Pat de Pont of SGA Architects sensitively restores a classic bay villa.

Lean on Me

Lean on Me

There are many ways the clients of this SGA renovation imagined their quotidian routine would improve once they extended their 110-year-old villa. But there are several more they couldn’t foresee. Such as the joy their two young girls get from scampering down the narrow garden pathway that runs alongside the eastern flank – a corridor fringed with fairy-like forest ferns. Or the way the light falling through a cut-out in the roof of the outdoor room acts like a sundial as it crosses the floor from dawn to dusk. Or, even, how well the house would function when four active family members were confined during a lockdown that lasted 49 days. 

Drawn to this property in Maungawhau, Tāmaki Makaurau, by its aspect and affordability, the owners, a professional couple, bought here in 2010. The rear garden was north-facing but the house itself was run down after being tenanted for about 20 years. “Best of all was its proximity to dumpling central on Dominion Road, a part of life I missed after living in Bangkok,” says one of the owners.

The day they were handed the keys, they thought it would be romantic to sleep on an airbed on the floor. It was not. The mattress deflated, but not their spirits. They bought a $100 kitchen on Trade Me, furnished the home with online finds, and made the best of its character and the open-late cheap eats nearby. 

A decade later, when architect Pat de Pont of SGA was called in to offer his ideas, there were already several back-of-a-napkin iterations of how an add-on could work. De Pont re-imagined some of those ideas within 10 minutes. He calls his solution “a clear and obvious choice”, driven by the need to capture light and provide privacy from neighbours. Of course, that’s downplaying the skill it takes to produce a plan that works practically but has moments of genius.

First the fundamentals: the original villa layout was judiciously juggled as bedrooms became bathrooms, bathrooms became bedrooms; then a lean-to at the back was removed before an extruded form, which adds 60 square metres to the footprint, was appended. 

But the picture pivots. Rather than jam new up against old, a connector was crafted: a compact sliver that contains a laundry, nook and pantry that plays a crucial role. “We call it the link,” says de Pont. “It’s a way of separating the roof forms of the old villa from the addition, which allows some freedom in how the new work is treated.” It also provides a continuation of the corridor – the central axis that extends visually into a rain-garden in the revamped back yard.

Rather than a typical sloping roofline, the new roof inclines, then turns back on itself and flicks up at the outer edges so that operable clerestory windows can access the east and west light and air, without inviting the neighbours to tea. 

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Rather than locating the kitchen, dining and living in an open plan, the outdoor room pushes into the north-east corner. This interrupts the line of sight between the couch and bench-seated dining zone. “Effectively, it makes it an L-shaped room, where the spaces are interrelated but there’s still some separation.”

With such nuanced thinking, it wasn’t difficult to convince the clients to screw up their paper sketches and go with this adapted flow. Besides, they were on the same page when it came to aesthetics. “We knew we didn’t want to replicate the villa – there’s only so much character you can recreate,” says one of the owners.

Although there were no heritage overlays, de Pont advised the two forms “talk to each other” and, in terms of scale, materials and design details, every decision was driven by this anchor. “At first I wanted corrugated iron – a tin box on the back of a timber box,” says de Pont. Yeah, nah. “The owners felt it was a bit harsh, too agricultural.” Instead, the addition, which reinterprets a lean-to, has ceilings with timber battens and is clad in horizontal larch boards that have some synergy with the weatherboards. “Larch is better in smaller profiles; it’s more knotty than cedar but more economical.” It doesn’t weather as well when stained dark, so the team opted for a wash of white – a decision that set the tone for the interiors, too. This pale timber board is used throughout, juxtaposed against dark leather-look slate. It appears in the kitchen bench and cabinetry, in bathroom vanities, room dividers and storage nooks. It keeps the look cohesive.

The clients decamped to family during construction and one of the owners acted as project manager alongside the builder, Geoff Higgins from Heartwood. “My mission was to remove anything that would slow him down; if that meant heading to the plumbing shop, off I’d go.” Collaboration and collective effort meant that, six months to the day, the family moved back in. 

When the order came to shelter in place for seven weeks, they couldn’t have been better prepared. The owners worked side-by-side in a home office with a built-in desk for two, while the girls lived it up large in an enchanted garden. Children “like loops and small spaces”, says designer Zoë Carafice, from Xanthe White Design, who devised a loose, organic landscape plan. This contrasts with the sharp-edged rectangle that finishes off the end of the home in geometric precision. 

Lockdown proved the perfect government-sanctioned time out. The family didn’t feel cooped up but connected to the nature on their doorstep and far-off views of the Waitakere Ranges. Inside, all was cosy, contained. “There are so many areas we can be horizontal and read books,” says one of the owners. Another unexpected bonus that serves to elevate the everyday. 

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1.  Entry
2.  Snug
3.  Study
4.  Bathroom
5.  Bedroom
6.  Pantry
7.  Laundry
8.  Kitchen
9.  Dining
10. Living
11. Outdoor room

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