Architecture studio Common renovates a beautifully preserved mid-century O-tautahi home, channelling the design philosophies of its original owner and architect.

As Lucking Would Have It

As Lucking Would Have It

It’s a brave couple that buys a house sight unseen. But Claire McSherry and Damian Sims had little choice. After shifting their young whānau of four home from England during the thick of Covid-19, they were staying with family in Wānaka when this mid-century Christchurch gem hit the market. Designed in the early 1950s by renowned Ōtautahi architect George Lucking as his family home and office, the three-bedroom cottage had barely been touched since. Besides two alterations undertaken by Lucking himself – a 1967 primary bedroom wing and a 1969 garage – it was essentially in original condition.

“We’d been looking for so long and were just tired of coming up to Christchurch for open homes, so we sent a couple of friends, my sister and Tobin [Smith of Common] through instead,” explains Sims. Having come across Smith’s work in a book on small houses, the couple had initially approached the architect about a new-build, but he suggested they keep their options open, not ruling out a renovation. Still, giving a house purchase the thumbs-up was new territory for the architect. “Sure, there was a bit of pressure, but it was an easy yes,” he remembers. “If you looked past the compromised gutters and dodgy roof, the place had so much untapped potential.”

At 170 square metres (including the garage), the place was snug. Though built-in joinery eased concerns posed by the typically tight bedrooms, the whānau needed more living space, another bathroom, and a kitchen rejig. “The original house was a really modest little rectangular thing, and the living environment was designed to cater to that,” explains Smith. “When Lucking added another bedroom in the 60s, the lounge didn’t expand to match, so we added another living space and opened up the kitchen to make it more interactive.” Mirroring the bedroom extension with a new living pavilion on the opposite side of the house, the home transformed from an L-shape into a U, leaving an internal courtyard in its wake. The new wing’s roof slopes inwards, drawing warmth and light into the outdoor alcove so it becomes an extension of the living space. “On a nice day, we open all of the doors, and you can wander in and out, from room to room, in a way that makes so much sense for us,” says Sims.

The architect took a low-key approach to the project, asking himself, “What would Lucking have done if he had renovated it?” Serendipitously, the original house plans still hung in Lucking’s old office, and they could see a faint pencil line where someone had mocked up an extension off the kitchen, almost precisely where the new wing stands. “It was kind of as if he had been planning it all along, and we just made it happen,” says McSherry. Though it’s easy to demand a lot of a renovation, Smith didn’t overplay his hand. The interventions balance revival and renewal, conscious of the home’s style and limitations. Instead of blowing out the kitchen into a contemporary open plan, it retains its original separation but with an exaggerated entrance and wider opening to the living room. The move delivers the connection and light the couple desired, with the bonus of retaining plenty of cupboard space.

Recycled and repurposed elements also keep the design from skewing too modern or expensive. Sharp new kitchen joinery and stainless-steel worktops are offset by rimu handles that Sims reshaped from the home’s original wall panelling, skirting and architraves. The old dining table – a precariously flimsy fold-down that doubled as a kitchen cupboard face – was transformed into a kids’ table. Elsewhere, Lucking’s study has become a bedroom, his drafting desk now occupied by homework and hobbies.  

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Other touches across the home culminate in a much more liveable and enjoyable space. Like the refreshed family bathroom, the new ensuite, total rewiring, and the welcome discovery of rimu floorboards beneath tatty carpet and lino. But the living room is the indisputable game changer. “One thing we loved about the original house was the movement between the spaces and the way Lucking played with levels,” explains McSherry. “So, we carried that through by stepping down into the new lounge.” As well as adding much-needed space, the double-height ceiling introduces volume and light, with large, high-level windows capturing the afternoon sun and borrowing the neighbours’ established trees for a lush outlook.

The new wing flows effortlessly to the courtyard and into an unexpectedly enormous backyard. From the street, you wouldn’t suspect the narrow, flower-fronted cottage harbours such generous outdoor living, but back here, you find vegetable gardens, a trampoline, a jungle gym and – the heavy hitter – a separate studio. Designed to accommodate visiting friends and family, the larch-clad building features a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, mezzanine, and a private deck where guests can enjoy the last moments of afternoon sun.

“We wanted the studio to complement the architecture but still have its own language,” Smith says of the design. While the primary home renovation ties in with the modernist style, the ashy studio offers a fresh perspective. It echoes the garage’s form and turned-down roof profile but elegantly asserts its own identity. Separate access down the side of the property means there’s scope to rent it out as an extra source of income – though that would require their guest book easing off. “Last weekend, we were away for four nights, and four different groups stayed in it, so we’re not renting it out any time soon,” says Sims.

The young whānau lived in the home throughout construction, shouldering increasingly challenging building assignments and enduring weeks without a laundry, bathroom, kitchen or even electricity. “Someone told us if we came through the renovation not bankrupt and still married, we’ve done well... so I guess we succeeded in that,” says Sims. Taking it all in, the cladding quietly tells the story of the home’s evolution, with each form (the original house, bedroom wing and new addition) wrapped in the timber format of its time. The final play was running a dark stain over the formerly chocolate-brown home and replacing the asbestos roof with a metal profile in the same forest green Lucking had chosen. It now feels comfortable and complete. “It was probably reprogramming more than a renovation,” Smith says contemplatively. “We haven’t heavily modified it; we’ve just restored it.”

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