There aren’t many people in Auckland who get to live in the glorious shadow of a Pohutukawa planted by their father. This site close to the waterfront at St Heliers was special and called for a beautiful design. For one thing, it had not been subdivided in recent years like so many others in this prime real-estate zone. For another, it was cloaked in family history.
The current owner’s dad had bought here in the late 1930s. “He borrowed the money off Mum’s parents,” she says. As was the way in those days, he built a home right in the middle of the plot. The owner has childhood memories of growing up in this environment, of space to explore and boating on the harbour. The Pohutukawa came to the front garden as a tiny tree, transplanted from one of the offshore islands after the war.
So, when the owner inherited the land, she already had a real sense of connection to it. Tired of living in a cold, draughty 1940s dwelling, with cracking walls, she asked Box™ to design a warm home with a peek of the sea around a tree that was sacrosanct. “I had visited a Box™ house that belonged to a friend of a friend,” she recalls. “I liked what I heard about the company, and I liked the feel of that home.”
Her brief to designers Tony Borland-Lye and Tim Hogarth for a beautiful design was simple enough, except for one thing: she wanted to recycle timber from the original residence and to use a stash she had kept for years at a property up north. “We were excited to repurpose the timber,” explains Tim. The long-held native timbers was duly incorporated into the design. But then…the Covid pandemic conspired to confound the plan. “We were in the construction phase and found it hard to quantify the amount of timber our client had. Then too many lockdowns, made the milling slow and unreliable.” It was one step too far for an already disrupted workflow.
Nevertheless, beautiful timber is still integral to the aesthetic. Beyond a cheerful Pioneer Red door, (appropriately referencing the Pohutukawa tree) is an entry foyer wrapped in Abodo timber, giving the warmest welcome. It’s a dramatic beginning, which draws the eye away from the secret doors to the garage and ground floor flat, disguised with flush-pull door handles. The Abodo timber cloaks up the entire stair-void walls around the bespoke stairwell, emerging in the middle level into the open-plan living, kitchen and dining room, and a flexi room at the top. “It’s the idea of moving from the darkness to the light,” says Tim. “It creates a journey of discovery.”
A black metal stair balustrade screen, framed in dark-stained oak, contrasts with the American oak timber floors that feature throughout the mid-level living area. The pale honeyed flooring tones of wood continue in the oak plywood kitchen cabinetry, where they are teamed with white and black for a fresh modern look. A square picture window above the back bench frames a slice of green space effectively, a sightline to the backyard gardens of the neighbouring houses. Extensive floor-to-ceiling glazing leads out onto a deck brings in a massive panorama, which stretches across the water to North Head to the west and Rangitoto Island to the east. “As a child, our client used to spend time watching the large boats come into harbour,” says Tim. It’s a tradition her grandchildren can continue, with the new home’s unobstructed views to the water.
Built on land closely held for decades, this house is intergenerational in more ways than one. At street level, alongside the double garage, is an apartment-like space which the owner’s adult son occupies. It’s private but not self-contained, with cooking and shared meals taking place in the light-filled kitchen/dining room upstairs. Behind the living zone on the middle level are three more bedrooms and the main bathroom, with a large bathtub that was a ‘must-have’ for the owner’s partner and her grandchildren. “At one stage, there was a mini flood as one of the grandchildren got a bit over-excited with making waves in the bath,” says Tim.
The third floor was important to grab a full-frontal view of the sea and allowable within height-to- boundary restrictions because the section is, fortunately, flanked by two neighbouring driveways. Through clerestory windows that tuck in below the sloped ceiling, an iconic tableau is framed: that Pohutukawa tree in one direction and the conical form of Rangitoto and the harbour in the other. This flexi space in the treetop can be either an office, a bedroom or a second living room, but it’s always spectacular and of its place.
Having never built before, the client says she found the process easy. “I just left it up to Box™ to do it.” That included some green schemes. Solar panels installed on the roof and tanks on the property, capturing grey water which is used for the garden and to flush the loos. “Sustainability and environmentally friendly practices are very important to me,” says the client. She loves waking up in the morning and always takes a leisurely moment to pause and look up into the silvery branches before she starts her day.
While there is no intention to develop the roomy backyard, Box™ sited the home between the tree and a possible future boundary should plans change. The exterior cladding is dark-stained Abodo on the lower level is offset by Abodo in a mid-brown tone on the upper floors, and tray-profile standing seam metal roofing wraps down and around the living box. The metal cladding is an approach that serves to bring textural interest to the exterior and break up the massing of the home. Not that there’s too much of that. “It’s a big house but none of the spaces are enormous,” says Tim. “Everything has a purpose. There’s no random opulence, just beautiful design; it’s a home that is no more than it needs to be. Form follows function.”