With complex geometry and optical illusions, Pac Studio adds a warm space to an Auckland villa that instantly feels like home.

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

It’s hard to dislike a bay villa, right? Right? The classic timber form appears all over central Auckland, in suburbs as varied as Kingsland and Remuera –– and frankly, even if you don’t like them and you want to live in central Auckland, modern heritage rules require that you do like them. As if to make up for the ravages of the 1980s, Auckland now employs one of the largest heritage teams in the southern hemisphere –– a group of people who love villas. Not only do they want you to keep yours, but they run a close eye over anything you might want to do –– right down to the chimney and how the house looks from the back. 

And so it is that, regardless of your taste, if you happen to own or buy one of these lovely old wedding cakes (as my wife and I did not so long ago, having sworn we never would), altering it is going to require a rather deep breath. Mostly, that’s a good thing. Verandah to one side, an elegant bay to the other; they’re often less frilly than earlier houses, and they have a scale that would be hard to justify now. 

The funny thing is that when you move in, the delights of airy stud heights, large rooms, tall sash windows and all that lovely timber work slowly work their magic on you, as you realise how innately liveable they are. Eventually you realise you’re kind of in love. 

Sometimes, that love can go too far. In the case of this house in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham, otherwise well-meaning owners in the 1980s loved the bay on the front so much they replicated it on the back, creating a warped mirror-image facing out to the garden. With modern boundary controls in play, they had to squash it a bit, creating a series of awkward spaces and truncated rooms that made less and less sense as you progressed down the hall. 

“We knew instantly on that first visit that something disastrous had happened to it out the back because the corridor wasn’t straight anymore,” says designer Sarosh Mulla of Pac Studio. Instead, it had a funny dogleg, a little door and then you sort of fell into the kitchen at the end of the corridor. Short story: the addition had to go.

The owners loved the scale and character of the original home – but they wanted to live in newer, more contemporary spaces that connected with the north-facin­g back yard. This can be tricky to achieve inside the confines of a character overlay. “A lot of what we were doing was reinstating the good work that’s been messed up,” says Pac’s Aaron Paterson. “You have to understand the thing you’re altering before you can do something else.”

In the original house, bedrooms and bathrooms have been reconfigured, their generous proportions intact with modern additions including an en suite. Out the back, a new extension to replace the old, at ground level. Here, the roof was key to the design, taking its cue from the original hip shape, with a central spine and four sloping sides. However, it has been cut in half, with one half rotated 90 degrees perpendicular to the other. As you enter the open-plan living area, warm, sarked cedar ceilings soar above – one above the kitchen and nook, the other over the dining area and a snug. Small covered terraces take off to the north and west. 

Where Mulla and Paterson’s design becomes even more dynamic is in its levels. In essence, the new living area is a series of rooms spiralling down from the original floor level of the villa to the new back yard. Honouring that original floor level is a ‘dado’ line that runs around the whole room.

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Views run diagonally through and across the spaces and out to the garden, with two roofs sitting above one open room that creates a distinct series of spaces. “A lot of it is about how you set up scenes for optical effects as you move through the space,” says Mulla. “The planning arrangement is relatively simple, but it’s mostly driven by how the topography works.”

Mulla and Paterson were acutely conscious of creating something subtle and detailed at the back of the house, rather than an aggressive box that rejected the villa form. “You use one to inspire the other,” says Mulla, “rather than thinking of the front as the ball and chain you have to drag around.”

It’s the kind of house where the fine details are as important and intriguing as the big moves. To shield the living areas from overheating, Pac developed a screen of timber battens across the back of the house. Their form is – again – inspired by the roof. Each batten is cut diagonally to create a shape which reassembles the pitched roof at one end and slopes back to make the shape of the hipped roof. The cut face has been painted a bright red, which is visible only from one side of the batten.

It’s a clever and delightful move – stand on one side of the back garden and it’s mostly red; stand on the other and it’s mostly grey. The effect flickers and moves, changing and dancing in front of your eyes. “It becomes abstract as you go across the back of the house,” says Mulla. “Everyone perceives it differently, and it’s about how your body walks through it.” 

The final layer came from the client. A lover of colour, she wanted to do more than add layers of white to an old house. In doing so, she’s returned the palette to a richer, more energetic scheme. A family of greys is painted throughout the house, both outside and in, with deep-red timber window frames that bounce warm light into the house. 

The ceilings are cedar, there’s orange and burgundy upholstery in the living area, and deep-green carpet in the snug. The bathrooms have bonkers peach and pink tiles that are modern, yet sympathetic to the original and there is – gasp – wallpaper in the bedrooms. “We wanted it to be really warm,” says Mulla. “Sometimes people forget how colourful villas were when they were first built. The colour palettes were absolutely nuts.”

And what’s not to like about that? “In a few years, we don’t want what we’ve done to be considered like the renovation we got rid of,” says Mulla. “We wanted to do something really high quality here – the original house deserves it.” 

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1.  Entry
2.  Bedroom (existing)
3.  Playroom (existing)
4.  Laundry
5.  Bathroom
6.  Media room
7.  Study
8.  Kitchen
9.  G&T nook
10. Dining
11. Living
12. Terrace
13. Carport

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