Given the significant amount of timber used in the extension to their 1920s bungalow, Charlotte and Brian Hutton could be forgiven for worrying that it was going to more of a log cabin than a beautiful modern home. But the stained-glass flowers on the façade are emblematic of how this house positively blooms as you enter, opening up from enclosed private areas, through to the new sun-lit living space at the back of the property and into the trim garden and pool.
The bungalow is on a side street in the waterside suburb of Westmere, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, among other one-storey homes sharing a familiar vernacular. In fact, the house next door is so similar that the owners’ relatives have accidentally wandered into the neighbour’s front yard.
Though in essence a fairly traditional extension, there is elegance here - a modesty and restraint that lends a meditative stillness. The main feature of the extension is the continuation of the iconic bungalow gabled roof, which has an elegant pitch with beautifully expressed timber detailing and an impressive skylight that captures light and evolving shadow play. The warm expanse of cedar joinery and oak flooring lends a sophisticated, earthy calm, the antithesis of oppressive darkness typical in an old bungalow.
The key to this renovation is in Sayes Jackson Architects’ spatial arrangement and order of flow. There are nods towards New Zealand mid-century modernism, such as the work of the Group Architects, as well as Japanese design, especially in spatial arrangement and connectivity.
The home certainly feels incredibly Zen without being minimalist. On one level, the architects have created a big open space but, at the same time, a series of smaller, more intimate and interconnected areas. Luke Jackson once lived and worked in Kyoto and he and Nick Sayes admire the highly considered articulation of architectural concepts. “It’s definitely something we vibe off. We think Japanese architectural ideas relate well over here,” he says.
The Huttons were clear on what they wanted (Brian is a director at Alaska Construction + Interiors) – a rectangular floorplan off the back of the house and a continuation of the pitched roof. They also wanted a pool and greater connection to the back yard to accommodate entertaining and their growing family.
“We chose to reinforce the internal character of the existing bungalow and return some order to its spatial arrangements,” says Sayes. “We realised early on that the hallway would be critical, and used it to highlight a central axis.” Full-height cavity sliders and an absence of door frames help to draw you through the hallway and into the extension.
The double-height ceiling in the living area and kitchen creates a sense of space, and the mezzanine is designed to fit a sofa-bed (it also looks perfect for launching things at siblings and parents sitting below in front of the fire).
As many smart people have pointed out, simplicity is often much more difficult to achieve than complexity and the fireplace is a good example of that. It was cleverly designed to look like one big block of board-marked concrete, but it is actually thermally broken from the floor slab and from the windows that appear to rise up through the middle. “You can see the grain of the wood, the imperfections, the patterns, the craft of how it’s made. I just love the materiality. And because it’s such a small place, those details really stand out.”
The sleek steel chimney that extends up the exterior was custom-made to avoid rivets and only has two points of contact with the house. “We spent a lot of time thinking about that chimney,” says Condon.
As the shingles clad the exterior, ply wraps the interior. Getting the negative detailing right was time consuming but worth the end result. “With ply, you put it up, you seal it and it’s done. You don’t need to stop it and paint it and, in this case, it seemed appropriate. It’s more robust, you can screw things to it and hang things on it. And we just didn’t want to make it too busy. With something of this scale, you can quickly make it look bitsy,” he says.
It’s more than just a pretty place, however. Everywhere you look there are smart design features, like a shoe rack built into the wall, storage tucked away behind doors, drawers that slide out from the staircase, and integrated ventilation panels.
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) have been used in this build by local company Christie Brothers. SIPs have been available in the US and Canada for more than 30 years, and more than 80 percent of new single dwellings in Sweden are built offsite. While these products and practices are yet to become commonplace in New Zealand, change is happening. As Condon notes, homes built in a factory and assembled onsite are often higher quality, don’t take as long to put together and are cheaper.
Components modelled in 3D and cut offsite force decision making upfront and mean less flexibility onsite, but help control costs. “If you make variations onsite, the costs start ratcheting up,” says Condon. “Prefabrication is going to become more and more a part of what we do.”
Due to the insulated panels and energy efficiency techniques employed, the only heating required in winter is the wood burner and Old Brighty coming in through the well-positioned windows. “It’s a really nice place to hang out,” says Condon. “I’d live in it.” And so, it seems, would quite a few others.