A charred larch volume brings a delightful geometry and sense of space to this mid-century house extension by a.k.a Architecture’s Anne Kelly.

At Ease

At Ease

Architects and their clients are not frequently at a loss for words when describing their houses. The highlights and the war stories usually pour forth – and that’s all for the good, for those of us interested in architecture. Yet when I speak with architect Anne Kelly, director at a.k.a Architecture, about this renovation of a modest 1960s house in a cul-de-sac in the Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington bush, she seems somewhat apologetic that there aren’t more stories to tell. The same, really, when I speak with the owners: they point out that they were trying to think of what to tell me. This is not, to be very clear, for a lack of eloquence on their part or a fault of the renovation (though we’ll say nothing of the interviewer’s skills). Rather the whole thing seems to be summed up this way: great ideas, great team, great execution. Job well done.

For this happy outcome each credits the other, and builder Perry  Barber gets a heaping of praise also. The construction went according to plan, despite the pressures of another child on the way. And the result delights: it seems to go beyond what the owners originally hoped for. Nestled in the bush, it’s warm and light and open, giving new ways of experiencing this leafy part of Khandallah. To have achieved this seemingly without additional grey hairs is a testament to all involved.

The impetus for the renovation was a need for more space, and the resolution of an awkward entry to the house that previously took you up to what felt like the entire back of the building. Now you enter directly from the street, where there’s also access to a new self-contained apartment. This street-facing side of the house is where the most significant changes took place, with a garage, deck above, and a new kind of monopitch cube expanding the living area. All of this is clad in charred larch sugi ban, giving the entryway a distinctly Japanese feeling as you’re compressed between garden and charred wall.

From the street, you walk to the left of the garage towards the front door. Inside, you make a dogleg up a staircase and emerge into the heart of the house, a light-filled kitchen-dining-living space. Facing back towards the street the kitchen is at your left, living to the right and dining between. There’s a bank of 60s-homage windows at right that floods the space with light and puts you in the bush, feeling as though you’re suspended above a neighbour’s roofline. Straight ahead is a new bay window projecting into the street; to the right is the new deck above the garage. Back behind you a compact corridor leads to bedrooms and bathrooms, and access to a rear courtyard garden.

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Spatially, it’s the roofline that gives the extension a feeling of expansiveness. Above the kitchen and dining area the ceiling follows the original mid-century profile; further on it switches to a monopitch. This denotes different spaces within the one large room, and the owners credit this with making the room particularly enjoyable to be in.

Kelly says the key to this renovation was “more efficient space without necessarily additional space. But this is what we always love doing.” The deck off the living area, for instance, was not a part of a brief or the original plans. But again Kelly says they “managed to achieve it thanks to the nature of the forms”.

“We were totally in sync in terms of a modernist and simple aesthetic, and this influenced many of the design choices,” she adds. I get the sense it’s at least part of the reason why the process went so smoothly: neither Kelly nor the owners had to adjust expectations but instead could work together on design. A number of artworks dotted around the house by the likes of Kāryn Taylor and Harry Culy sit beautifully with the aesthetic of the renovation.

For obvious reasons, most attention is given to the result of any renovation or new-build. But that result – and the often stressful process – frequently comes back to the owners’ choice of who to work with on the design, and whether they understand and have confidence in each other. Perhaps those of us writing about architecture don’t pay enough attention to that original choice. In their bemused surprise at how simple and relatively straightforward this renovation was, the owners and Kelly both suggest it comes down to trust. Really, it’s all there in a single word that Kelly uses to describe this project: “Done.” 

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