Pac Studio resolves and extends a heritage bungalow in Tāmaki Makaurau with delicate screening and a warm heart.

After Glow

After Glow

Sarosh Mulla, of Pac Studio, does not mince words when remembering his first visit to this 1920s home in Maungawhau Mount Eden, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. “It was a decrepit bungalow that had been brutalised by successive owners,” says the Pac Studio director. “Each had added their own shanty out the back, so it was this long line-up of progressively depressing spaces with tenants living in each one.” Mulla had been engaged by builder Josh Grant, of Grant Built, and his wife Alyssa to transform the “dire” house into a family home. His first impression of the place was a lacklustre one, so his architectural response is intriguing. “Looking at that kind of strange tail, I thought, what would happen if you could create something lovely out of that terrible starting point?” 

The couple gave Mulla a deliberately vague brief to allow him full creative licence. “We wanted four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a formal lounge,” says Grant. “Other than that, it was free rein.” Since he had some time on his hands – the project took place across lockdowns and traffic-light changes – Grant would take care of the building and requested a design that pushed and exhibited his skill set. Taking this and the budget on board, Mulla set out to create something intricate in construction but simple in materials. “Having a client specify something ‘labour heavy’ was an unusual request for us,” he says. “So I thought, how great.” 

The superfluous outhouses were the first to go. Then, attention turned to the bungalow. Sitting in one of Tāmaki Makaurau’s special character areas, it had to retain its heritage façade but was in desperate need of a refresh. “We went in with the mentality that everything needed to be done,” explains Grant. “In its original state, we were almost purchasing it as land value, and we got the shitty old bungalow for free.” He stripped the home and started again, repiling and reframing before reviving the old windows and adding a new roof, weatherboards, plumbing, electrical and enhanced insulation to bring energy consumption down. As the home lies on a busy corridor between Dominion Road and Eden Park, the front garden was too public to enjoy, so Grant excavated it to ground level and converted it into an off-street car park and a more gracious welcome. “If we made the old bungalow sing, we could get away with a lot more out the back,” he explains. 

The white, timber-clad extension steps gradually up the sloping section. Mulla has used its length, volume and plenty of glazing to introduce light and space to the previously hemmed-in home. “Often we look at how we can create something quite different to the original house,” he says. “Then we examine how to design the garden and the house to be friends so they fit well together.” In this case, an internal courtyard addresses the junction between old and new, bringing morning light streaming in. On the opposite wall, a deep window seat and sliders forge an easy connection to the garden, deck and outdoor fire. 

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The house is logically arranged. The main bedroom, ensuite, family room, bathroom and two smaller bedrooms lie in the original bungalow, while another bedroom-office, open-plan kitchen-dining area, and a living space occupy the new bit. “I like the way the living is shielded from the kitchen by the cabinetry,” Mulla reflects. “It doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so you’re still connected, but it feels like a cosy, hidden space.” To ensure the work aligned with the family’s budget, Mulla used mostly basic, off-the-shelf materials, often incorporating them with a creative tweak. The cost-effective lacquered kitchen, for instance, is pink. “When Sarosh pitched it to me, the first thing that sprang to mind was that horrible, fluoro Barbie colour,” says Grant. After some serious convincing, the idea prevailed and blush crept its way across the skirting boards, adding fresh dimension to the largely plasterboard interior. This kind of creative cost-saving freed up budget for the big moments – like the ceiling.

“The best way to describe it is you take an A4 piece of paper, fold it diagonally from corner to corner and lift one side slightly higher than the other – that gives you the shape of our roof,” Mulla explains succinctly. Grant had asked for the opportunity to flex his skills, and the design delivered. Considering the logistics of combining complex geometry with the necessary insulation and ventilation, Mulla says it’s “one of the most complicated roofs we’ve ever designed. But Josh was up to the challenge.” The intricate result elevates the entire extension. 

Mulla’s principle of basic materials assembled well is exemplified by the cladding, where an over-batten system crosses a no-frills rusticated weatherboard to bring unique shadowplay and rhythm to the boxy form. The overhanging shade screen is timber too, albeit with “a bit more craft to it”, says Mulla. The wide-slatted awning protects the living spaces from harsh direct sun, its underside concealing that familiar pink tint, only visible to those inside. “In this area, there’s an expectation that the house’s exterior will be white, and it is,” explains Mulla. “But that didn’t mean we couldn’t add a bit of warmth.” 

Though the owners’ plan was to stay in the bungalow for a while, things were fast-tracked with the arrival of their first child and the draw of familial support. “I thought we’d get a couple of years in it,” says Grant. “But our future lay on the North Shore.” The young family sold up just as the works were completed and shifted over the bridge to a new house and new renovation. “It’s a tired, old transitional villa,” says Grant. “Should be fun.” Mulla’s almost finished drawing up the plans.

Styling by Ligne Roset

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