Woolleys Bay Northland
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Woolleys Bay Northland

Slice of Heaven

Tucked beneath the spreading branches of a Pohutukawa with a vista the length of a half-moon, white-sand beach – could it get more quintessentially Northland than this?

Our clients know they are blessed to have discovered this Woolleys Bay site wedged between sea and bush; now, with the house built, they can sit at their dining table and watch rainbows arc over the landscape.

For decades the previous owners had pitched tents on a grassy platform adjoining the steepish drop-off, enjoying family holidays where, against such a backdrop, the rudimentary became luxury. When, in 2017, our clients stumbled upon a magical private sale on the Tutukaka Coast online, they took the three-hour drive the very next day. They immediately recognised the benefits of having such an elevated panorama combined with a two-minute access down to the beach so made a handshake agreement with the vendors that evening, without any idea when or what they’d be able to construct. It was a simple decision to purchase. Getting to go with the house build was a lot more complex, however.

Our clients had consulted two other firms prior to signing with Box™. They particularly admired the work of Herbst Architects – “it has the wow factor” – and had paid for a design before the realities of the build process became apparent. “We would have had to find a builder and get consents. The idea was overwhelming,” explains one of the owners. That’s when the turn-key aspect of Box™ won them over. “It was just such a relief.”

Retaining the fundamentals of the original design, particularly the shape of the upper level, the floorplate was altered to incorporate an internal lounge (instead of a lanai), a generous deck was added to the south-east elevation and the en suite upgraded. “Box™ was so flexible. They understood that we didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on crafting two entirely different plans. They were transparent and candid about the business proposition and we found that reassuring.”

By the time the actual build started in 2019, our clients had added many personal touches to the design of the interiors – a classic case of engaged owners working alongside the team for the best outcomes. And the result is certainly special.

The dwelling, which cantilevers towards the sea, sports an angular geometry that reinforces its architectural credentials. It’s clad in a combination of light vertical cedar and dark standing-seam aluminium on the upper level. Below, charcoal-toned board-and-batten recedes into the land to ensure a contrasting exterior palette that is equal parts contemporary and demure.

Once inside, sloping ceilings rise to embrace a mezzanine, exposed structural beams fixed with great, big bolts march through the main living area and an unbroken glass frontage frames the coastal scene. The warmth and texture of timber trusses and plywood-wrapped ceilings mix it up with robust black-steel elements in window joinery, framing for the Caesarstone kitchen bench and a banister that skirts the mezzanine.

The dining zone has built-in bench seating and enough room for an expansive table – “We could host 12 at any one time” – and the main bedroom features an en suite where a bank of floor-to-ceiling louvres embraces the bush so thoroughly it’s like bathing in a forest.

The mezzanine is one manifestation of the idea to create multiple flexi-use spaces: it can be a den, an extra sleeping area, an office or a lounge. “I love to have my jigsaw puzzle up there on the table so that when I come back it’s still right where I left it,” says one of the owners. The space beneath it is equally well used. There’s a pantry for the kitchen – “it contains a second fridge so we can close it off with a pocket door if we rent the house for holiday lets” – while, accessed from the exterior, a storage area for folding chairs, paddle boards, tools and other bits and bobs is an essential at the beach.

Downstairs, the bunkroom harks of bach holidays past, there’s a large rumpus room where the TV is currently housed, and a laundry tucks beneath the cantilever.

Save for a mix-up when the kitchen splashback tiles went unordered (and then became unavailable), building during Covid was like sailing in a gentle breeze – until the final handover. A three-month lockdown in Auckland precluded the owners from visiting their completed home and taking official possession.

Now that they have been in residence for two years, there are a few little things they wish had been done differently. Such as the location of a light-switch, the direction a window or door opens, and some additional interior lighting. The owners acknowledge that in a big project like this, there will always be something one might not think of at the time. They are minor niggles. What’s important is that the Box™ builder Ken Topp worked with them to find the best solution, even after the fact.

When the couple sit on their front deck with a morning coffee and watch a sunrise that paints the water and clouds pink, they know they don’t need to put on any rose-tinted glasses. This house on a Northland hillside is the real deal.


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