switches and remotes in the home.

“He was just great — he’s got everything working for us so we can control everything with our phones, or from the tablet on the wall in the kitchen,” says Charmaine.

“It’s an amazing system that controls the lighting, the louvres, the blinds and heating. It’s amazing what technology does. We were in our last house for 25 years and we weren’t looking at what was going on. Once you start building and you see what’s out there, technology has come just so far.”

All the blinds in the house can be opened or closed with a single tap on the tablet, or you can just do a room at a time. In each room is a switch panel that controls the various lighting and blinds.

A terrific safety feature is the ALL OFF button in the garage, so when you leave the house and you want to make sure everything is off, you just hit the ALL OFF switch — job done.

THE DECOR

Although the home boasts exquisite interiors and hand-picked furniture, there is nothing sterile about the atmosphere inside. For the Geoff and Charmaine the foremost important part of building the new property was making a private yet welcoming home for themselves and their family’s enjoyment.

Interior designers guided them through their furniture and colour choices. Selections were made to work with the pale greys, blues and white surfaces that tie in with the natural palette in the colours of the Taranaki stone wall.

Art dealers assisted the couple to dress the walls of the home, to match the light and mood of each room. 

“They were wonderful to deal with. We would send photos to them and they would then make suggestions of pieces that would work well in the space. They would then send our choices and say if it doesn’t work just send them back, which is great service,” Charmaine recounts.

Each window in the home frames a different view of the garden and angles of the home exterior — like an artwork in itself.

Christine at The Design Loft in Fitzroy assisted in adding the finishing touches, which helped bring everything together, Charmaine adds.

THE FINAL WORD

Working with their son meant Geoff and Charmaine didn’t have to get to know their architect and he didn’t have to learn about them … that saved a lot of time and streamlined communications.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the detail of the house — if you’re going to do it, do it properly,” Charmaine believes. 

“The team at LA Homes, Kurt and Rob and especially site foreman Brendon McGlashan, were brilliant throughout the build process,” says Charmaine. “It was a very technical home to build and nothing was too much trouble — they were great to deal with.”

Running the stone wall internally within the house was received as a left field idea by Geoff and Charmaine and they were originally hesitant about it, but now seeing it completed they really enjoy the way light plays on the stone, and how its anchoring presence adds a feeling of permanence and security.

“In the course of the journey of building the house, we’ve actually met some wonderful people — people we’ve actually made really good friends with.

“It’s been a long journey but now that everything is finished, we just love it.”

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