If the Kiwi bach is a state of mind, we ought to see a shrink. From the inlets of the Bay of Islands to the shores of Wanaka, we’re suffering from delusions of grandeur, with our once humble, informal homes-from-home mutating into McMansions by lake and sea.
For New Zealanders with a sense of tradition, the decline of the classic bach and the rise of the swanky holiday house is a dispiriting thing. To find a modern beach home as simple, unpretentious and wholly bach-like as this gladdens the heart. Near the entrance to Riversdale Beach on the Wairarapa’s untamed east coastline, it offers lessons in how respect for Kiwi tradition can be happily married to a European-inspired design to create something that is honest, welcoming, cost effective – and not too big.
Created for a couple and their four children by Anne Kelly and Karl Wipatene of Wellington’s a.k.a Architecture, the project divides into three: a doubled-storey living pod on a restrained 7x7-square-metre footprint; a separate double garage, again 7x7 square metres, with a loft and loads of storage; and a sheltered swimming pool for the days when the coastal winds are just too challenging.
“We wanted a bach, not a home,” says one of the owners. “We have a family home in Wellington, and we didn’t want another big house. We wanted a place that would be as functional as possible, but still look good.”
If the footprint is compact, the expectations for the bach were not. With only 7x7 square metres to the living pod, and a 7-metre height restriction, the couple not only wanted three bedrooms, but also an adaptable space to welcome their extensive extended family and their kids’ friends, too.
It was decided the garage could do some work as well. Mirroring the living module in form and size, the design provides beds in a loft. Another thought: separating the living pod from the garage on the site provides two separate islands and, between them, the buildings are big enough to accommodate a family but still provide some privacy.
When the design was approved, it counted 10 beds all up. Unofficially, the headcount tops that. “Honestly, some weekends there could be 20 people staying here,” says Kelly.
In form, both bach and garage owe something to the little plastic houses used in Monopoly, a game that has occupied many a rainy day in many a Kiwi bach. The similarity hasn’t been lost on the Riversdale community, with the locals quick to refer to them as “the Monopoly houses”.
The resemblance is enhanced by two key design elements: the decision to visibly eliminate guttering, and to have a sleek mix of cladding – shiplap-style cedar and aluminium tray roofing in light and dark tones to provide contrast.
The first design element precipitated the second. The owners had been impressed by the purity of European homes that have gutter-less roofs, so Kelly and Wipatene moved the gutters to the base of its walls, with rainwater running to tanks under the beach-side deck.
Eliminating spouting required metal cladding, not timber, on two sides. A Euramax continuous roof, expertly crafted by Erich Stocker of Classic Metal, covers the roof and northern and southern walls of both buildings.
Closer to home, the owners found inspiration on a nearby farm that has a two-storey barn with top-to-bottom sliding doors. With practicality in mind, two sliding panels have been incorporated into the bach: on the second level, on the beach side, one slides to provide sun shading and privacy; on the street side, at ground level, another can be moved to conceal the entrance when the bach is empty.
The owners’ playful turn of mind has been at work inside, too. The vaulted living area, with its view across a wetland to the beach, doesn’t have to be vaulted at all. The owners conceived a movable floor which, using a counterweight and pulley system, can be lowered into place to provide another living space on the second level. It provides huge flexibility, as well as heat retention in winter, they say.
The pool and sheltered courtyard, which has a double fence to defend against the wind, were added late in the design phase to resolve a number of practicalities. When the wind picks up in summer and the sea turns cold, it’s the ideal place when a mass of cousins descend. “It’s like a municipal swimming pool in the afternoons,” says one of the owners. But when the conditions are right, the family is out sourcing paua, putting out cray pots out and negotiating the surf. Just like a proper kiwi bach.