Shane Kingsbeer and fiancée Kate O’Connor were both born and bred in Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa Gisborne, and though they joke they’ve attempted to leave their hometown many times, family has always drawn them home again. When it came to looking for a site on which to build, the pair wanted something that would accommodate not only a home for their growing family, but an office for Kingsbeer’s architectural practice. “Being present is more important than anything,” he says. “I just don’t want to go all day without seeing my daughters.”
The couple found what they were looking for five years ago, in a piece of land in two tiny sections in the heart of the Ballance Street Village – a little centre that sits between the Taruheru River and one of the city's main arterial routes. The narrow section was tucked alongside a doctor’s rooms and surrounded by six neighbouring properties. The pair loved the sense of community in the village and were keen to be a part of it – though at the time, the price was too high.
Two years on and a price reduction later, and with O’Connor pregnant with their first child Vera, they finally bought the land. First came the office build on the front section. At the time, Kingsbeer was renting a generic office space and wanted to build something more in keeping with his architectural work, and which better reflected the laid-back feel of Gisborne. The house followed after, on the rear site, and was finished last year.
While there is a notable absence of signage to designate the office, the structure speaks for itself. Pavers bridge the grass verge between the footpath and the building floating above the street. One indicates the entrance, a vast glass door; the other, a narrow pool that emerges from beneath a corner – a reference to the fish ponds that Kingsbeer’s great-grandmother had built into her front lawn. The set-up offers a point of connection, an invitation for interaction with passersby.
In contrast to the street and north-facing floor-to-ceiling glass doors, the wall of the office visible from the house is windowless. It appears more sculptural, a screen of sorts, which not only gives the family privacy from the street, but creates separation; allowing Kingsbeer to disconnect from work and plug into family life when he’s at home.
This use of disconnecting elements to achieve connection run throughout Kingsbeer’s realisation of his home and office. However, he admits he was initially crippled by his own overthinking when it came to conceiving the house plan. “Once I let go of thinking about what we should do, what we need and what we want, and asked the question ‘how do we want our family to live, to grow up?’ it all became much easier”.
Just as Kingsbeer had pulled work and home life into proximity, that same desire for connectedness and interaction extended to the house itself. The tight site and the close neighbours provided additional parameters, resulting in the inward-focus of a courtyard. “I wanted it to be a house that has its own experiences,” says Kingsbeer, and that experience begins with the absence of a traditional front entrance. An eight-metre glass door slides open onto a living space encompassing a kitchen, dining and lounge areas. The courtyard sits at the centre of it all. Two bi-folding glass doors onto the courtyard can be pulled back to open the house up to itself and the elements.
The bedrooms and en-suite cluster in one corner. The bi-folding wall of Vera’s bedroom remains open so that the room becomes an annex to the courtyard. The airy courtyard is gold for the couple, especially with their younger daughter Nora. It provides a safe place for Vera to play in the open air, and they can all occupy different parts of the house, with everyone in sight of each other.
Everywhere you look, Kingsbeer has borrowed space and light. The courtyard lets in sky and breeze, and floods the living areas with natural light. Opening or closing each or any of the four separate doors onto the courtyard allows for an intricate approach to climate control. On hot summer nights, they often leave the centre completely open to moderate the temperature.
Kingsbeer took a restrained approach to public-facing windows. Narrow or clerestory windows maintain privacy for the family and neighbours. Wall space, which would otherwise be swallowed up by windows, has been claimed for built-in storage. Built-in seating, cabinetry and shelving maximise space and separate individual zones in the living space. There are drawers beneath the seating, overhead cupboards that run the length of the hallway and six metres of built-in storage beside the main bedroom and en suite.
The influence of Kingsbeer’s 2018 visit to the Case Study Houses in Los Angeles is evident. Returning home and transposing such thinking to a house and architectural studio in Aotearoa loses nothing of its original clarity.