Anyone who knows architect Evan Mayo of Architecture Bureau will tell you he thinks fast and talks fast. The ideas come rushing in and words pour from him at breakneck speed. It can be breathtaking to witness.
So, he was a tad concerned that, by the time he had completed his initial meeting with these clients, seated in the dining room of their 1950s brick bungalow, talking about their dreams for the Mt Maunganui section on which it stood, he hadn’t struck on the winning concept. There was no immediate or obvious design hook.
There were afew practicalities: he had to make space to store a big boat unobtrusively, and concrete was an imperative component in the build and palette. These objectives were not to impede the owners’ desire to create a welcoming, hospitable environment for their friends and family.
On this peninsula with its magnificent white-sand coastline, the sea view was curiously coy from the site. There was a glimpse of the maunga, but that view could easily be built out. Mayo’s mind was working overtime. Then, as he made his way out the front door, he saw it across the road: a magnificent stand of pōhutukawa in the grounds of the local school. “It could never be taken away,”says Mayo. “We could use it to focus on.”
From the street, the dwelling is handsome – a strong, composed presence. A dark monopitch roof tilts between two concrete blades. At its apex, it stretches to5.6 metres high, where clerestory windows capture northern light for the living spaces.
The front courtyard was lifted to sit above the street to conceal a water tank, and backfilled using sand and earth excavated from the rear of the gently sloping section. The effect is two-fold: from within the glazed living area, there’s now better access to the tree-lined view; and it affords privacy from the street. Instead of building a fence, a perimeter hedge is growing above the low concrete wall at the front of the home to further enhance privacy. To the south, where the roofs dips over the garage, a bulkhead breaks up the expanse of the door. You wouldn’t pick that behind it is a garage for cars and a boat.
Gaining visual access to the pōhutukawa stand from more than just the front room was tricky on this long, narrow section – until Mayo came up with the scheme to take a U-shaped bite out of the rectangular plan. This ‘bite’ is a central courtyard on the northern elevation. It brings some transparency to the guts of the home, allows the main bedroom a view through the glazed living area – but also keeps the neighbours sweet. “They had a swimming pool, which they didn’t want us to overlook. This way we drew the outdoor living back from the perimeter of the site.”
Mayo’s clients own a concrete company and were directly involved in the build, translating their experience in the agricultural domain to the domestic realm. “They know concrete is never perfect and were relaxed about its honest nature,” says Mayo. As with the pour marks on the concrete, welding joins are left rough, ready and on view.
Surface imperfections on the precast walls give a textural dynamism to the interior. The concrete walls in the living zone run up to meet the ceiling, which is lined in ashin. The timber has random widths and depths and also absorbs a lot of sound, says interior designer Annique Heesen of Gezellig Interiors, who worked on the project. With their love of colour, the owners pushed Heesen to nudge a few boundaries. “They wanted different, nothing fluffy,” says Heesen. And just when she thought she’d made a courageous choice, she was cheerfully edged to go further. “The sofa is one example. I suggested green velvet,” she recalls. The clients’ response? Green is great but not outrageous. Burgundy it was.
The owners’ passion for industrial craft can be seen in the copper front door and copper vessels in the bathrooms, all of which were made by a friend. There are other personal, handcrafted details throughout the home. One of the owners formed the floating concrete stairs at the entrance, the raw-steel framing around the kitchen bench, and a shelving unit in the kitchen. Most of these additions were completed during last year’s lockdown – a productive time for the couple.
The relaxed yet robust nature of the finishes ensures this house can take the holiday knocks, but it will also, one day, be a permanent home. It may not be a precious place, but it is precious to them, a much-treasured collaborative effort. So much so that the speech at the roof shout brought out their poetic side: “A huge thank you to all for being on site; it’s all come together and looking so right.”