To listen to Hudge's playlist inspired by this house, click here. When building a new home, the standard advice is to experience the site before delving into the design. To spend time gaining an understanding of the light, wind, function and views. For Dale Spencer and Sam Clode, that meant 110 nights in a Torpedo7 tent on their bare Langs Beach section. “We had the tent on site for about three or four years,” remembers Spencer. “It came down to about $4 per night when we worked it out, so not bad.” Biding their time by accumulating references for their future beach house, Herbst Architects surfaced as the recurring designer in their collected inspirations. “We didn’t want a white house with plasterboard and skirting,” explains Spencer. “We wanted it to feel bachy – well, glam bachy – and Lance and Nicky Herbst got it.”
The compact 400-square-metre site sits one street back from the beach, sloping towards the sea, with views across Bream Bay. As co-directors of online nursery PlantHouse, the couple manage roughly nine hectares of greenhouses and land across two locations, so they were quietly pleased the small section precluded weekends spent weeding or tending hedges. However, the petite land parcel did come with several restrictions imposed by the sellers (their neighbours), onerous town-planning forces, and a grand established pōhutukawa. “The buildable width in the end was just over 10 metres,” explains architect Nicky Herbst. “And due to the site’s steepness, the height-to-boundaries had quite an impact on what we could do and how we could fit the fall into that envelope.”
The architects worked up rather than out to cater to those tight restrictions. The three-level form is quintessential Herbst, being unconditionally site-specific with oiled timber cladding that incorporates various expressions of rainscreens and battens. The “tetra block”, as Herbst puts it, houses a main bedroom suite up top, with the kitchen, dining and living areas below, followed by elegant self-contained guest accommodation on the ground floor. “It has its own exterior access,” Spencer points out. “So our guests can go there and enjoy it without us, and vice versa.” The final form is a filigree-battened boat garage just off the street, part of which has been carved out to make room for the front door.
In an unexpected move, the plan is centred around an exposed staircase. “It’s the knuckle that holds all these different components together,” says Herbst. “And it’s a bit of a nod to a mid-century design that explains the movements through the building.” As the entire view takes place out the front of the home, the architects claimed the back wall for the stairwell, running obscured glass alongside it. From the road, all you see is a curious opaque triangle on the home’s façade, while inside, it translates as light and privacy in the main living space. “After the stairwell was sorted, everything fell into place from there,” says Herbst.
The ground level is embedded in blockwork. Here, a cavity slider separates two timber-lined rooms arranged as separate bedrooms or a generous single suite with a shared bathroom and a wide, covered courtyard. Initially, the beach house was fronted by a view-inhibiting two-storey red shack, but that was later bowled and fortuitously replaced with a low-slung design. “Our guests can actually see sand now,” says Spencer. Arguably the finest feature awaits in the bathroom, where you walk through the shower and out the window to an inbuilt outdoor bath and rain shower. It’s a big moment of luxury for a small home, which came about in response to the couple’s request for somewhere to hose off the sand and sunblock after a day at the beach. A smaller, identically tiled trough sits alongside the entrance as a delightful footbath. “It’s a little detail, but it makes me wonder why every bach doesn’t have one,” says Spencer.
With a key objective to “capitalise on the view” set down by Spencer and Clode, the architects arranged the house so every level can access that bright-blue outlook, offsetting it with a deep, timber-heavy interior. The rich material palette of dark plywood walls, spotted gum or concrete floors, and cedar ceilings is calm and casual. Custom built-in furniture and joinery maximise the lounge’s small footprint, while a covered deck off the dining area functions as an outdoor room, expanding the living space and pushing further into that prized view. “Traditionally, people would probably put the lounge out the front, but as Nicky and Lance said, ‘You go to the lounge when it’s dark, and you can’t see the view anyway,’” says Spencer.
Come night, the couple retreat inwards or out onto the deck, where the architects have resourcefully concealed a fireplace in one of the structural columns that push up through the building. Behind this, where you’d expect to find more decking, is a double-height void. The full impact of the negative space is best observed from the kitchen, through a fixed, floor-to-ceiling window. The artistic move also gives the couple the ability to bank the sliding glass doors against this window for an unimpeded indoor-outdoor flow.
The beachside home incorporates many of those Herbst-specific design touches that first charmed the couple, like in the main bedroom, where a timber screen slides across the wide picture window as a sophisticated, manual control over the elements. The home is designed to accentuate the site’s unique position and allure rather than detract from it and was attentively executed by Steve Haycock Construction. “The craftsmanship and attention to detail of the builders was remarkable,” says Spencer. “But we were up against it.” When Covid hit, the border into Northland was established at Mangawhai, effectively locking the Warkworth-based tradespeople out. “We had one builder, Tom Ingham, who lived on the right side and could get on with a few bits and pieces, but getting the materials through was incredibly difficult.”
Suffice to say, after a few years of tenting and an unexpectedly long, Covid-hindered construction, it’s been a journey, but the couple are in. As they now split their time between Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Whangārei and Mangawhai for work, the beach house has become their unofficial midway point. “It’s a perfect central spot for everything we’re trying to achieve with the business,” says Spencer. “But even being here so often, and usually for work, it still feels very resort-like. It’s still a treat.”