To listen to Hudge's playlist inspired by this house, click here. Small-scale apple orchardists in West Auckland are few and far between these days. Since the commercial focus turned away from biodiverse offerings, heirloom varieties such as the Oratia Beauty, developed by Dalmatian immigrants in 1932, have become endangered. But when Dave Strachan of Strachan Group Architects (SGA) was driving out to this property for his first meeting with the clients on site, there were still apple crates piled high on the side of the road. The crisp kernel of an idea began to form.
Having moved from a house in nearby Scenic Drive, where in winter the damp drip of bush encroached like a wet sponge, the owners of this 1.9-hectare rural block in Oratia revelled in its largesse. “We used to call this sunny part of the road the ‘dreamy bit’,” recalls one.
For a while, they lived with their two young daughters in a one-bedroom, 60-square-metre cottage. “The land around the house was our other room; it felt very open.” When it came to build, they asked for something modest. Having met the SGA team at an architecture open weekend, they felt understood, like-minded. There would be no over-reaching for expensive architectural expression. “They wanted something with a connection to place,” says Dave. “Not a house that looked like it had dropped out of a UFO.”
Dave, who grew up in the countryside of Te Awamutu, is familiar with the notion of utilitarian outbuildings. The rural vernacular is his native tongue. So the idea of an apple shed, derived from the area’s horticultural history, landed easily.
In the spirit of sustainability, the original house which, of course, was placed bang in the middle of the section, was moved to one side. SGA kept the core and refurbished it as a minor dwelling by pushing out under the soffit. Then the fun began. No, really.
“The build itself was a delightful experience,” says one of the owners. Along with their girls, who are now 10 and eight, they watched as Fraser and James Strachan of Crate (yes, it was an all-family affair) crafted the H-shaped home into being. The young ’uns received impromptu life lessons such as how to hammer in nails, tried to turn the scaffolding into a jungle gym and fell about giggling when the chickens, all discombobulated by the disruption, started laying eggs in the builders’ vans. For their parents, it was more about the process. “It was impressive to witness how such a complex endeavour was made to look relatively easy from the outside,” says one.
The 140-square-metre home not only fits in with the family’s lifestyle but segues into its environment like a long-term resident. A rainscreen made of band-sawn macrocarpa has the rusticated, weathered nature of agricultural buildings and, instead of mitred connections, the screen is laid with “hit and miss” corner lap detail so it can move and shift and swell and shrink with the weather. “We also ran the rainscreen up past the external gutters to disguise them,” explains Dave. The roof, of raw Zincalume that disappears into the sky, accommodates solar panels on three sides which feed into the home’s Tesla Powerwall batteries.
Inside, this rural gem is a little more polished. But just a little mind you. High-grade birch ply lines the living-zone walls for a casual, warm ambience. Exposed macrocarpa trusses reach into the volumes of the living, kitchen and dining areas – while service zones are kept low-key with standard flat ceilings. “Why create a whole lot of vertical tunnels when you don’t need to?” asks Dave. In fact, the architects were so mindful of budget and wasteful thinking that it was the owners who ended up pushing to spend more. “There were times when Dave and his team would offer us a cost-effective way of doing things and, as clients, we’d say, ‘We see that, but we want the windows bigger,’” says one.
On balance, they seem to have hit the target. The home is a laid-back vessel for living in that connects deeply with the West Auckland vibe. It is not a house designed for children who sit inside on devices but for country kids to get amongst it outside. The footprint may have expanded, but the environment is still the major drawcard. A transitional zone – a room lined in macrocarpa board – overlooks the pool and light-touch landscaping by Campbell Strachan. It features bench seats beneath shutters that slide back to a vista of paddocks, bush and a glimpse of the harbour. “The children play out there, we eat out there, entertain there, and sometimes I even sit out there and work. It has beautiful light and is a delight to be in,” says one of the owners.
Thirteen years ago, when the clients, who met in the UK, were immersed in the big-city dazzle of London, they probably never imagined that one day they would find happiness in an over-sized apple crate, with the peace of plenty of green around them and three alpacas as pets. “When I get home, I feel like I’m on a different planet,” says one. “Leaving the rat race of the city, we feel so lucky to live in our little piece of paradise.”