Steeped in sunlight and nostalgia, this Taupō beach house by Parsonson Architects puts a modern skew on the classic Kiwi bach.

Past & Presence

Past & Presence

While residential architecture wraps around the needs of clients, there is often a lot more asked of it. This Taupō holiday home has a grandstand position on a flat, lakefront site where locals stroll by on their daily constitutionals. As part of the quotidian, then, the house also had to contribute to community.

Hamiltonians Kevin and Linda Gilbert were drawn to buy here five years ago to continue a legacy. “As a child, I’d come boating with Mum and Dad at Kinloch and we’d camp at Waihāhā,” remembers Linda. A small fibrolite dwelling lightly occupied the land then. But while the nostalgic tug was huge, the idea of frigid winters and a summer scorch led to a more pragmatic approach: a modern take on the Kiwi bach.

The couple, who are nearing retirement, had long admired the beachside work of Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington’s Parsonson Architects, particularly a small house with a jaunty attitude that hovered in the dunes at Waikanae. When they met Gerald Parsonson, it was deal done. “He listened. We gelled. We trusted him,” says Linda.

Parsonson describes the building that now sits with its face to the water as “a nice, friendly house”. He’s not wrong. A lawn flows straight out to the street, with no perimeter fence to impede the connection and, even though there are two storeys, it’s of a humble, human scale. There is nothing imposing about it: just a small deck with wraparound seating and gentle colours to evoke the yesterday in the today. “The clients wanted something really liveable with a certain holiday character to it,” Parsonson explains. “This is not hardcore architecture.”

That may be so, but it’s still of its type and deliberate design moves underpin its “casual” nature. The dwelling stretches back down the length of the rectangular site, so there’s far more to the 185-square-metre home than initially meets the eye. Open-plan living dominates the lake side, with the main bedroom suite tucked in behind. Further back, there’s garaging for the car, boat and holiday toys. The owners drive over the grass to access it, just like they did in the old days, but special webbing laid beneath the lawn protects it from too much damage. 

Upstairs, the house is apartment-like with a bedroom and kitchenette, plus a flexi room with balcony that can serve as another place to sleep, an office, or simply somewhere to sit with morning coffee and a view across to Acacia Bay. “On a good day, you can see Ruapehu and there are beautiful sunsets across the hills,” says Linda.

The west-facing façade that projects forward on this upper level consists of a pergola above the balcony and an eave to offer sun protection to the bedroom. “It’s what informs the quirky shape of the face of the home,” explains Parsonson. It’s a happy coincidence that, when viewed from the street, it looks somewhat like a G – the clients’ last initial. 

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Careful planning and serendipity seem to be natural partners here. In homage to the vernacular history, white panels echo the fibrolite simplicity of yesteryear, while charcoal-coloured corrugated metal on the side and rear elevations references the dark-stained baches that once skirted the edges of the lake. “Since we did that, the neighbour has stained his place dark,” says Parsonson, “so the two houses hang together nicely.”

Inside, built-in bench seating, plywood shelving and wooden dowel used as stair balusters give a wink to the past. The dining table, crafted from the same Victorian Ash as the floorboards, nestles up to the bench seats, dinette-style. The kitchen, featuring recessed drawer pulls and a stainless-steel island benchtop, is at once generous and relaxed.

But it’s through colour that this home really finds its voice. An oft-underestimated ace in the design toolkit, Parsonson Architects has long employed colour to instil the spirit of a place. Finding clients who are willing to embrace it offers a rare opportunity to be playful, in a thoughtful way. Pale grey-blue on the upper-level exterior softens the house into the wash of sky while gentle green below anchors it to the grass and trees. “We love colour,” says Linda. “And the palette makes this look more bach-y, rather than a big, white house.”

Blue kitchen cabinetry provides a visual link to the lake, green squabs grace the bench seating, travelling outside to front and rear decks, and vinyl-like bathroom flooring, in punchy orange, green and blue, delivers a palpable sense of fun. The couple, who travel here with their son and daughter (a keen water-skier) most weekends, worked with interior designer John Darke on fitting out the spaces. The striped theme established in the bathroom floor is carried into the soft furnishings, and the Gilberts are mindfully filling their shelves with complementary objects such as a set of colourful canisters bought at MoMA, and retro salt and pepper shakers in the form of a 1950s bus.

At the housewarming party, the spaces absorbed the crowd as the owners showcased why there’s nothing about the house that they would change. As Parsonson wandered outside to capture some photographs of the occasion, he met an elderly woman passing by. He wondered what she would say of this design that some may view as challenging. To be honest, he was a little worried. She grabbed his wrist and spoke with the quiet authority of a neighbourhood, assuring him, “We like it, you know.”

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1. Deck
2. Living
3. Dining
4. Kitchen
5. Bathroom
6. Laundry
7. Bedroom
8. Garage
9. Boat Garage
10. Kitchenette
11. Balcony

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